right speech & the right teacher

image via seattleweekly.com

We’ve all asked our yoga teacher for a little help now and then. Perhaps we’ve asked about good vegan restaurants in the neighbourhood, breathing exercises to aid sleep, or tips for rocking Chaturanga Dandasana. But Seattle-based humour columnist Michael Stusser enlisted his yoga teacher for a bigger, more transformative project.

While going through a nasty divorce, Michael “decided to take the radical step of removing all trash talk, mud-slinging, rude riffing, and taunting Tweets from my everyday existence for an entire month” and write about his experience for the Seattle Weekly. Realizing that he couldn’t just avoid people and be silent, and that his previous attempts at making major life changes resulted in failure, he saw the need for reinforcement.

If the Dalai Lama and J.Lo had a love child, it would be Dawn Jansen. For 14 years now, this gorgeous and brilliant yoga instructor has twisted me into a pretzel, cured my sciatica, and gently placed positive mantras into my thick skull. Hearing about my grand experiment (and knowing my extensive weaknesses), Dawn understood the need for a game plan.

She arrived at my house with no fewer than a dozen books intended to impart some structure and words of wisdom. “You’re not going to be perfect in your practice,” Dawn noted in her nonjudgmental yet powerful way, “and there’s going to be resistance. But if you ritualize how you go about it and proceed with compassion, you should be all right.”

As we reviewed the various scriptures and guidelines, the Buddhist concept of “Right Speech” came into focus. “The first element is abstaining from false speech—basically lies and deceitful speech,” Dawn said. I don’t do a whole lot of lying (anymore), so I think avoiding flat-out fabrications this month shouldn’t be a problem. “The second notion is abstaining from hateful or slanderous speech,” she added. Slander: making false and malicious statements about others. Sounded fair enough. “Third element is avoiding harsh words that hurt or offend other people,” she continued.

I must have looked dumbfounded. “It’s not like you can’t say anything negative,” Dawn explained. “There is room for straight shooting so long as it’s truthful.” OK, I’m down. “And finally,” Dawn added, “there’s abstaining from idle chatter.” But idle chatter’s my specialty! “You just don’t want to get involved in conversations that have no purpose or depth,” she clarified. “So, no bullshitting?” I replied. So much for small talk.

Read the rest of Michael’s honest adventures with right speech here. And as a middle-aged, sarcastic, funny guy writing about yoga-tinted learnings, Michael may be setting himself up to be the next Neal Pollack. Just what the world needs!

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5 Comments

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  1. good to see you back blogging, lady……:D

  2. Thank you for sharing this. While generally I love to connect the law and yoga, the law I practice is family law, and I just started a blog for family law professionals about ways to change the system. I am wary of bringing too much yoga to it too quickly, but when others do it first, especially those going through a divorce, it provides me with great fodder and hopefully more discussion among the professionals who can continue to advocate for change to the system. While I see a lot of articles on divorce, this was my first encounter with this particular one. Thanks for bringing it to light. While his article is not specifically about right speech in the context of his divorce, it is an interesting precursor to what set him over the edge and a lesson for all of us.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. And I’m glad to see that you’re applying your sharp lawyer eye to everything you read! It’s true that this article isn’t as much about the divorce as it is about the author’s challenge to practice right speech, which seems to be inspired by all the negativity brought up by the divorce.

      Your blog is looking great, keep up the good work!

      • Thanks, Roseanne. The Family Law Blog is different than the one I have been writing before, but it is what I hope to do to actually fix a broken system. And part of that is exactly what this article is about — divorce is a time when professionals can make matters much, much worse, or help people move down a new path. 🙂 Thanks for everything.

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