When we speak, what are we feeling?
The Buddha recommends cultivating an ongoing awareness of what feeling tone (pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant) is present in us. A feeling tone is always present, but we are often unaware of these three inclinations of the mind. How could an awareness of our feeling tone affect our mind state and our speech?
A fresh example for me is the feeling tone generated by more than an hour of on-line chatting, and later a telephone call, with an electronic product support service. My feelings started out somewhat pleasant – I expected to be able to correct a problem. Gradually it appeared that the “expert” on the other end of the chat was reading from a script and hadn’t actually understood my question. Frustration arose. It rose further and further as various proposed solutions led to a maze of required actions, at least one of them impossible. I was aware of the frustration turning to anger with a dose of despair. Finally I gave up, but far later than I should have; I would have given up much earlier if I’d paid more attention to what feelings were present. For the rest of the day, I felt a bit sick. Only the following morning did I realize that I had allowed my mind to go into a dark hole and stay there longer than necessary; I hadn’t taken seriously the task of protecting my mind.
This was a vivid lesson in the importance of knowing what’s in our minds and attending to that knowledge. Whenever we feel off-center, through anger, fear, guilt, confusion or other forces, a wholesome strategy is to withdraw and reflect rather than speak from an unwholesome basis. If we are not FIRST honest with ourselves about what we’re feeling, communication with others will only generate problems.
The service person on the other end of my long conversation was aware of my frustration (and I suspect accustomed to dissatisfied customers), but neither of us was able to re-direct the interaction. As it happened, the next morning I tried all possible combinations of cables and resolved the problem on my own. If I’d tried that before calling, it would have spared both of us an unpleasant time. However, I did get a valuable lesson in the importance of protecting my mind.
By knowing what we’re feeling, when it arises, we can prioritize the care of our minds; we start to understand that we have choices. We can let go, at least temporarily, of whatever is pushing us off-center.