Consider a couple examples: We can think of the eight-fold path in Buddhism noting “right speech” as a principle for ethical conduct, including but not limited to, the use of words. One teaching Rami Shapiro notes in The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness is a Jewish mystical teaching by the Baal Shem Tov. Shapiro comments on this teaching and poses an important question: “…Hasidism taught that each of us is born with a fixed number of words to speak, and when we have spoken the last of these we die. How would your everyday speech change if you really believe that?” (Shapiro, R. (2006), p. 78). Here, words are important for leading a life worthy of the best part of ourselves.
Beyond the ethical injunctions, words matter in creating psychological and societal ease. A therapist attuned to the mindfulness of words, will use language as a tool for self-discovery, repair, and wholeness. Noticing (compassionately) how words can activate a reaction in us can uncover deeper beliefs. Assisting clients in locating the genesis of unhelpful reactions and tracing associations with them can assist in self-awareness. Here, the conflux of language, experience, emotion, physicality, culture, etc, can be encountered and uncover how perceptions and their underlying beliefs are formed and reinforced. Amidst the felt sense of some affirming feelings, often there are untrue, unreliable, unhelpful and/or harsh understandings of ourselves, others and our world. Through awareness, intentionality and compassion, heart, mind, and physicality can be experienced more gently, more wisely, more skillfully-and, the words we utter may come closer to capturing the gentleness, wisdom, and skill needed for ourselves, others and out communities.
What words might you speak to yourself or another today? What words will you withhold for yourself or another today? What words will you consume today in the material read, watched or listened to?