Why you ask? Well, I recently read the book, “The Art of Communicating” by Thich Nhat Hanh and was taken on a journey of self-reflection. Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, has this uncanny ability to get right to the core of the matter. You see, we (you and I and every other egocentric human being out there) are such reactionary creatures. And with so much negativity in the world today, we tend to react in a negative way. Being creatures of habit, we don’t even recognize that we have negative responses anymore. We feel we are justified in our actions. We don’t even recognize that we help generate negativity that continues to encourage negative responses in others. The world is full of assholes, so I might as well be one too. It’s a vicious cycle.
But we cannot keep this attitude – not unless we want to dig ourselves an early grave due to too much anger, negativity, and stress.
It’s time to stop looking outward and start looking inward. As pissed off as I get at stupid people and their stupid actions, Hanh effectively slapped the humble back into my thought process. Well, that’s probably a terrible analogy since Hanh obviously supports a nonviolent approach to change. But whatever. I’m trying here and that’s the important thing.
So what does the Zen Master have to say and why did his book speak to me so clearly? It’s very simple actually. He got me to look at myself rather than everyone else. And he doesn't word it in a lame “be the change you want to see” kinda way. He gets specific. After reading this book, I began to make actual changes that have already had a positive impact. The most important lesson? I’m not expecting a change in anyone else…just myself, my attitude, and my perspective. And yes, I now meditate.
Does that mean I’m always going to be pleasant to be around? Hell no! C’mon. It’s me we’re talking about here. But I promise that I will try to act and communicate in a way that will nourish myself as well as others. This may not always be a pleasant experience though. I mean, we need veggies for nourishment and sometimes those are hard to stomach right?
I highly recommend this book for…well…everyone. Here are some of my favorite lessons.
1. “When you can see the suffering in others, you begin to understand that there is a reason they suffer like that. You are no longer angry with them anymore. Compassion will arise in your heart.”
2. “When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering.”
3. “Sometimes even the most skillful words can cause pain. That is okay. Pain can heal. If your words are spoken with compassion and understanding, the pain will heal more quickly.”
4. “Every day we can say something that has the capacity to heal and help people…We don’t need to wait for a special moment.”
5. “When you produce a thought of hate, anger, or despair, that thought is a poison which will affect your body and your mind.”
6. “Deep listening has only one purpose: to help others suffer less.”
7. “There’s no place where deep listening and loving speech are inappropriate.”
8. “When we’re empty, we use technology to try to dissipate the feeling of loneliness, but it doesn't work. We have the Internet, email, video conferencing, texting and posting, apps, letters, and cell phones. We have everything. And yet it’s not at all certain that we have improved our communication.”
9. “Without mindfulness, technology can be more destructive than constructive.”
10. “If you can’t accept yourself – if you hate yourself and get angry with yourself – how can you love another person and communicate love to him or her?”
11. “Don’t neglect to reserve some time alone each day for communicating with yourself.”
12. “We don’t speak with compassion just so that the person or people we’re speaking to will feel better! Our compassionate speech has a healing effect on us too.”
13. “If we wait for the other person to change, we may spend all our time waiting. So it’s better that you change yourself.”
14. “So whenever we need to say something we know will be difficult for others to hear, we have to be humble and try to look more and more deeply to discover in what way we can talk about these things.”
15. “It’s important to remember that what you think is the truth could be your own incomplete or erroneous perception.”
16. “Our communication is not neutral. Every time we communicate, we either produce more compassion, love, and harmony or we produce more suffering and violence.”
17. “Our communication is what we put out into the world and what remains after we have left it.”
18. “You are what you do, not only what you do with your body, but also with your words and your mind.”
19. “Speech, the second form of action, can heal and liberate, or it can cause destruction and pain.”
20. “Communication isn't static. Even if yesterday you produced a thought of anger and hate, today you can produce a thought in the opposite direction, a thought of compassion and tolerance.”