Is It True? Is It Kind? Is It Necessary?
Sometimes, seemingly small events happen that we never forget.
During a college Chemistry class, there were a group of us who liked to complain together about our professor, who we thought gave impossibly difficult exams without properly teaching the material. Oh, how we went on and on about how horrible she was.
Then, during a lunch together one of the members of this “chemistry support group” said he’d like to share a quote he had heard recently. He said, “Un-intelligent people talk about other people, while intelligent people talk about ideas.”
There was complete silence, we didn’t know what to say. It was awkward, and yet we knew he spoke the truth. Our negative talk about our teacher stopped and we went on to talk about other things. Some of us dropped out of the group—the drama that had brought us together was no longer there. Others went on to develop more interesting and meaningful relationships with one another.
Yoga reminds us that when we complain, just like when we want to give unsolicited advice, we need to turn it around and take responsibility for our own choice of thought. What is it within us that is creating this disturbance? Yoga offers pratyahara (mastering our senses) to help us remember that if we find something annoying, such as the sound of a snowmobile, it is our choice to be annoyed, the sound is neutral. To a child it might create great excitement. The mastery of this concept has brought many students great freedom and enlightenment.
The 8-fold Path of Yoga reminds us through the niyama(observance) of purity, to be mindful of the quality of our thoughts, words and actions. Those of you who are familiar with “The Four Agreements” will remember that one of the “secrets to freedom” offered by Don Miguel Ruiz is to be “impeccable with your word.” Many of you have also shared with me a useful teaching whereby you ask yourselves before speaking, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”
Most students tell me this is harder than they thought…in part because our culture and media support and often encourage critical and drama-filled conversation and reporting. Perhaps we can learn something from a monk’s “vow of silence” if only for a few seconds prior to speech. The tapas or discipline involved in this level of mindfulness can create a beautiful shift within us…and rather than perpetuating negative karma we stop it in its tracks and start anew, engaging now in the path which will help us reach our own best potential, and contribute that to the world.
May you practice by speaking mindfully and lovingly to yourself.
Julie Rost founded YogaLife Institute of NH in 2006. She teaches weekly classes and workshops.