Filled with Loving Kindness–What We Speak

What
We speak
Becomes the house we live in.
Who will want to sleep in your bed
If the roof leaks
Right above
It?

Look what happens when the tongue
Cannot say to kindness:
“I will be your slave.”
The moon
Covers her face with both hands
And can’t bear
To look.

–Hafiz
from The Gift,
translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Does what we speak become the house we live in?  That’s a notion easy to dismiss.  Except that on some level we suspect it’s true and except that there are some new and interesting brain studies.

The brain studies show that when we use negative words, they tap into our natural inclination to worry, affect our amygdala which then causes our bodies to dump a host of stress hormones into our systems.  They create such a storm in our brains and nervous systems that it interferes with our frontal lobe where we otherwise might engage in rational thought and decision making.  Further, negative words impinge on the parietal lobe where we form perceptions of ourselves.  Negative words make us perceive ourselves more negatively. How we perceive ourselves tends to color how we perceive others and the external world in general.  All of this can be triggered by a single negative word.

Hafiz was right long before there were brain studies.  What we speak becomes the house we live in.  And, more.  The words we speak can begin to create the house that others live in, too.

Hafiz was right about something else, too, and this is good news.  When we give our tongues over to service to kindness, that changes our brains, too.  Holding a positive word and a positive thought in mind calms our brains and nervous systems, moves us out of worry and fear, sweeps stress hormones from our systems, and changes the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

I don’t pretend that this is easy, especially not these days.  There is plenty around me to set me up for negative words and thoughts.  I have to choose the harder thing–the words and thoughts of which I want to build my house and my world.

Bob Patrick

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