Needless Chatter

Do you find yourself jabbering on and on about nothing?  Do you exaggerate in order to entertain others?  Do you try to impress others with your “smarts” by talking about things you have limited knowledge, but wish you did?

Right Speech clocks in a No. 3 on the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. There are 4 virtues of Right Speech(1) and the final one is refraining from frivolous talk or gossip. Notice the time between when a thought comes up and when it’s out the mouth. Pretty short, huh. A short distance between brain and mouth is OK if you’re explaining quantum physics to a class of students–no problem. But,when you’re with your buddies and you’re catching up on the latest gossip in Mayberry, then increasing the time between the unkind/unnecessary thought and the boca is a good thing in order to avoiding frivolous or unnecessary talk.

It all comes down to intention (as does everything). Sharon Salzberg, Insight Meditation teacher, suggests that we imagine a time when we’ve felt the need to gossip.  Initially, neither act on the desire nor push it away, but rather sit with the feeling, wait. Think “will saying what I have the urge to say right now really serve my goals in relationship with this person and in my life?” If the answer is “yes,” go ahead, but if the answer is “no,” you haven’t said anything to that point so there’s a gain to staying quiet. The key here, I think, is to take that moment (the gap) to evaluate your intention for what may be frivolous talk or gossip.

I’ve tried to notice when I’m just jabbering.  If I truly become aware of my speech and avoid useless chatter, I don’t talk very much.  And, for me that feels odd.  For extroverts, talking (with our hands) is what we do. It’s a bit uncomfortable to be quiet. It reminds me of the Pulp Fiction scene where Uma and John are in the diner sitting across from one another:

Uma says:  Don’t you hate that?
John: What?
Uma: Uncomfortable silences. Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?
John: I don’t know. That’s a good question.
Uma: That’s when you know you’ve found somebody special. When you can just shut the f*%@ up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence.

Writing this article brings me to my time at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center where we practiced 24-hours of silence. That means no talking, during class or meals or passing someone on a trail. I’ve done this before at a 6-day silent retreat at Spirit Rock. It can be uncomfortable and jarring at first, especially at mealtime.  But, as time goes by, it gets more comfortable and actually welcomed the silence. It’s important to take a periodic break from the oral chatter which is often just an extension of the inner chatter.

So try (and it’s not easy) to notice what’s arising in the mind before you speak, the intention of the thought and the ensuing value in speaking. It may make you feel awkward at first and others may wonder what’s wrong with you, but check it out.  It’s a good practice to do to begin to be more mindful of your speech.  Let me know how it goes.