Jonathan Foust

January 9, 2009

Wise Speech

Filed under: Dharma — jonathanfoust @ 7:28 am

“What you can’t communicate controls you.”

That little adage has stuck with me ever since I first heard it in the Forum tranings I did a couple decades ago.

The Buddha taught a lot about the right use of speech.  In the monastic communities there were more rules about speech than there were about purifying the mind.  Five guidelines are helpful to keep in mind:

  1. Be friendly
  2. Be gentle
  3. Tell the truth
  4. Be aware of who is listening
  5. Be aware of your timing

I’ve noticed the first two suggestions don’t necessarily jive with the third.  It’s challenging to be friendly and gentle and at the same time, to tell the truth.  

This is where speech becomes a practice.

Way, way back when the ashram I was living in melted down, the cozy scene I thought I was for the rest of my life fell apart.  I had to leave.  I had to get a job.  I had very, very little money.

I was terrified.  A friend and I got into Network Marketing.  I sold Blue Green Algae and telephone service.

Network marketing is also called ‘relationship marketing.’  You enroll your friends and acquaintances into what you are offering, either as consumers or as fellow distributors.

My focus was intense.  I went at it with a combination of enthusiasm and fear.  No one was outside of my list of prospects and my shyness dissolved in the face of the possibility of a source of income that ‘worked while I slept’, the idea of working and making money with my friends and a gnawing fear of failure.

I made some money.  I actually did well.  But I tired of the constant pushing and never-ending anxiety.  The success I had paled to the people who had ‘gotten in earlier’ and I was driven by an unquenchable sense of anxiety and competition.

A few weeks ago I got a voicemail from my network marketing friend.   I had been his ‘sponsor’ in the blue green algae business and he’d been mine in the telephone business.  I hadn’t heard from him in a long time and called him right back.

Things were great, he said.  Never better.  After we’d both dropped the networking marketing thing (he went on with it for another ten years and then the telecommunications industry went into total meltdown) he’d gone into real estate and sales and did really well.  But that was the past and now he’d found another product, which he loved, and did I want to hear about it?

I realized then that I was being prospected.  He told me about a company that had a great longevity product. After he gave me the pitch, with a little tension building inside,  I told him I wasn’t interested.  We talked about our practices and he told me about how he’d found a path that fed him on a very deep level and how we has now enjoying his spiritual practice and telling people about this product that helped boost their health.

We wished each other well, hung up and haven’t talked since.

I knew I was on his prospect list and he was marking names off, seeing who he could enroll into his team.  When I didn’t hear back from him after our call, I realized I felt hurt. 

This morning I woke up at 4:45 from a dream about my friend.  I realized I was pissed – and I hadn’t told him.

This was ripe material for meditation, so I sat on the edge of my bed and closed my eyes.  Irritation.  Hurt.  Being seen as a prospect – someone to cross off a list and then move on to the next.

Then I thought about all the people I’d contacted in the name of ‘our shared financial independence.’  The people I’d strong-armed into joining up.  The people I’d used whatever charisma I had to recruit them into my venture.

I felt deeply sorry for all the ways I hadn’t really seen who I was talking to.  

I had a fair bit of fun doing network marketing.  I was a good sponsor.  I followed up.  I inspired.  I coached.  But I also leaned too heavy.  I wasn’t always kind.  I didn’t always tell the truth. 

I’m ready to talk to my friend now.

Adrienne Rich says:

An honorable human relationship, that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word love, is a process of deepening the truths we can tell each other.  It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

A powerful model for communication for communicating clearly and with mindfulness is Non-Violent Communication.  I’ve had some training in it and want to do more.  I highly recommend looking into it.  You can look at the book by Marshall Rosenburg here, find more on events locally here and download a quick summary (pdf file) from my website here.

Whenever we speak the truth without putting anyone out of our heart, we are peacemakers and expand our capacity for intimacy.  

A worthy endeavor.



  1. right speech write spelling hard from my iPod

    Comment by Gary — January 9, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

  2. try selling used sewing machines in south Chicago

    Comment by Gary — January 9, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Jonathan! I, too, was excited by the “prospect” of helping others get healthy and wealthy via network marketing in the ’90’s. I failed miserably because I heard “no” as rejection of me – not of the product or the business. I hope you have a good re-connection with your friend, and enjoy your time at Kripalu. Looking forward to seeing you soon and wishing you & Tara all the best in the New Year! xooxo Donna

    Comment by Donna — January 13, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  4. Thank you for the intro to NVC! After reading your blog, I purchased “Nonviolent Communication A Language of Life” and read it immediately. Just attended a weekend training in Silver Spring. What a powerful and moving experience – I’m hooked. Thank you!

    Comment by Mary — February 17, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    • So glad you tapped into the NVC well. There’s so much to learn in this … I love how it’s so deeply personal and global at the same time. Yay!

      Comment by jonathanfoust — February 18, 2009 @ 8:29 am

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