Mindfulness of speech is a big practice once you have children. With our little ones looking to us as models of ways of being, what comes out of our mouths has an impact we can’t escape, as they will inevitably repeat back to us at some point or another what slips out. I have a terrible habit of cursing – I picked it up many years ago in an attempt to appear much tougher than I actually was as a punk rock teen. And my father cursed in front of us daily- so much for having a Professor of English as a language role model! I am reminded everyday how much I still use these curse words; as my level of exhaustion rises, my mindfulness over my tongue weakens, and a few choice words are sure to follow as I struggle to find my keys or drop a plate in the kitchen. My little ones are looking on, and as I notice them looking at me, and to me, I am instantly reminded of my speech and come back to my resolve to not curse either in front of them or anyone else.
On a more subtle level than curse words, I have begun working with the notion of “complaint” in my daily speech and thought. Speech after all begins in our thoughts, in the constant self-talk we engage in silently to ourselves. This self-talk plants the seeds of speech that will blossom out of our mouths the more we water them internally. Complaint is a form of speech, both internal and external, that truly pushes us towards aggression and away from compassion or joy. To voice dissatisfaction, to indulge in it in our self-talk and then share it with others, can truly distort our relationship to things as they are. Complaint is actively warring with what is. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t see things as they are and then see possibilities for change that will benefit ourselves and others. That is much different from complaint. Where the former still includes acceptance and clear seeing, the latter is always about our own projection onto and discomfort with reality. It is about closing instead of opening. Opening to what is can lead to transforming things, whereas closing and complaining just shuts out all possibilities.
So, working with complaint for me has been very sparky and rich. It has meant noticing when I am engaging in complaining self-talk. It has meant also noticing when I am uncomfortable with reality and what is arising in it and reacting with a shove rather than an embrace of what is going on. This has led me to notice my tone of voice with my children. I am now aware that when I am uncomfortable with my children’s needs and their communication of their needs, I adopt a very exasperated, edgy tone of voice, even if my words are quite sweet! There are days when it seems my toddler and infant are playing an out of tune violin right in my ear, and every sound they communicate to me provokes a reaction of impatience. Again, my words sounds patient and loving, but my tone and my way of being are full of complaint. As though I am saying “stop bothering me!” “what do you need NOW?!” “Can’t you just play quietly for five minutes?” I have never actually voiced these things, but I am still communicating with a push away rather than a welcoming in. So, what to do with that?
Again, just noticing is the first powerful step in stopping the chain of karma. So I notice. I pause. I stop being so busy with what I think I must be doing, and instead try to open to my children. Sometimes I need to acknowledge to myself that yes, I am tired, and yes, these little ones are certainly needing a lot from me today. And I have made a vow to give to others, not just my own children. And really, nothing is happening. They aren’t trying to do anything to me, or to harm me. They simply need a drink, or a nursing, or a cuddle, or a changed diaper or help opening a box or the thousand other things that require a big person’s aid. It doesn’t have to be such a big deal. So, do I push them away with my complaint about what is, or do I open to them? The wonderful thing is that when I open, my discomfort invariably drops away. I find I am more resourceful at finding things that will help them. Everyone perks up and relaxes. We move forward. And my level of complaint and their level of need also tend to drop. This is what the mind of no complaint can begin to accomplish. What are ways you work with mindfulness of speech around your children?