Out in the garden the other day, two robins erupted in squawks, screams, and a flurry of tumbling blows with their wings. Over on the garden bench, beneath the overhang of the shed, a pile of sticks and moss lay scattered over my clutter of pots, trays and bags of various plant foods. Something had gone on. What exactly, I don’t know. But those two birds had no trouble telling each other in the most physical of ways what it was they wanted to impart. Communication. And then it was over.
For the last decade or so one of the big buzz words has been “communicate,’ as in,” I’m all about communication,” or, “I’m taking communication,” or, “If only people would try to communicate with each other better.” What is communication? Telling each other the important things? What are the important things?
Taking a step sideways:
Okay. I’ve been avoiding this topic for the last week because it makes me feel humiliated by my past actions. But I’d have to give up this blog if I don’t write about it.
Right Speech. Hoisted on my own petard. In my case, my petard was my penchant to talk. Not that I intended to do harm to anyone. But I am aware that more than one person did not want to know me because I talked too much and did not listen. Communication to me was telling everybody all about ‘me’, what ‘I’ was doing, thinking and feeling. But by being focused on me, on my pitiful state, justifying it, explaining it, and (the real kicker) telling others what they should do to solve their problems, I was doing inadvertent harm to myself and others because I could not see I was like a kid playing around with chemicals and inadvertently blowing himself up. Anyone standing nearby would get wounded – irritation being, in effect, a wound of the emotions. How could I listen to anyone, or to the world, when all my attention was taken up in thinking up things to say? How could I know what was really going on if I wasn’t paying attention to what was around me? Just lately, when I finally learned to shut up, I gained a friend.
I took me at least 27 years to learn that I had nothing really important to say. In 1975, a then friend told me that all I ever talked about was myself. It was so true, it was the best gift he ever gave me. Since then I had been working on the puzzle: Why did I need to talk so much? The short answer is because of anxiety. An anxiety caused primarily from the original sin, the birth trauma, which makes us all feel like we are personally responsible for all that happens in the universe. The anxiety is caused because we never seem able to fix the world, and yet we feel we should.
In my family you either shut up or you talked all the time. I was one of the talkers. None of the things I ever said was really important. I was merely wailing out my own suffering. Oh sure, I would answer questions and tell you the time of the day or the state of the weather. But all the other verbiage was just blowing off the panic caused by my inability to understand the world I found myself in. When I told you whatever I was going on about that day, I was trying to get you to act in ways that made my world better. Sort of like blaming you for me feeling bad.
Another friend told me I stalked the ferry looking for someone, anyone, to whom to impart the answers of the universe. He avoided me then. Now he says I listen. Thank heavens. Listening feels so much better.
How did I get out of my excessive verbiage trap? It was that fateful day when I discovered not only that I knew nothing but that I could know nothing (I mean in an absolute sense). All I could ever know was what was right there, now. So what am I doing writing these long screes? Hoisting myself on my own petard again?
What are we trying to communicate? Why are we communicating? The third of the Eightfold Path advises us to abandon false speech, in other words, to tell the truth. The truth is only that which is directly in front of us right now and that which we think we saw (admitting that we are all unreliable narrators). How we feel about what is right there is up to us. Talking about it is a tricky business. Are we elaborating beyond what we know in order to bolster our claims? To make people like us better? In order to make people make us feel better?
We are advised to avoid talking about people in a way that will set one against the other. Warmongering is thus to be avoided. As is gossip of a malicious kind. When we meet with others we want to have a good time. Abandon speech that is abusive.
I got in an argument early on in my attempts to clear my muddled mind. My ‘opponent’ and I were saying some terrible things to each other. Luckily enough, I remembered something my therapist told me: Our emotions are not caused by others. They are feelings we have about our own reactions to the world. If we use angry or hateful words about others, we are only illustrating our own feelings about ourselves. In the middle of the argument I apologized for all the hurtful things I had said. Moreover I told the man that what I had said was really about myself, about what I was feeling like in the situation and not about him at all. It took the next three weeks to figure out why I had blown up (hoisted!). The harm I did to him was that it took him about three years to speak to me again without fear or suspicion.
Now whenever I feel bad about something, if I get irritated or angry at, or if I get upset in any way at (or in response to) another, I know I am really upset about myself. I know to walk away from the fight because what I am feeling is my responsibility, not the other’s. I cannot feel better except through my own effort in working with my own angst. No other person can make me feel better. I can only feel joy in their joy or sadness at their suffering. If I speak, the Eightfold Path advises me to say kind words. This is the practice. Knowing when to speak and when not to speak those few things which can be known.
So, the birds I mentioned above? What were they arguing about? The mess of sticks and moss. Was it a nest? Why weren’t there any eggs? All the birds have lain their eggs…. And on and on trying to figure out who was to blame. That one or the other?
picture of buzzards fighting