A Balancing Act

Exploring speech as a form of action and a mindfulness practice.

Mindful communication takes two premises as its starting point: 1) that speech and relationship are a powerful vehicle for spiritual transformation; and 2) that effective communication is a learned skill.
- Oren Jay Sofer


A version of the story told by the Buddha in the Sedaka Sutta:

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

'Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we'll surely earn enough to eat.'

But the little girl answered, 'Dear master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.'

Q: Which one do you agree with?

Exercise: Outside & In

  1. Slowly extend both hands in front of you with the palms facing outward (away from you). Let all attention to what is happening inside you fall away. Imagine your hands are like those radar telescopes in the New Mexico desert. Tune your awareness into the everything in the space around you, expanding as far out as you like.
  2. Slowly bring both hands in and place them over your heart. Shift all of your awareness to what is happening inside you: sensations, thoughts, emotions. Let the outside world drop away.
  3. Slowly bring one hand back out to the first position, extended with the palm facing outward. Allow your awareness to include both inside and outside at the same time.

Q: What did you experience?

Not Too Me, Not Too You

Oren Jay Sofer in Tricycle magazine writes:

Each performer must be firmly rooted in their own center of gravity, while simultaneously staying attuned to the subtle adjustments of their partner. In the same way, healthy relationships strike a delicate balance between autonomy and compassion through sensitivity, awareness, and on-going investigation. If we err on the side of autonomy, we can become cold, indifferent, or self-centered. Yet if we put all of our focus on others out of fear, habit, duty, or self-deprecation, we neglect our own needs, build resentment, and burn out.

Connect to What Matters

One suggestion is to connect to our deepest values, what is truly important and meaningful to us. Let what we find there guide our thoughts, speech, and action.

Emotions are data. When we are open to the difficult emotions, we are able to generate responses that are aligned with our values.
- Susan David

Q: What do you value?

Use your emotions to help you pinpoint what is important to you. For example, if you feel badly about leaving out one of the team members when praising them - why?

Intention & Gathas

You can form an intention based on something your truly value, and then bring it to mind before a conversation, a video call, or responding to an email.

For example, if you admire a positive attitude, you might say to yourself "Writing each email with a refreshing sense of lightness and wonder". Combine this with breathing, like a gatha:

  • Breathing in - "I write each email"
  • Breathing out - "with a refreshing sense"
  • Breathing in - "of lightness"
  • Breathing out - "and wonder"

Q: Make up a gatha that expresses a value in a way that embodies your intention.

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