Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Conscious Speech

Of all spiritual practices, speaking consciously ranks among the most difficult and most rewarding. Even those with long devotion to inner work do not find this easy. When we talk, we have some notion of our intentions, of what we wish to communicate. But typically our awareness of ourselves nearly vanishes the moment our mouths open and we begin to speak.

To start working on conscious speech, we can attempt to be aware of the actual sound of our voice as we speak, during the act of speaking. This apparently simple task proves surprisingly slippery. We may know that we are about to speak, and have full intention of being aware of the sound of our voice as we speak, and then it all disappears in the very next moment when we actually start talking. Yet the difficulty of this practice makes it particularly valuable in improving our ability to stay present, not to mention improving our relationships. We need to extend presence to every corner of our life, especially those that the light of consciousness rarely visits. The act of speaking defines one such dimly lit room and the key to lighting it is to maintain our intention to hear our voice, to sense our mouth, tongue, and throat.

Conscious speech means more than simply being aware of the sound of our voice. It extends to awareness of the meaning of our words and our intentions in speaking. So much of what we say comes from ego-centered motives: judgment and criticism often enter gossip and destructive emotions lead us to say hurtful words. Self-centeredness makes us think everyone is so very interested in listening to us talk on and on about ourselves, while we exhibit no interest in the other person. All this feeds our egoism. The less we criticize others, the less critical we are of ourselves, and vice versa. The less we hurt others, the less we will be hurt. The less we talk about ourselves, the less we are boxed into our small, ego-centered world, and vice versa. Our ego fears the light of awareness, so the more awareness we bring to the intentions driving our speech, the freer we grow.

Saying only what is true requires consciousness. Of course, this does not imply saying everything that is true, when tact and kindness advise otherwise. Well-chosen, heartfelt words open the gates of relationship, deepening our circle.

Conscious speech also encompasses speaking from the whole of ourselves, so that we mean and feel what we say, and when appropriate and useful we say what we mean and feel.

Speech includes our body language, the gestures, posture, and facial expressions we adopt in communicating. So in speaking consciously, we cast a wide net to include intention, tone of voice, meaning of words, as well as body language within the field of our immediate awareness. To achieve such breadth of consciousness, we need to be fully present. We do not try to dissect the event into its components of tone of voice, gestures, and so on, but rather we reside in presence to the wholeness of the experience of speaking. To prevent this wholeness of presence from disintegrating without warning, we ground ourselves in the concrete and inwardly verifiable awareness of our tone of voice. Listening to our voice as we speak, we listen also for the whole.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to speak consciously also means to be fully aware of the person(s) to whom we are speaking, to see them as people like ourselves, to be aware of the potential effect of our words on them before we say the words, to be aware of the actual effect on them after we've said the words, and with open heart and mind to listen to the response. In this way, we honor the humanity of the other person and, in so doing, honor our own.



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