Today is Sojong. This is a time of confession and purification that I learned from my teacher, Anam Thubten, Rinpoche. He sends us things to think about, a few days before the 15th of every month (which is when we observe Sojong), but encourages us to honor it however we see fit.
So it’s today. Usually, when Sojong comes around, I wake up thinking, “I will fast today.” But then I get hungry so I bargain: “Ok…but, no sugar all day.” Or I go the opposite direction, and I dream of driving up to Blue Cliff Monastery and practicing with the monks and nuns there for the whole day.
I’ve never done any of those things. I’ve always just kind of thought about it, and then pissed the day away, doing to-do list junk, and walking around in a smog of low grade guilt. I’ve never really made a devotional day of it. Never gave Sojong the respect it deserves.
Today could have been no different. I had a yoga class to teach in the morning, a post-op doctor’s appointment at 1:30pm, and was due to speak on an NAPW panel (Nat’l Association of Professional Women) about mindfulness. A basket full of excuses. But I’ve had it with this squirrely, meaningless non-engaged self.
Today is Sojong for real. I will figure it out. There is too much wrong with the world for me to skip taking a look at what’s wrong with me, so I can set myself straight again. It’s not self-recrimination. It’s just a reality check.
My intent was to rise at 5:00am and clean the floors of my meditation corner. Air out the altar cloth. Maybe find some flowers in the garden for the Buddha. Light the candles and the incense, set my timer for an hour and begin the month’s review of my lapses— noticing where I went off track, accidentally or knowingly, and each time returning to my breath with a fresh commitment to this precious path I’ve chosen.
I didn’t sleep for much of the night, so ended up waking at around 8:00am.
Back in the day, it would have been, “Ok, well, for sure then I’ll do Sojong tomorrow.” Like it was a chore — vacuuming the living room, or changing the air filters. But today was different. Sojong is a privilege, a gift. I overslept. Pema Chodron reminds us, “Start where you are.” So I did.
The prayer that came as I practiced, was “May every word that comes out of my mouth be truthful, timely and kind. And may I fulfill my purpose, showing up 100% for every moment I’m given this day.”
As I sat, I watched my past unskillful actions like a movie. Paid attention to what drove those choices. I recommitted to my root teacher. I recommitted to the one precept I’ve chosen to focus on this month: right speech.
This means so many things.
It means no gossiping. I’m not a gossip. This is no problem. And then I caught myself talking with my wife about someone in a non-flattering way. (Remember, Tina: a compliment with a dig at the end is still gossip).
It means no harsh speech, nothing disparaging. My wife and I are the most non-violent of 15-year-married couples. But there are so many hidden weapons baked into what I say to her sometimes. So many well-sharpened sighs, artfully wielded flat responses.
Recommit. I can be real, and I can do it in a way that’s kind. And timely.
It means no idle chatter. This is harder. Idle chatter sometimes fills scary empty spaces between two people, and then masquerades as “help.” It can also devolve quickly into disingenuous bullshit.
Recommit. Be quiet. Be a consummate listener.
It also means no cursing or rough talk. Oops (see above.) And, boy am I glad you can’t eavesdrop on all my mental trashtack.
And it means no false speech. Think about that one. No. False. Speech. In the deepest sense, if I were really to follow that one, I probably wouldn’t say more than a few words a day.
This is a rich practice, and I mean to make it mine.
Here’s what right speech does NOT mean. It doesn’t mean being fake nice or indifferent to injustice in the world. It doesn’t mean saying nothing, when something needs to be said.
Right Speech means think about what you want to say, before you say it. Then make a conscious choice about whether you still want to say it.
Let’s all do this. Or at least practice trying to do it.
From August 15th to September 15th, it’s Right Speech Month for Tina. I’m gonna do my best.
Join me if you wish.
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