It seems to me that the words we speak reflect our experiences of being alive, but they also reciprocally eventually create them. Accordingly, many people have tried to answer the question, “How can we take the spacious, peaceful, open, and un-driven mindstate of Buddhist mindfulness meditation into our verbal communication?” Marshall Rosenberg for example once told me that trying to do this was one of his motivations for creating NonViolent Communication.
Trying to speak in a meditative way is why I sometimes prefer to speak in a way that is unusual and somewhat clunky, but which feels to me like it embodies more mindfulness, presence, freedom, spaciousness, openness, groundedness, invitation, flow, and fuck it – “spirituality”. I contrast that with language that feels to me more full of ungroundedness, obligation, shame, compulsion, and an assumption of fixed attributes of personality.
For example, I prefer to say “I am enjoying envisioning meeting for lunch with you next week” instead of “I’m looking forward to meeting you for lunch next week”. To me, “looking forward” has a feeling of lunging and grabbing for the future. “Enjoy envisioning” feels more meditative; to me, it communicates that I am simply noticing that – grounded and openly aware in the present moment – my thinking mind is having a vision of seeing you for lunch, and I am also noticing sensations of enjoyment as a I do
I try to say “I enjoyed and appreciated your gift” rather than “thank you for your gift”, or (even more unpleasant) “I could never repay you for your gift”. I don’t know what “thank you” originally meant or literally means, but to me in modern usage it has a slight feeling of debt and unworthiness. Telling someone that I am feeling enjoyment and appreciation has more of an open, grounded, spacious, warm, aware and connected feeling for me.
“I’m sorry” literally means “I notice an unpleasant feeling of contrition in my body for what I did”, which is actually quite a present-moment meditative concept. But, colloquially, “I’m sorry” often seems to me like it translates as, “I did something bad”. I like what Marshall used to say – “I’ve never done anything ‘bad’, you’ve never done anything ‘bad’, no one has ever done anything ‘bad’ – we just do actions that bring pain to others.”
So, rather than “I’m sorry” (or, worse still, “I made a mistake”), I like to say (and I also prefer that other people to say to me) “I can see the pain you are feeling, I feel badly about that, and I am setting my intention to act differently in the future”. The first part communicates open-hearted compassion that witnesses another’s state, and the third part lays the groundwork for positive change. And while “I’m sorry” and “I feel badly about what happened” technically mean the same thing, the former for me has, again, an extra connotation of badness and guilt, while the second feels more grounded in the present moment with simple mindful nonjudgemental awareness and noticing.
I also don’t like the use of the second-person command form in friendly contexts. So, for example, I prefer to say the more spacious “I wish you a great weekend” instead of ordering people to “Have a great weekend”. That second salutation feels more tight and compressed to me.
Similarly, I try not to order people, “Man, ya gotta check out this thing”. Instead, I say, “I have enjoyed this thing, and I imagine that you might enjoy it too. I invite you to check it out.”
[In the process of writing this, I took a break and wrote out to text to my girlfriend, “We should check out Spiesenkiemer restaurant in Alemeda”. But, being extra aware of speaking spaciously because I’m writing about it, I edited the text before hitting “send” and instead sent, “I enjoy envisioning you and me checking out Speisekammer in Alemeda together.”]
I also try not to say “Did you have fun last night?” or “Do you like your new shoes?”, because saying things like that feels like it communicates an expectation as to how I think the person should feel about their night or their shoes. Instead, I try to say “How was it last night?” or “How do you feel about your new shoes?”. That feels like it creates more space and allowing the person to be as they are and shows more kind curiosity.
I don’t like saying that “I hope” something – to me, that has the implication that there is something lacking to reality the way it is, and that I’m holding my breath until that thing happens. In general, the word “hope” feels anemic, ungrounded, and lacking conviction to me. So, I instead of saying, “I hope you feel better”, I instead say, “I wish you health, wellness, and recovery” or something like that. That second statement to me feels more full and present, like I am grounded in the here and now feeling a healthy, emotionally warm wish for your well being.
Most clunky of all, I sometimes ask people, “What is your age?” rather than, “How old are you”? People usually ask me to repeat the question, it’s such an unusual one that people often don’t immediately understand. But I feel that it’s more respectful to not call people “old” right out of the shoot.
I feel free to use my unusual phrases with people who are already friends or when I am feeling calm. With strangers, at work, or when I am feeling stressed or in a hurry, I usually simply say more common phrases, “Looking forward to seeing you” or “I’m sorry”.
It’s not exactly the same, but, somewhat relatedly: my mom’s dad taught me that if someone asks how was an event – a party, class, lecture, or whatever – that happened once and will not happen again, it’s best to simply respond “Ehh it was OK”, even if it was great. This is a kind thing to say, because the person already missed the event, and it won’t happen again. If another similar event happening in the future, and there’s a chance that the person can go to the next one, then it’s helpful to say, “It was great! I had a great time. I am imagining that you may enjoy the next one, and I recommend checking it out.”