~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Speak With a Loving Heart

February 5, 2017
Sometimes I wonder whether the true mark of an evolved society boils down to little more than a healthy dose of impulse control. Can we feel an urge without necessarily acting on it? Can we stop ourselves from falling headlong into an activity that feels good in the moment but may not be beneficial in the longer term? Can we pause long enough when feeling a strong emotion to decide whether to act on it or walk away? Can we learn to balance our immediate needs with the best interests of ourselves and those around us?

It’s worth considering from time to time how we are faring in this realm, and whether we are living deliberately enough to respond to the world rather than react to it. It’s also worth pondering how our ability to control our impulses may support a deepening sense of lovingkindness and care.

Most spiritual traditions offer teachings to help us find our way toward a healthy balance between bright spirit and impeccable behavior. The yoga scriptures offer the yamas and niyamas, or ethical restraints. The Christian tradition offers the ten commandments. And the Buddhists offer up the eightfold path.

A good place to start when considering the possibility of reining in some of our baser instincts might be with the invitation to practice "right speech," which simply means using our words wisely and well. And my favorite instruction in this department comes from Indian mystic Sai Baba:

          Before speaking, 
          ask yourself the following questions: 
          Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? 
          Does it improve upon the silence?

If that’s too much to keep track of, we could just cut straight to the chase: Am I speaking from a loving heart?

Ouch. Because, honestly, most of what I say each day doesn’t meet Sai Baba’s test for wise speech. Most of what I say is utterly unnecessary, much is filled with opinion rather than truth, plenty isn’t exactly kind, and the world would often be better served if I would just keep my mouth shut.

How about you? What words have you spoken so far today? If you were able to be your own best editor, what would prefer not to have said? And is there something you  might have said that would have been truer, kinder or more necessary? If you’re like me, you may find yourself often leaning longingly toward silence as the safest answer, especially silence filled with calm abiding and loving presence.

When we master the basics of wise speech, we will be ready to move on to advanced practice: Managing necessary but difficult conversations with love and care. Right speech doesn't mean forsaking our voices or sacrificing our presence in the greater world. It merely asks us to use our words wisely and to speak up in a spirit of support and care. It means speaking and acting in constructive ways and always with a loving heart.

Perhaps today we might consider paying close attention to the words we offer up. Perhaps we can be guided by Sai Baba’s instructions and see what happens. Perhaps we can strive to speak from our highest selves and from our own good hearts.

I have a suspicion that we will discover that this is harder than it sounds. We may even be a little disheartened by how often our words are tinged with negativity and ill-will. We may be surprised by how strong our impulses can be, when we try to stop ourselves from saying something cruel but just can’t muster up the restraint to resist.

But if we spend our days spouting such slander, how are we going to heal ourselves and the world?

In the end, perhaps, our words and our actions are expressions of our hearts. When our hearts are blissfully peaceful and pure, restraint will no longer be an issue. We will only know how to speak in love and out of love. In the meantime, though, we may want to hold close to Sai Baba’s words, cultivating the will and the wisdom to speak in ways that cultivate a higher peace and happiness for us all.

This essay was written for Dwelling in the Heart, Claudia's 2016 online lovingkindness immersion.