I am guy who immerses himself in his passions. This can be a double edged sword. It has served me well in develop a lot of skills and interests, but it can also make me a little obtuse sometimes when I’m talking to other people. If I’m not mindful, I can rattle on endlessly about whatever I’m into, only to look up at some point and find the person I’m talking to completely checked out or doing the polite nod and smile thing. My contemplation on the Precepts this month has me thinking about this habit from a new perspective.

After my Attachment to Broken Things post earlier this week, I had a person respond to a retweet, defending their attachment to a car they had, and stating their intention to keep an old car that held some memories for them. I had a hard time deciding how to respond to this. First, it was pretty clear to me that they hadn’t actually read the post, as I never advocated getting rid of things just because they had emotional significance. My primary thought, however, was to try to talk to them about the dangers of attachment and clinging. I have personally experienced how much suffering our attachment to all of these impermanent things can cause, and I sincerely want to help other people escape suffering. I typed out and erased several responses, before finally deciding that this person was not really in the market for a Dharma lesson. In the end I just responded with the following –

After this internal wrestling match, I posted one of those tweets that is basically me workshopping my thoughts in front of the Twitterverse, and my friend Duane Toops offered a really great paraphrase of St. Francis of Assisi –

I think this is as beautiful when applied to the Dharma as it was when St. Francis applied it to the Gospel. I think that I was right in deciding that the situation I was working through was not an appropriate time for trying to hammer home a point about the Dharma. In being mindful that my words would not have been useful or timely, I believe that I was acting in keeping with the Dharma. Maybe there was a way for me to illustrate my thoughts on attachment in a skillful way, but nothing came to me that didn’t feel preachy or condescending, so refraining in that moment still seemed like the right move.

One of the ways that I have been working with the Fourth Precept, is to try to listen more and speak less. In my enthusiasm to talk about something that excites me, I have often been guilty of hearing people without listening to them. Engaging in conversation without truly listening to others makes our words self-serving and ineffectual. When we actively listen to the person across the table or screen from us, we become more aware of what words are actually useful. I have also observed an increase in feelings of compassion and empathy toward other people through more purposeful listening. We live in a time where many of us are starved for meaningful connection, which can only be found through being truly present for others.

As I mentioned in my initial Precept Project post on the Forth Precept, speech might be the most challenging Precept to practice. As with all of the precepts, the key is in being more mindful in our day to day life. Speaking the Dharma is largely done by living mindfully, and through that mindfulness we can recognize when it is also necessary to use words.