Thursday, August 28, 2014

Cultivating Right Speech

I am a passionate being and love, love, love to talk.  In fact, my passion is what makes me a good writer.  I always have something to say!  But this chat-ability has a darker side:  When I am having a conversation, and am especially impassioned about a topic, I fail to take turns speaking, and often interrupt others when they are speaking.  Sometimes it's with a short-lived interjection of "Oh - yes!" or "That's true!"  And sometimes it's an outright and lengthy diatribe of my own that spews out like molten lava from my lips.  Even when I'm aware that this about to happen, I can't seem to control myself.  Watch out, everyone!  She's going to blow!

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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

We Call Ourselves Animal Lovers

We call ourselves animal lovers.  And I see lots of folks who really are.  I am impressed and filled with joy when I see the compassion and generosity that many people have for animals.   But why do people adopt animals and then subject them to cruel and painful procedures that take away the very traits that make them what they are?  I think it's mostly out of ignorance.

Dogs are devocalized. Cats are declawed.  Birds get their wings clipped. And so much more.  Many people still get their pets' tails and ears lopped off because it makes them "more attractive."  How about this?  If you don't want THOSE traits, don't adopt THOSE animals.  Adopt another type of animal or wait until a better time to adopt.  At the very least, become objectively informed about the true nature of these procedures so you can make a compassionate decision.

Dogs bark.  Cats scratch.  Birds fly.  This is the reality we have NO right to change!

 I aim this angry diatribe toward myself, as well as to others who do it.  I had one cat declawed back in 1994, back when very few veterinarians had any qualms about performing such procedures.  This was one of the most abominable things I have ever done. And I have terrible regrets about it still.  I always will.

So why did I have my cat declawed?  It is no excuse -- nor does it even partially absolve me of any bad karma -- but to help you understand my motivation, I will tell you why:  I did it because I was selfish and desperate for love.  My marriage was on the rocks.  And I had always wanted a cat.  But my husband at that time, who was depressed and distant, was vehemently opposed to owning a pet and was afraid that the cat would tear up our apartment. He was very angry with me for bringing this cat home without talking to him about it first. He insisted that I have this surgery done and convinced me that it was harmless (though deep inside I knew better).  We argued for many weeks about this before I finally caved in.
A wonderful thing happened many years later, however.  My ex-husband is now dead set against declawing and I know he regrets it too. And he loved that cat so much that he begged me to let him keep it when we decided to get a divorce. I knew that I had turned him around for life.  He even became a vegetarian!

Everybody suffers, and we all make mistakes. But truly, I think I will pay for that evil deed one day, either in this life or the next. The damage it does to your heart and to the poor cat is immeasurable.

Cat declawing is a tremendously painful and crippling procedure and should not be done under any circumstances. I feel the same way about any unnecessary and painful surgical alteration done to our animals.  There is simply no excuse to slice, bob, clip and amputate bodily parts from our supposedly "beloved pets."  There is no moral justification to do it.

It's been twenty years now, and I have matured, become more compassionate and am in a loving  relationship with my darling husband, David.  We have had four cats and none of them were declawed or ever will be.  It is a beautiful thing to see our cats stretching up to clean their talons on the scratching post (we have four posts distributed throughout the house).  Our cats do fine in our house and are very happy, as are we. There are many ways to train a cat not to damage your home.

And I know there are many ways to train a dog not to bark 24/7.  And who decided that a Cocker Spaniel does NOT look cute with long tails?  Or a Doberman does NOT look cute with floppy ears?  And is cuteness really a justifiable reason for mutilation? Really?  I am not sure about birds, but my guess is there are some tricks to keep them from flying out the window (window screens for one).

Please do yourselves and your animals a favor and become informed about these completely  unnecessary procedures.

Watch "The Paw Project" movie (on YouTube) all about the reality of cat declawing: