“A closed mouth gathers no foot.” I put this in quotes because it is not my line and I do not know to whom it is credited. I have, however, had it hanging on my kitchen door for some time now – almost long enough that it is time to take it down because i no longer see it. I keep it because the quote is quite powerful in its ability to remind me to watch my mind, to watch ego and its need to project, and to watch my mouth as i SPEW all sorts of so-called knowledge into the world.
If i pay close attention, and i mean VERY close, honest attention, i discover that much of what i say as if i “know”, i really don’t know. When i look i find i am injecting my opinion, my “knowing”, not because i genuinely have the facts, but for a variety of other reasons. Reasons like:
- ego telling me i haven’t been in the conversation enough
- ego telling me to speak up and be heard so i can feel better about myself after having judged myself as “not enough” in this particular moment
- ego telling me the other person(s) is dominating way too much and i must say something to bring them down a notch and me up a notch.
Reading this may sound like insanity to you and if it does, if you find yourself resisting, then here is an opportunity. I’ll bet that if you begin to look, really look with honesty at yourself, you will find much you have never seen before just as i have in my looking.
How about a few examples?
I was Talking with friends the other day and the conversation drifted to cars. One person was dominating the conversation by repeatedly expressing his opinion of the high-quality products Ford puts on the market these days. I had been silent for some time because i’m not really interested in cars when suddenly i siad, “Fords have bad transmissions.”
“What”, i think to myself in surprise.
“Where did that come from?”
It only took a second of looking inward, of bringing attention to my internal process, and I saw that I had owned a Ford once in my life. I remembered it was an old car and the transmission was going bad. So that means all Fords have bad transmissions and it also means i know this as a fact.
While talking with other friends about the water filter i put on my shower and how wonderful it feels to have ‘soft’ water — you know, i was going on and on answering their questions, telling them how smooth my hair and skin felt — one person asked how often i changed the filter. I said, “the manufacturer says every six months”, when suddenly, the one person who had been quiet during the entire conversation said, “ya know, those filters really only last about a week or so, then they are full and just recycle the dirt because you can’t back wash them.”
Yes, he may be an expert in the functionality and manufacturing of shower filters, but i tend to think not. So, does it seem possible that the reasons listed above may have influenced his comment?
The content and context of what is said hold little value for our purposes here. The value comes in have the willingness to notice your experience. There is much to learn about myself every time i am able to pause and simply notice myself before, during and after my speaking. After some time i began to notice that if i stay attentive to me, i can tell when i am speaking from ego. My body and my thoughts give me all the information i need to discover this. In the car example above, i could feel myself preparing to make the statement. As i processed the words and watched them develop in my mind, i felt my body awakening with anxiety. Now it was minor, but in practicing daily one can learn to recognize even the slightest shifts in sensation. The anxiety fed my need to release it and my need to be heard to the point that i could no longer resist and out the words came. Speaking them felt unsettled, and the silence after offers another gift, if i am willing to receive it.
Take the time to notice when you can, what you are saying. Notice if you are stating something as if you “know” when you really do not. And, if you are, you don’t have to tell anyone except yourself. Your noticing may be delayed till some time after the occurrence. So what, accept it for the gift that it is when it comes. All that is necessary is your willingness to be honest with yourself.
I’ll close with a final quote. It’s an old Zen proverb i think (but don’t ‘know’ for sure).
“Ninety percent accuracy is not as good as silence.”