I’m reading a thoughtful article in the January issue of Shambhala Sun, titled “What Makes Us Free”. In it Joseph Goldstein was speaking about “wise speech” and remarking on how few of us take the time to slow down before we speak. Then he went on to say how he enjoyed watching his mind about to engage in “useless talk”. (a very stark rendering of two delightful paragraphs)
Now, I suppose, from a mindfulness viewpoint, I failed reading this article, because at that point my mind wandered off to the video by Shimi Cohen (See here) that used quite a bit of Sherry Turkle’s TED talk (See here) and the art of writing, two very separate things, but suddenly related in my mind, because of this article.
You didn’t used to think of writing as something as “useless talk”. When someone bothered to take the time and write it down, there was, almost by default, more weight added to the words. But when you dig down into the craft of writing, there is the constant exhortation to just get it down; and that means that quite a bit of it is going to be “useless”, which may key into why there is so much resistance to the practice. When I think of images of writers, I don’t see frivolous images. I see respectable, slow, thoughtful images. Images that speak of knowledge or wisdom. With that in mind, why ever would you want to burst that bubble and write down whatever garbage just filled your mind when you saw that rose get half its petals knocked off by the careless delivery man? No, most of us see writing as the communication of “wise speech”, grocery list notwithstanding.
How does Ms. Turkle fit into this? Well, she has a different take on “useless speech”. Those things you say and get called on, or later think of at 3 a.m. and wince; the speech that happens in real time, those words. She feels that having these conversations, even the parts filled with “useless speech”, are critically important in developing the skill to have conversations with ourselves, and that is something intrinsically valuable to our stability. So we could say, in this different context, that she is pro “useless speech” if the alternative is only “crafted speech”. Interesting, because writing is, was, crafted speech. Censored speech. Edited speech.
But that is diving into absolutes. Mr. Goldstein was not advocating not speaking, he was advocating more mindful speech. Ms. Turkle is not advocating the shunning of communications technology, merely to be more mindful on how we use it, lest we loose an important part of ourselves. So, when you are faced with a jumble of words and images that you know, know, you should get down on paper – it’s alright. It will be messy and ugly and if there was a Pulitzer for shallowness, put you firmly in the running, but put it down anyway. Because it’s so much better than the alternative: a blank page for the day.
That is the stuff that we work with. Once it’s out of our head and lying on the page in front of us, we can begin to craft with it. Until then, there’s no material to work with. Artists in more physical mediums go out and purchase that stuff. Then, depending on the craft, build up or remove to expose what their intention is. Isn’t it great? We don’t have to stand in line in the checkout! There’s that.
What if it’s really, truly, bad and we can’t work with it, no matter how hard we try? Then we could go back to the words of Mr. Goldstein and Ms. Turkle and cultivate the mindfulness that they are recommending. Mindfulness to our speech, to our actions and the impact of them, will raise the quality of them. The inner dialog matters. Mindfulness of that dialog will help you sit, alone at your page, without fear as to what will happen.
And as you settle, the genuine will peek through and you’ll have a conversation, not just a connection.