Writing Choices: Words for your Thoughts

By: Rasa P.

My last blog entry was edited. A lot. I struggled to find the right words to write about my personal experiences while traveling in a country culturally and religiously different than where I grew up. On the one hand, I felt I had a right to say it as I felt it because they were my experiences. On the other hand, I might have been criticizing other people’s ways of living, which, despite being different from what I’m used to, is completely okay. This writing and editing experience brought me back to what I learned about words in the past.

Why are words so important?

On the internet, I often see a quote from Buddha that stresses the importance of right speech. In Buddhism, it is known as the fourth truth and it proposes that before one speaks aloud, one should ask him or herself if: “It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”

We all know that words can have power over our emotions and we often end up reacting to what is said. Hearing a compliment or positive news makes us feel happy or joyful; hearing swearing or an insult makes us angry or sad. It might not even be the intention of the speaker to influence us with their words, yet they can accidentally trigger our traumatic memories and we might take it personally. When we see a horror movie or hear all the news about wars and criminals, we start to have nightmares, be afraid of going out after dark, or just start to feel helpless in this world.

I believe that the reality we live in is neither good nor bad. It’s not always easy to accept it as it is. Therefore, to be more accepting, we need to constantly ask ourselves if the thoughts that are in our heads and the emotions that arise are really ours. Is that really what I think and are my feelings really true? Is it somebody manipulating me or an old wound that was reopened? For example, while travelling in Iran, I had to dress according to Islamic rules and that made me uncomfortable at some point. I started to feel angry because my freedom was suppressed. However, if I were completely free, would the way that I choose to dress even matter?

Speech experiment

I believe that to be truly peaceful with one’s environment, you need to make peace with the self. If you don’t think right about yourself, it’s less likely that right speech will come out towards other people. I’ll illustrate this with an example from my personal experience while taking part in an experiment that had a similar idea but no religious or spiritual elements. The aim of the course was to notice and work with my speech – my words spoken out loud but also my own unspoken thoughts.

First of all, I noticed that my thoughts are influenced by environment. In other words, the information that I received from outside naturally led my thoughts in one direction or another. It is said you are where your attention is. Throughout the first week, I followed the task and cleaned my information channels by unfollowing people that were negative on my social media channels and stopped watching and reading the news.

The next task was to notice how I speak and think or, to be more precise, which kind of sentence structure I use to express myself. There were a lot of I cant’s, I don’ts, and other not’s and no’s. Following this task, I started to rephrase them with more positive words that had no “no” particle. I remembered how irritated I felt when somebody was telling me not to do something or to stop acting in a certain way. Especially when I said it to myself. It just made me angry. All these steps made space in my head to stay present. I also noticed that I became less critical of those different from me and my inner judgments became less harsh.

Choice of words

When I think about it, it seems to me that how we talk to others is the reflection of our inner state. It is actually all up to you. I believe that it’s healthy to ask yourself every time you write something if these are the words you want to send out into the world. If you received them yourself, how would they make you feel? You want to rebel – it’s fine, you want a revolution – you have the right to do and say whatever you like. But remember, all calls come back in echoes, so be ready to accept the consequences.

Rasa Puzinaite