In due season will I speak, not out of season.
In truth will I speak, not in falsehood.
For his (her) benefit will I speak, not his (her) loss.
Gently will I speak, not harshly.
In kindness will I speak, not in anger. ~ Buddha
Linda: Years ago, when I first began to meditate, I learned a sitting practice for being mindful. I sat on my cushion in a meditative pose, with my eyes closed, back straight, and attention focused inward. Being a gregarious extravert by nature, being in solitude, and not talking for an extended period of time every day seemed like extreme deprivation to me. Then I discovered that there were many forms of spiritual practice besides sitting in meditation for long periods of time in silence. When I began to attend meditation retreats and read literature about spiritual practice, I was delighted to find that being mindful, for instance, when I walked and ate, counted as part of my spiritual practice. Being in service to my clients was indeed part of my spiritual practice. Being kind and generous to other people counted too.
But I had never seen anything written about Talking Meditation until I heard Sylvia Boorstein speak about it at Spirit Rock Center in Marin, California. I was overjoyed, moved, and very excited when she named it. She described it as slowing down the pace at which we speak to deeply take in the message that the other person is offering to have a contemplative pause before responding. In this way, the other person knows that we are paying close attention to their communication, showing them the respect that they are due. In this way, we can form our response into a beautiful gift before sending back the next statements. It is this open state of trust that can take us to a meditative state of awareness, much like sitting in silence and solitude.
Nothing can take the place of silent meditation. The solo practice has benefits that can only be attained while alone. But I am delighted to find a form of spiritual practice that suits my temperament.
So many people speak fast, and hardly think about what has been given to them and what they are flinging back. I find that when I slow down my communication with anyone that I speak with using talking meditation, the nature of the interaction becomes more full and rich. The intimate level of interaction is so much more satisfying. I don’t like to waste time on a superficial level. I am much more interested in making my conversations count by speaking about what has meaning to me and to others. My partner and I take turns sometimes being the receiver, listening from our heart, which transports us to a state of meditative stillness.
The level of interaction deepens when the intention is clear to drop down to a level of safety. We drop the patterns of superficiality and other defenses that keep us from exploring our thoughts and feelings without fear. The revelations that surface in silent sitting meditation about our most tender feelings of guilt, shame, grief, difficulties, magnificent failures, and our wildest dreams arise to the surface where we have an opportunity to practice compassion for ourselves.
Just as we do in silent sitting meditation, through this powerful interactive form of spiritual practice, we learn self-acceptance. We learn not to sensor thoughts and feelings or keep our image up in an attempt to convince others that we are lovable and worthwhile. We practice facing ourselves, both our weaker sides that need to be strengthened and take ownership of our talents and gifts.
By utilizing talking meditation, we learn to work with the reactivity of aversion and grasping, to welcome all feelings and let them pass through. We can even unlodge traumatic memories of betrayal and loss from the past that may have haunted us for decades. We enter into the mystery of the present moment. Insights bubble up from the depts and flow out of our mouths. I feel like a child, free, curious, surprised, and delighted. Together, we witness with empathy and compassion, the entire show, bearing witness without judgment. With practice, more insights emerge effortlessly and transport us both to an elevated state.
There is an added benefit of compassionate witnessing of others to that of our own observation. When I bask in the genuine interest of my partner. I feel valued, seen, heard, cherished, and honored. The more I do it, the better I like it.
For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit that I have found out more about myself in this sacred form of self-discovery than I have with silent sitting meditation. But what is true is that I thrive and open up in an emotionally safe environment that is free of judgment and criticism. When I am speaking with my caring partner, he becomes a mirror, and the focused exchange draws me into a deepened awareness of myself. I experience a sense of bliss that emerges out of the openhearted conversation characterized by discovery, freshness, and spontaneity.
Practicing mindfulness while speaking is slowing down the pace, pausing more, turning attention inward before sending a message, and again looking inside after receiving one. Contemplative talking has an especially strong appeal for extroverts, who will be relieved to know that we can move toward a more conscious state of being without a steady diet of silence!
The way in which many couples speak to each other while they are doing something else (emptying the dishwasher, doing the dishes, checking their phone, watching TV, reading the newspaper) is not deeply satisfying. To make the commitment to be fully present when speaking to the significant people in our lives is both a great healing to the relationship as well as a rigorous discipline in our spiritual practice.
Because such an important part of a relationship is communication, to bring a sense of the sacred to our speaking is essential. To slow down the rate at which we speak, and to listen deeply is a sacred practice. An area of great distress for many is that they do not feel heard. To deeply receive the communication of the other, and to practice holding their communication inside our heart before responding, allows them to know that their thoughts and feelings are important to us, important enough to give our full attention.
Many of us are doing this kind of speaking and listening already. Deepening the practice is being more intentional about its use. I’m sure that when you do more of it, you will derive satisfaction too. When we take on the practice of talking meditation, it calls forth a much higher level of responsibility from us. With time and commitment, we can honor the teachings of Buddha when he calls upon us to speak with each other with the deepest respect and care.
When we practice talking meditation, we move from the old habituated patterns that restrict our consciousness. We find self-acceptance, dignity, and pride in who we are. We can repair our past, turning the old wounds into understanding and forgiveness. Once we have a strong connection with ourselves, we can establish stronger connections with those around us. The sense of greater freedom to be ourselves and express ourselves can move us into a zone where so much more is available to us, including states of the purest joy.