Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Power of Words

If I could sum up the lessons from my week long practice of Ahimsa in one sentence, it would be this: Think before you speak. I know it seems pretty basic and it is something we have all heard a million times, but this week it really hit home for me.

As we learned last week, the practice of Ahimsa is non-violence in our thoughts, words and actions. For me, expressing kindness in my actions was easy. It is something that I do naturally with the people I care about and it is something I have learned to be more aware of with strangers. Whether it is extending a smile to another person in the hallway, holding the elevator door or even slowing down to let a car pass when they are clearly in a bigger hurry than I am.

Surprisingly, I have also gained a lot of control over my thoughts in the past few years. There was probably a time in my life where I had more doubts or negative thoughts about myself and others. At some point I became aware of that negativity and I have tried to remove those types of thoughts from my head or at least catch them when they arise and re-frame them in a more positive direction.

The challenge this week was with my words. In my case, it wasn't the words I said to other people. It was the words I said about other people. 

Here is a quick example of one experience from the week. On Monday I went to a meeting to talk about a potential new job at my company. It was supposed to be a casual discussion with one of the Vice Presidents who I have met before. When I got to his office, he surprised me by bringing me in to meet his boss. She was a no-nonsense type of woman and peppered me with interview questions for about 20 minutes.

After it was over, I got back to my office and all of my co-workers were asking me what happened. The first thing I said about the woman was that she looked tired and it seemed like she hated her job. After I said it, I stopped and thought about Ahimsa.

Why would I say such an unkind thing about someone who was merely interviewing me for a job? Yes, it was true that physically she did appear to be tired. But it was Monday morning. Maybe she hadn't slept well or maybe she had a late flight. 

And why did I infer that being tired meant that she hated her job? Maybe I was just projecting onto her the fact that I am not very happy with my job. Or maybe I was afraid that if I took that job I would somehow end up tired like her. And not getting enough sleep is one of my worst fears because it has taken me a year to teach my body how to rest again.

Words are essentially a series of unfiltered thoughts that come rolling off my tongue in rapid fire. If I had taken the time to process my words the way I have learned to process my thoughts, I might have handled the situation differently. 

While it may seem like a victimless crime, since this woman wasn't even aware of the things I said about her, I recognize that my words were still hurtful because they put negative energy out into the universe. And that negative energy hurts all of us.

As my yoga teacher reminded us at the end of class today, the point of the exercise isn't to punish ourselves for not being good enough at Ahimsa.  It is merely to observe our behaviors without judgement and see what insight they can provide into ourselves.  Only through self awareness can we truly recognize where we desire to make changes in our life.

I would be interested to know if any of you tried to practice Ahimsa along with me this week. If so, please share your experiences in the comments.  

This week I will be practicing Satya, which means to speak the truth. It is based on the principle that honest communication is the key to any healthy relationship, community or government and that misrepresentations or deception can cause harm to others.  

What is interesting about Satya is how it interacts with Ahimsa. While it is desirable to speak the truth, there are times when total honesty may cause harm to others. In those cases, it is better to say nothing than to hurt another person's feelings.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out this week. My new rule of think before you speak will definitely help me navigate my practice of Satya. I am starting to wonder if it might be easier to just take a vow of silence for the week!  

Once again, I invite you to practice Satya with me. And I will be back next week to let you know how it turns out.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. It reminds me as well to let some thoughts go unspoken. How often do I regret something I said. But rarely regret something i didnt say.