Right speech.

“Right speech outlines an entire continent of life. I have often thought that if a person were to adopt only one aspect of the peaceful life, this would be it because all morality, relatedness, and self-knowledge are merely provinces within the conglomerate empire of right speech. If I want to live by right speech, I have to know what I think and feel in order to be able to actually parlay the truth that my posture and tone may already be conveying. But to blurt out abrupt, hurtful words, even if they are accurate, isn’t acceptable to Buddha’s ideal, and so I not only have to search for my sense of truth in the moment of interaction, but I have to simultaneously find a channel that is ‘gentle, soothing…courteous.’ Finally, right speech demands loving words that are honest—this is its apex. To live by right speech, I not only have to be a self-psychologist and a linguist, but I have to learn how to find love in the ordinary gray-day facts. Right speech is predicated on disregard for calculation, on cohesion of word and act, and on honest affection sentence after sentence.”

Paul R. Fleischmanin

Cultivating Inner Peace: Exploring the Psychology, Wisdom and Poetry of Gandhi, Thoreau, the buddha and Others

 

I had a pleasant buzz of resonance when I read this. It captures my love of language, nonviolent communication and speech as a means of connection and creating a better world.

Elimination is not the same as cultivation.

I began understanding the significance of this when I read what Martin Seligman (positive psychologist at UPenn) wrote about mental wellness and illness in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.

He relays a lesson he learned when he first began practicing psychotherapy. Working with folks who struggled with mental illness like depression, he found that when he succeeded in treating the depression, that didn’t automatically yield a happy, mentally well patient. It yielded something more like a blank canvas. The process of eliminating depression, he concluded, is different from the process of cultivating happiness and flourishing. Hmm.

As I carried this idea with me, I started to associate directions with each of these two processes. The process of elimination, or rooting out the unwanted is a backward facing process that draws on history and “what is and has been.” The process of cultivation, or creating the wanted thing, is a forward facing process that requires imagination of “what could be.”

I noticed, too, that individually and collectively one of these is getting a lot more attention and use than the other. So often we are only looking in the direction of the unwanted thing we’d like to eliminate. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to take for granted. Consider the following:

  • The diet industry focuses on losing weight (eliminating fat) rather than on cultivating healthy bodies. Healthy bodies aren’t often part of the conversation at all, though attractive bodies might be. This is paralleled by our healthcare system, which aims to eliminate or treat illness without similar efforts to cultivate wellness, health or enhance wellbeing.
  • Many folks are endlessly looking for ways to deal with stress rather than working with cultivating more harmony and ease.
  • When something is broken—from cars to relationships— we try to fix it (eliminate the problem). But rarely do we spend time maintaining or cultivating improved versions of things that are basically in working order. This is evidenced by the phase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, strengthening and improving things that aren’t broken, decreases the chances of them breaking in the future. Just because something functions, doesn’t mean it’s highly functioning.

You might be thinking, “These are the same thing. If you’re trying to eliminate stress, you’re trying to cultivate harmony.” To be clear, one thing suggests the other, but they are quite different. Don’ts and do’s, elimination and cultivation are two sides of the same spectrum. But just because we know what we don’t want doesn’t mean we always know what we do want. We are so well practice in the former and so lacking in the latter. Since we haven’t exercised these muscles of imagination individually or culturally, they are weak. I, for one, am ready to start working them out.

Try it now. What is your vision of an ideal life? A perfect community or world? Is it as vivid as your image of the world as you see it everyday? As the world you don’t want to see (and fear might come to pass)? Which of these do you see most clearly and feel most deeply?

If you’re at all like me (and you are ‘cause you’re human 😉 ), thinking in this way will take some practice. And I’d encourage you to practice because the shift in focus itself is incredibly powerful. Having a vision of what you do want to see (the clearer and more detailed the better) forms the foundation of inspired action. Because acting from inspiration feels good, it provides a sustainable form of motivation. The further you align with your vision, the better you feel, the more inspired you are to act, the more you align, and so on. It’s what I like to call the vivacious circle.

Contrast this with working from a place of self-discipline and self-control in an effort to root out the unwanted. While I’m all for cultivating more of both of these, it ain’t nearly as easy or motivating for the lot of us as working from a place of inspired action. And when we fail or fall off the bandwagon (as we inevitably will) it feels bad. If we feel bad and then beat ourselves up then we feel worse and so on… the more familiar vicious circle.

Beyond this, having a vision of the wanted thing helps to bridge the gap between our existing (undesired) behavior or situation to the desired one. When you’re trying to change a habit, for example, saying, “I will not eat the cookie,” not only brings your attention to eating the cookie (which, let’s face it, is delicious and wanted on some level even while being unwanted at another), it also doesn’t suggest another activity to fill the void.

Imagine anew. Fill the void. Don’t eat the cookie. Create the life you want.

What “do’s” do.

Want in on the current lesson I’m learning?

Focusing my attention on the things I don’t want, need, or like is keeping me solidly there. By saying, “I don’t want that,” I just direct my attention right back to it. It’s an endless loop. Or, more true to my experience, a downward spiral.

All the while what I do want is begging for attention. It’s so-so-close. It almost comes up. It’s nearly right there in the “don’t. It’s just a bit buried. Just beneath the surface.

But instead of crouching down to look it, I just keep pacing over it with worry, thinking about how I’ll not do the “don’t” and kicking up dust.

I stopped pacing for a minute though (it was tiring) and since “do’s” are shiny it caught my eye. When I crouched down I had to do a little work to unearth the thing, but it came up fairly easily.

When I stopped pacing over Steve Job’s “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drowned out your own inner voice.” This shiny nugget came up: “Listen to your inner voice. When other’s opinions get noisy, get quiet. Hone your hearing. Create practices to dialogue with your inner voice. Give it permission to speak up. Give gratitude when it does and act in ways that honor what it’s told you.”

I’m not sure if “do’s” are always longer, but my sense is that they are because there are a multitude of them contained within a single “don’t.” Possibilities. Many different avenues to stroll upon to get you moving toward the wanted thing rather than walking aimlessly away from the unwanted thing. Ya know like, “Don’t worry. Be happy,” which could also say “and content and calm and trusting and faithful, and smiley, and grateful…”

“Do’s” pro-create like rabbits. They are, by their very nature, e x p a n s i v e. They want to build you up, so they just keep offering and offering and offering.

Compare that with “don’ts” which, no doubt, mean well but end up tearing down an idea and leaving you a heap of rubble. Sure, you have the opportunity to rebuild, but “do’s” are natural builders. Let ‘em loose and they’ll build you a castle while you stand by in your Sunday best and watch with delight.

“Do’s” are deeper than “don’ts” too. Like when mom says, “Don’t pester your sister.” And you just stand there frozen wondering, “Why?” and “What do I do instead?” But you know that’s all mom and the “don’t” have to say.

But “do’s” love the question “why?”

(Do) get quiet when other’s opinions get noisy.
Why?
So you can listen to your inner voice.
Why?
Because when you can hear it, you can dialogue with it. (Just like this!)
And why would I want that?
Because it’s totally life enhancing and you’ll feel such relief and you’ll feel a power behind your actions because you’ll be clear in your intentions and…

And you could keep going on and on like this because “do’s” are eager and enthusiastic, but usually a few skeptical or confused “why’s?” are sufficient to clear things up and pep you up.

When you look for the do’s within the don’ts it’s like a coach with a deep belief in your abilities comes to life to cheer you on.

When I heard “Don’t settle,” and started to ponder the do, my coach came to life and started cheering:

Reach!

Push the boundaries.

The sky stratosphere’s the limit! Wait, there are no limits. It’s limitless!

You deserve more and you can have more.

You’re capable.

You’re courageous.

You’ll figure it out as you go.

The possibilities are endless.

♪ Do you believe in magic? ♪

And once he started singing that tune, I was like “Okay, okay. I get it.”

I’m working now with putting my “do” lens on everything. It doesn’t quite feel natural yet, but it’s getting easier bit by bit. The coach was sitting solemnly but hopefully on the sidelines for years, but now that I’ve let him in the game a few times he starts waving his arms frantically to get my attention just seconds after I put a “don’t” in play in my mind.

And pretty soon he’s singing.

And I have to laugh because he’s just so darn sincere and peppy and hopeful (and cheesy).

I breathe a sigh of relief. I find my stride, again, too, walking confidently in the direction of that which is wanted.