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What Did You Just Say?

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

The trash talk we do (to ourselves) without thinking.


A couple of weeks ago, I heard myself for the first time in a while. I had just hissed, "God damn it!" through my teeth. It was the first thing I said all day, and it came out because the Advil bottle fell out of the medicine cabinet into the sink. As I put it back where it belonged (you have to be a Jenga master to do this because of our stupid f&*%ing medicine cabinet), I continued my verbal assault with a caustic, whispered, "Really?"

That's how I started my day. Muttering curses over nothing.

Last week, in the other room, my wife swore with a pent-up intensity that made me think something terrible had happened. When I called down, "You okay?" she said, "Yeah, it's nothing, never mind." I remembered my Advil incident and thought how it must've been for her, hearing me lose it. I noted the harshness of the words. I felt the energy in their spoken life, I felt their impact.

I'm not talking about conscious, planned, aimed verbal abuse. I'm talking about the conversational wallpaper of Oh Crap. I'm talking about the inner and outer hostility that's made its way into our cultural lexicon, hence most of our casual talk.

Words have power. And the negative ones are not all sledgehammers. Most of them are more dangerous, more subtle than that. They have no taste or odor, but suddenly all the plants in your house are dead.

It's important to respect the power of our own speech.

For years, I've engaged with the Buddhist precept of Right Speech (not lying, gossiping, berating or disparaging, etc.). It's a rich practice that I routinely fail at by the time I've finished breakfast. But that's why it's called a "practice." If you do it every day, eventually, you get good at it. There's an aspect of Right Speech, however, that I've never explored before, and that is noticing the things I say when I'm alone.


* I noticed I cussed at the Advil. * I noticed a huge amount of self-deprecating sarcasm. * I noticed how often I called myself an idiot.

* I noticed that I ordered myself around a lot. I spoke harshly. "Come on, Tina, get your shit together."

* I noticed that I ran everything through the Snarky Complaint lens pretty much all day.

* I fumbled with the front door key. Curses.

* Butter fell out of the butter keeper in the fridge door. Curses.

* Page taking too long to load on laptop, spinning gear, beachball of death. Seriously? COME ON. More curses.

All this time, my intention was to listen. To notice the things I say out loud when I'm alone.


At the end of the day, I sat with these events and looked at them, one by one, asking, "What's this about?" and then really listening for the answers. After some reflection, it's pretty simple: Something didn't go my way. The Advil bottle didn't stay up on the shelf. The key didn't go in the keyhole. The page didn't load immediately.

If I want to cultivate an inviolate sense of peace, blurting out expletives every time something doesn't go my way is not the way to get there.

Even making room for greater understanding for the motives behind my negative self-talk, (I can't be with my grandson! I don't want to lose my fine motor skills! I just want things to be easier!), the fact remains: When things don't go my way, feeding harsh language will not change anything. It will only pull everyone down.

Sometimes, we just lose our shit over nothing--even when we really wanted to stay cool and conscious and collaborative. Remembering that is so important when doing any practice. Just keep the question "What's this about" close at hand, and let it deepen your relationship to your own awakening.


The bottom line is, listen to yourself talk when you're alone (if you talk when you're alone). We so often engage in an unconscious stream of verbal acid--toward ourselves, others, and the world. Let's at least heal that tiny corner of the picture by paying close attention to our own speech when we're alone, and becoming more mindful.

Maybe we'll get to the point where we catch the impulses before they take form in words.

Maybe we'll actually develop much more tolerance for the little things that used to upset us.

And maybe, with enough practice, we might get to where the Advil topples out of the medicine cabinet and the sound of it is a mindfulness bell--calling us back to the body, back to the bare feet on the bathroom tiles, back to the breath, the fact of gravity, and the blessing of being alive.

Let's start practicing today and never stop.

May all beings benefit. May all beings be happy and free.


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