Is What I’m About to Say an Improvement on Silence?

How many times have you cut someone off mid-sentence, or blurted something out in a conversation or argument… only to regret it moments later?

We’ve all done it. Being mindless in our speaking and listening is a common human experience that can be hurtful and add strain to relationships. However, being mindful is a learnable skill we can utilize to minimize such hurtful situations, improve our communication and heal relationships.

In SHINE groups we invite participants to practice mindful listening and speaking in several ways. First, one of the Native American Council Guidelines we use for how we communicate with each other in the group is to “Be Lean in Speech.” This encourages brief and succinct speaking, which requires one to be mindful about what is truly important.

Secondly, one of the Keys to Mindfulness asks “Is what I’m about to say an improvement on silence?” This is always one of the favorite practices in SHINE groups. Here are the basic steps to practice it in your daily life:

  • Notice the “about-to” moment when you are on the verge of saying something.
  • Notice the body sensations in that moment. Is there tightness somewhere? Notice your breathing. How does your body feel all over? Note these subtle signs from your body when you are “about to” say something.
  • Pause and ask yourself if speaking or silence would be the wisest response.

Sometimes speaking may be most appropriate, and sometimes it may not. Be curious about your experience when you choose a different response from your usual way of being. How does it affect you, others, or your relationships?

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river. When the ocean is searching for you, don’t walk to the language-river. Listen to the ocean, and bring your talky business to an end. ~ Rumi

Here’s a brief story Tara Brach shares in her book, Radical Acceptance, which beautifully demonstrates the power of choosing silence:

In a small mid-western town, an elderly couple lived next door to a family with a four-year-old son.  When the old woman died, her grieving husband was left totally on his own.  Several days after her death, the little boy went to visit the man, and they spent hours together silently – the boy sitting on the old man’s lap.

Each year the town gave an award for the “kindest act,” and the following spring the elderly gentleman nominated the boy to be the recipient.  Surprised, the boy’s mother asked her son, “What was it you talked about that day when you went over there?” He responded, “I didn’t say anything, Mommy. I just helped him to cry.”

How might more mindful listening – perhaps even silence – serve you in challenging work or life situations?

To what one breath can do,



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