I was talking the other day with my pal and boss Jamie about the poisonous effects of gossip. Everyone seems to do it. Whenever I meet someone who isn't a shit-talker, it stands out in my mind. Like, I am surprised and impressed by their ability to refrain from negativity.
When you spend any amount of time with someone who has a negative outlook/talks shit/can't find positivity in anything it sucks. It's actually kind of the worst.
And I'm not saying that everyone has to be always super-bubbly and warm and kind (though it sure would be nice), but I think we would all be happier if we kept our mouths shut when we didn't have anything good to say. And said nice things about people when we did.
If you are unhappy with someone/something that happened, there is a natural tendency to look for a commiserator in your misery. Telling someone else who agrees with us makes us feel better. But does it? I am starting to think that it actually feels really gross. And unkind. And hurtful.
I am reading Christina Sell's book My Body is a Temple. I had the super fortune to study with her in Austin, TX for a few months. She's been through some serious stuff and has come out with a gorgeous positive perspective on the experience of being alive. At the end of each chapter in the book, there are journaling exercises and one chapter in particular is a personal study in the yamas and niyama.
The yamas are social observances, ways that you should practice interacting with others and with the world around you. The niyamas are personal observances pertaining to your individual internal thoughts/actions. If you are interested in an in-depth look at all 10 of them click on the link in the text.
So, for each of the observances, she poses 5 questions for you to consider and write about. They are:
- What does (yama/niyama) mean?
- What does (yama/niyama) mean to you?
- In what ways do you violate the spirit of (yama/niyama)?
- What areas of your life could benefit from the consistent application of (yama/niyama)?
- How might you practice (yama/niyama) in these areas?
I love this kind of work. You have the opportunity to choose to be thoughtful about all your actions/reactions toward others AND toward yourself. And if you really want to do the hard work, you can look deep inside yourself for true answers, even if they aren't always the ones we want to have.
I have found through my own work on these questions that a consistent difficulty for me is in the realm of gossip. I don't like to do it, it makes me feel terrible. Yet I find myself again and again in situations where it's happening and I'm involved. Maybe I'm not saying anything, but I'm also not shutting it down.
What to do?
A simple practice that I do all the time is one of shifting perspective. Whenever I have a negative interaction or feel some troubling emotion about a person or situation, I try to turn it around to see their perspective. I know I've mentioned this many times before in this blog and it is truly transformational work. It can be maddening at times, but it almost without fail makes me feel better every time. And it saves me the vast amount of energy that we can potentially expel by having a negative response.
Something else I've been trying out is to say nice things about whomever is being gossiped about. Mentioning their good points and doing so with compassion usually works to diffuse the negative speak and change the subject.
Life is a work in progress. Mistakes are consistently made along this path and our work is to be aware of them and try to be better next time.
Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.
May all beings be happy and free from suffering.