In many American universities, there is a course called Communications Skills. I am not certain what they teach, but I hope it includes the art of deep listening and loving speech. These should be practiced every day if you want to develop true communications skills. There is a saying in Vietnamese, “It doesn’t cost anything to have loving speech.” We only need to choose our words carefully and we can make other people very happy. The way we speak and listen can offer others joy, happiness, self-confidence, hope, trust, and enlightenment . . .
Suppose your partner says something unkind to you, and you feel hurt. If you reply right away, you risk making the situation worse. The best practice is to breathe in and out to calm yourself, and when you are calm enough, say, “Darling, what you just said hurt me. I would like to look deeply into it, and I would like you to look deeply into it, also.” Then you can make an appointment for Friday evening to look at it together. One person looking at the roots of your suffering is good, two people looking at it is better, and two people looking together is best.
I propose Friday evening for two reasons. First, you are still hurt, and if you begin discussing it now, it may be too risky. You might say things that will make the situation worse. From now until Friday evening, you can practice looking deeply into the nature of your suffering, and the other person can also. While driving the car, he might ask himself, “What is so serious? Why did she get so upset? There must be a reason.” . . . Before Friday night, one or both of you may see the root of the problem and be able to tell the other and apologize. Then on Friday night, you can have a cup of tea together and enjoy each other. If you make an appointment, you will both have time to calm down and look deeply. This is the practice of meditation. Meditation is to calm ourselves and to look deeply into the nature of our suffering.
When Friday night comes, if the suffering has not been transformed, you will be able to practice the art of Avalokiteshvara — one person expressing herself, while the other person listens deeply. When you speak, you tell the deepest kind of truth, using loving speech, the kind of speech the other person can understand and accept. While listening, you know that your listening must be of a good quality to relieve the other person of his suffering. A second reason for waiting until Friday is that when you neutralize that feeling on Friday evening, you have Saturday and Sunday to enjoy being together . . .
Loving speech is an important aspect of practice. We say only loving things. We say the truth in a loving way, with nonviolence. This can only be done when we are calm. When we are irritated, we may say things that are destructive. So when we feel irritated, we should refrain from saying anything. We can just breathe. If we need to, we can practice walking meditation in the fresh air, looking at the trees, the clouds, the river. Once we have returned to our calmness, our serenity, we are capable again of using the language of loving kindness. If, while we are speaking, the feeling of irritation comes up again, we can stop and breathe. This is the practice of mindfulness.
The practice of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva is to listen very deeply to every kind of sound, including the sound of pain from within and from without. Listening to the bell, the wind, the water, the insects, and all living beings is part of our practice. When we know how to listen deeply and how to breathe deeply in mindfulness, everything becomes clear and deep.
To meditate is to look deeply into the nature of things, including our own nature and the nature of the person in front of us. When we see the true nature of that person, we discover his or her difficulties, aspirations, suffering, and anxieties. We can sit down, hold our partner’s hand, look deeply at him, and say, “Darling, do I understand you enough? Do I water your seeds of suffering? Do I water your seeds of joy? Please tell me how I can love you better.” If we say this from the bottom of our heart, he may begin to cry, and that is a good sign. It means the door of communication may be opening again.
True love includes the sense of responsibility, accepting the other person as he is, with all his strengths and weaknesses. If we like only the best things in the person, that is not love. We have to accept his weaknesses and bring our patience, understanding, and energy to help him transform . .
You may have the impression that you know everything about your spouse, but it is not so. Nuclear scientists study one speck of dust for many years, and they still do not claim to understand everything about it . . . Driving the car, paying attention only to your own thoughts, you just ignore your spouse. You think, “I know everything about her. There is nothing new in her anymore.” That is not correct. If you treat her that way, she will die slowly. She needs your attention, your gardening, your taking care of her.
We have to learn the art of creating happiness . . . The problem is not one of being wrong or right, but one of being more or less skillful. Living together is an art. Even with a lot of good will, you can still make the other person very unhappy. Good will is not enough. We need to know the art of making the other person happy. Art is the essence of life. Try to be artful in your speech and action. The substance of art is mindfulness. When you are mindful, you are more artful.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love