I also habitually bring the attention back to my own life, how I feel, what I think. I recently heard this termed as, "self-referential talk." Yep, that's what I do, as innocent and well-meaning as it seems at the time. The end result is hurt. I know how much this hurts my co-conversationalist as it has happened to me, too. I never want to be the cause of someone's pain. There is enough pain in the world without me adding more into the mix. I want to be what one spiritual leader called "safe for others."
And I am an impulsive blurter. I rush ahead in an effort to "share" and do not always think before I speak. Just the other day, I am almost certain I offended someone by blurting. I was not well-acquainted with this person nor could I remember their name, but I knew their spouse. So I blurted, "Oh, you are John's wife, right?" In that comment, I discounted her existence as a separate and unique being. Use your filter, I said to myself, and made an extra effort to get to know her the rest of the afternoon.
So how does a capricious chatterbox learn to overcome these unskillful communication habits? Well, up until now, I have read umpteen self-help books on the topic of better communication, even took an Inter-personal Communications class at the local community college. I've approached it from all angles of psychology, thinking that if I could get at the root, the motivation behind my chronic interruptions and overall egocentric listening and speaking habits, I could become an excellent communicator. But nothing, up until now, has really offered a practical guide for me to follow.
What has helped is all aspects of Buddhism, and especially Right Speech. This is one of the aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. I've been studying and practicing Buddhism for about a year now, and it has been one blissful revelation after another. Meditation and Mindfulness and all aspects of Buddhism have helped me become more serene, more compassionate and most importantly, more awake. Recently, I began to really focus on Right Speech, finding some very helpful, practical advice from the writings and Dharma talks of several Buddhist teachers, most notably, Donald Rothburg and Joseph Goldstein. I've been listening to pre-recorded Dharma talks via this awesome, free website called Dharma Seed (the site offers talks conducted at numerous Buddhist retreat centers).
Today is my first day of focused Right Speech practice. For the first week, I am implementing just two of six simple guidelines that Rothburg suggested. I am about to share them all with you here, because I truly believe we all could be better communicators. Note that communication is not just speaking but listening. This is where many of us need practice. Being better listeners. One of my books on Buddhism suggested if you want to talk to someone, ask them a question and then listen. I like that. When I think about all the wars that could have been prevented, the murders, the divorces, etc., had we been better, more compassionate communicators, it is truly crazy that this subject isn't taught at every level of education, right alongside Math, English and Science.
Our words have power. We can unite or divide, help or harm, inspire or discourage. Our words can be the first sentence of someone's sad story. Or they can be their first ray of sun.
Here are the six guidelines of Right Speech:
1) Be Present.
2) Pause more frequently.
3) Be truthful.
4) Be helpful.
5) Be compassionate (good heart).
6) Be appropriate and timely.
As we practice and become more self-aware (mindfulness comes in handy here) of our own communication style, we should regularly refer back to number three, to "be truthful." We need to be HONEST with ourselves about all six guidelines. Are we really being present? Are we really being truthful? Are we really being helpful? Everyone likely needs to polish up on one or more of these guidelines, perhaps all six.
Two other facets of Right Speech are "No Gossip" and "No Useless Talk," which Goldstein discusses in great detail in one of his Dharma talks.
"No Gossip" is one that is especially challenging because it does not mean only speaking negatively about another. No gossip means not speaking of another who is not present, period. Just try for one day not to speak of another person who is not present nor to engage in this type of conversation brought up by someone else. It's not that easy. And yes, this can be necessary in some situations in the real world. But it is something we can be aware of, limit our frequency and watch our intention when we do it. We can be careful we do not gossip out of boredom or ill will, however subtle, and ask ourselves -- are the six guidelines still being addressed as I speak, as I listen?
"No Useless Talk" refers to "small talk" that has no other purpose than to pass the time or to fill in the uncomfortable gaps in conversation (we all do it!) is not considered skillful or right speech. Though the Buddha offered the guideline of "no useless talk" mostly to monastic members, vs. lay people like us, we can all be more mindful of this tendency and use restraint the next time we are tempted to comment about the weather.
I wish you all wonderful communications, today and always.