The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness of Speech
The Benefits of Mindful Speech (The Power of Words in Communication)
Buddhist teachings, including the foundational teaching of the Four Noble Truths, remind us that our own personal behavior dictates our experience of the world. Behavior includes what we do, say, and think. Practicing mindfulness of body, speech, and mind helps guide us to act in ways that reduce suffering. Mindfulness of speech is a particularly consequential practice, as speech, sandwiched between body and mind, brings our thoughts to life.
To practice mindful speech is to be aware of what you say out loud and how you say it. We are practicing mindful speaking when we’re present in our conversations, choose our words with care, and maintain an awareness regarding not just what we want to communicate, but how it may be received.
Mindfulness of speech is a means of reducing harm, thus avoiding negative karma. We can also use mindful speech to generate merit by intentionally speaking well of others and sharing words of lovingkindness. Even if we are unsure of concepts like karma and merit, we can understand how purposefully selecting our words is a means of protecting the mind.
When we tell lies or speak in ways that harm or divide others, we find it hard to experience peace. In fact, we’re actively contributing to dis-ease and agitation in the mind. One way to help reduce negative or harmful thoughts is by becoming more selective regarding the thoughts we give voice to. Stop gossiping, for example, and you may find yourself judging others less often.
Speaking mindfully can transform our outer experience as well. When what we say is hurtful or untrustworthy, people stop listening to us. If you feel unheard or ignored, get curious about what you’ve been giving voice to. This includes what we say in conversation with others, but also, the content of our emails, social media posts, and online comments.
Speak honestly, kindly, and meaningfully and you’ll begin to hear more of the same. Your voice will become more beautiful and people will want to listen to you. In this way, mindfulness of speech has the power to change your reality.
Mindful Speaking Exercises
Mindfulness of speech is such an important practice for Buddhists that it has made its way to several top-10 lists. You’ll find mindful speaking practices prescribed in the following teachings:
- The 8-Fold Path
The Buddha prescribed the 8-fold path as a means to the cessation of suffering. Right Speech occupies a spot here alongside Right View, Right Intention, and Right Action. In this case, ‘right’ is defined as wholesome, skillful, and wise.
- The 5 Precepts
Precepts are commitments made as part of taking refuge in the Buddhist path. This foundational code of ethics includes a vow not to lie. Being honest isn’t merely about avoiding bold falsehoods, it includes communicating clearly regarding what you hold to be true.
- The 10 Misdeeds
Avoiding the 10 non-virtuous actions helps us live with greater stability of mind. Four of the ten refer to speaking more skillfully. By speaking honestly, gently, and meaningfully in ways that bring people together, we contribute peaceful and positive energy to the world, for our own benefit and for the benefit of everyone, everywhere.
Practicing points of mindful speech include staying silent as necessary. The old adage to remain quiet if you can’t find anything nice to say is the practice of mindful responsiveness. To improve mindfulness of speech, meditation is helpful. A stable, more spacious mind helps us to slow down and observe what is arising. In the gap between stimulus and response, the most wise and compassionate action may be to bite our to