Today’s excerpt is truly splendid. The only “task” ever required of human being is to generate one’s presence: to bring your mind back to your body. Doing that, the space within you, that is you, re-emerges. Then, as Thich Nhat Hanh so wonderfully promises, people want to be near you, even those with whom there’s been distance and pain. Is this not the best thing you’ve ever heard?
For Australian readers, I also want to say I’ve noticed our current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, for all his perceived shortcomings and whatever your voting proclivities, regularly does what Thich Nhat Hanh recommends here: he stops and really looks into the question. I heard him do it this week when a reporter asked him about the latest episode of self-immolation by an asylum seeker. I heard him stop and create a space for himself and the question, and when he responded he offered words of compassion, rather than the words of blame his Immigration Minister had uttered.
“Recently, I met a woman from Paris who asked me for some guidance on her work as a kinesiologist. She wanted to know how she could most effectively do her job as a health advisor to bring the greatest benefit to her clients. ‘If you have lightness and spaciousness in your heart,’ I told her, ‘then your speech will carry deep insight and that will bring true communication.’ I shared with her the following.
In order to practice right speech, we need to first take the time to look deeply into ourselves and into whoever is in front of us so that our words will be able to create mutual understanding and relieve the suffering on both sides.
When we speak, of course we are only saying what we think is correct but sometimes because of the way we say it, the listener can’t take it in so our words don’t have the desired effect of bringing more clarity and understanding to the situation. We need to ask ourselves, am I speaking just to speak, or am I speaking because I think these words can help someone heal?
When our words are spoken with compassion, based on love and on our awareness of our interconnectedness, then our speech may be called right speech.
When we give an immediate reply to someone, usually we are just reeling off our knowledge or just reacting out of emotion. When we hear the other person’s question or comment, we don’t take the time to listen deeply and look deeply into what’s been shared. We just volley back a quick rejoinder. That’s not helpful.
The next time someone asks you a question, don’t answer right away. Receive the question or sharing, and let it penetrate you so that the speaker feels that he or she has really been listened to. All of us, but especially those whose profession is to help others, can benefit from training ourselves in this skill.
We must practice in order to do it well. First and foremost, if we haven’t listened deeply to ourselves, we can’t listen deeply to others. We need to cultivate a spiritual dimension of our life if we want to be light, free and truly at ease. We need to practice in order to restore this kind of spaciousness. Only when we’ve been able to open space within ourselves can we really help others.
If I’m out for a walk or on a public bus, anywhere really, it is very easy to notice if someone has a feeling of spaciousness.
Perhaps you’ve met people like this. You don’t even know them well but you feel comfortable with them, because they’re easy and relaxed. They’re not already full of their own agenda. If you open the space within yourself, you will find that people, even someone who perhaps has been avoiding you – your teenage daughter, your partner with whom you were in a fight, your parent – will want to come and be near you.
You don’t have to do anything, or try to teach them anything, or even say anything.
If you are practising on your own, creating space and quiet within you, others will be drawn to your spaciousness. People around will feel comfortable, just being around you, because of the quality of your presence. This is the virtue of non-action. We stop our thinking, bring our mind back to our body, and become truly present.
Non-action is very important. It is not the same thing as passivity or inertia. It’s a dynamic and creative state of openness. We just need to sit there, very awake and very light, and when others come sit with us, they feel at ease right away. Even though we haven’t done anything to help, the other person receives a lot from us.”
~ From Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh