From the title of this post, I reckon you can tell I am not a fan of this well-known and often used aphorism. I watched an old episode of Hell’s Kitchen the other day with my husband and one of the participants in the show said it to another participant who had broken down crying, which is what prompts me to pen some words on this particular thread.
For whatever reason, this aphorism seems to me to be close cousins of another unfortunately common saying: If I can do it, you can do it.
At face value and generally speaking: both sayings are nonsense.
Have I mentioned lately: words matter?
It would be much more accurate to say: What doesn’t kill us may make us stronger. Because the thing is: sometimes, maybe even oftentimes, the challenges/hardships/struggle/turmoil/or trauma we face serves as a means to shut us down, and armor us up against a world we deem as out to get us.
Without a contemplative practice – or some other regular investment of time into an action-based something that prompts a moving from head to heart; from self to other – it seems we risk falling subject to talking solely about petty, surfacey things.
With time and life and all that which pertains to the unfolding of even just one single day being precious and limited, how might I want to spend it and with who?
I don’t think it’s patience I lack when it comes to internally saying Check please! in response to a person droning on and on about mundane things (at length and in great detail), who is unavailable to listen and unable to peak interest in anyone else in the room. It’s disinterest, pure and simple. It’s a matter of valuing my gifted time.
It’s a bold and interesting thing to say but: I love people with a heart as big as the sky in sprawl over the Rocky Mountains and: I would rather not converse with a vast majority of them. My time, I think, is better well spent reading and writing poetry; on the cushion; sipping tea.
Besides, most people won’t be reached through words spoken out loud face to face – not on any level that really penetrates into the deeper well of things. We need other modes and vehicles of transport to deliver messaging that translates to something bigger than stock musings regarding the passing of time or patterns of the weather.
The Ninth Mindfulness Training: Truthful and Loving Speech
Aware that words can create happiness or suffering, we are committed to learning to speak truthfully, lovingly and constructively. We will use only words that inspire joy, confidence and hope as well as promote reconciliation and peace in ourselves and among other people. We will speak and listen in a way that can help ourselves and others to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. We are determined not to say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people, nor to utter words that might cause division or hatred. We will protect the happiness and harmony of our Sangha by refraining from speaking about the faults of other persons in their absence and always ask ourselves whether our perceptions are correct. We will speak only with the intention to understand and help transform the situation. We will not spread rumors nor criticize or condemn things of which we are not sure. We will do our best to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may make difficulties for us or threaten our safety.
To read the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, which are the foundation of the Order of Interbeing, click here
I’ve been reading the Ninth Mindfulness Training every day for the past week, as part of a ongoing practice I’ve been doing with a friend of mine. And in rare form, I don’t feel as though I have much to say in added commentary in regards to this training. What I can say is this: I am committed to embodying this training as much as I possible can, for the sake of all beings (myself included). And, I’m a work in progress for sure.
My morning’s scene of enjoyment, equipped with a Yoga Joe in meditation pose
What is this never-ending thirst we have to live a fictional life?
Are we so misaligned with the cosmos that such an existential crisis is in order?
Are the splendors of whatever landscape we find ourselves surrounded by not enough? And if the answer is no, why not?
Perhaps instead of manicuring and primping our bubble of comfort, we would be better served to hone the art of developing ease in varied environments.
Our communication skills are practically non-existent, in regards to: our self, others, the trees, the birds, the wind, the water.
If we’ve not yet come to terms with how intertwined our mind and body are, what chance do we have for absorbing the message the moon is sending, in its waning ascent over the mountains? How will we come to know what a fallow field of wheat is expressing or what wisdom teachings pulsate on the currents breath of the ocean?
We must learn to lean and settle into mundane landscapes, and bridge our mind and body together with aid of breath.
When we sit in perfect accord with our self, in the graces of our current locale, living a non-fiction life becomes a great deal more than all we need.
A few weeks ago, my husband Mike and I were talking about morality and ethical codes of conduct. He described himself as being morally ambiguous and described me as being puritanical – but when I scrunched up my face in disapproval, he adjusted his word choice from puritanical to wholesome, which I was much more on board with.
He spoke about how his lines of morality differ than mine, which he felt was largely due to the fact that he’s a recovering addict and can traverse slippery slopes rather adeptly. He has the ability to rationalize to himself a wealth of tricky thoughts, which then lead to unwholesome, harmful actions. And while we all potentially have this capacity, I am not personally a frequent flyer – or even much of a visitor at all – of the slippery slope. I have and uphold very clear lines of distinction between what I feel is moral and what isn’t. My moral landscape is steadfast and relatively unwavering. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes of course, but more to say that my ethical compass is always close at hand and keeps me pointed in the direction of thinking, speaking, and acting in such a way that generates authenticity, skillfulness, and mutual benefit for myself and others.
Since we had this conversation, I’ve been mulling over the topic of ethics and values and moral codes of conduct. Both on an individual level and on a wider collective level. Mostly, I’ve been investigating this topic by asking myself questions, such as: What does it mean to have a high moral standard? What collective values does our western society promote (DOES it actively promote values?)? Is there/can there be a universal set of ethics which will ensure a healthy, happy, well-contented life? Is there such a thing as right and wrong when it comes to ethics and values?
Most people would readily agree that killing a human being just for the “fun” of it is wrong. But what about animals? There are folks out there who are just fine with killing animals for sport. Most people would probably say that lying isn’t cool, however most people do it. There are a sea of rationalizations that people use for telling white lies, bending the truth, hiding and deceiving others, or even telling outright untruths. Most of us would probably agree that adultery isn’t kosher, but many folks skirt lines of improper attention seeking and sexual behavior. The list goes on and on.
On Saturday, while standing in line at the Good Food Store (our local organic food market), I overheard the dude in front of me telling the cashier that he was going to see the new Star Wars movie. In the interest of working on my small talk/social engagement skills, I chimed in: “Oh, there’s a new Star Wars movie out, eh?” To which he replied – friendly enough, but still incredulously – “Where have you been? Under a rock?!”
How do I respond? I pondered internally. Hmm.
After a brief pause – quickly deciding that it was not at all the direction I wanted to tread in to toss back some kind of sarcastic barb about how when I read the world news, other more pressing matters are thankfully covered than what’s hot at the box office – I said: “I like rocks! It’s kind of nice under there.”
This is such a frequent occurrence! We use unskillful words and judgemental tones of voice based on our ongoing assumptions that the reality of those around us is the same as our own. It never ceases to amaze me how potent our choice of words really is and how big of a difference it makes to develop a kind disposition when speaking.
May we all practice – myself super included! – to watch what we say and how we say it. Too often, we just speak and have little to no idea of what it is we’re saying and why it is we’re talking. It’s really important to know that we spread the seeds of either benefit or harm in every word we offer – and don’t offer.
Words matter. Truly.
Let us be good to one another and use words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope and help foster the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in our wake.
I can think of 3 people right off the bat who would be filled with childlike glee if I were to suddenly and spontaneously become a phone person. And by phone person I mean: someone who picks it up when it rings, routinely calls back those who leave messages, and has a general fondness for the invention of being able to talk to people through the magic of wires, all of which do not apply to me.
What people don’t understand is that it’s not personal. It’s not like when the phone rings I run over to see who’s calling, just so I can flip them off and sneer at them by name. “Ha ha, grandma! I’m not picking up the phone because you’re stupid and I hate talking to you! Take that!” When the phone rings in our house it’s sort of like when you pass by that one inappropriate homeless guy who shouts obscenities on the street corner. We take notice, but just enough to avoid a personal interaction.
For the simple fact that it would be the end of me, I don’t have a cell phone. If I were to carry around an apparatus through which I could exchange text messages and check my email, I would never look up from it to engage anyone eye-to-eye ever again. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t have enough self-restraining ability to be fully present with whoever I was with or whatever I was doing, when my phone was beeping or dinging or otherwise jovially indicating that a new message had come in. As someone who’s both at home a lot actively on their laptop, and an avid emailer, my need for a cell phone is next to nil. When people find out that I don’t have a cell phone, they often comment on how awesome that is, as though it’s a noble choice they wish they could make themselves. It’s not. It’s really just a matter of self-preservation. Well, that and the fact that I have no want or need, nor find myself important enough, to be contacted when I’m out doing other things away from my house.
I do, however, have a land line. One of those old fashion clunky cordless deals with an answering machine attached – ya know, the thing I never answer. Aside from the 3 people who would be overjoyed if I were to ever pick it up when they called, the only other people who generally try to contact me are those that caused me to be repelled by its ringing in the first place. Namely, creditors. Those who call incessantly in attempts at retrieving money from me that I don’t have. Not that I’m giving them a hard time – I mean, they’re just doing their job. It’s not like they’re making up the fact that I owe them money. I do owe them money. So why shouldn’t they be calling? (I have a lot of unpaid medical bills from a plethora of different chronic health issues.) However, it’s also not like I’m withholding money from them out of some vain, spoiled rich girl conditioning where sticking it to the medical establishment feels like some sort of great victory. If I had the money, I’d give it to them, and I do, on occasion.