Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Careless Words Destroy Worlds


The Project Manager bit
OK, my apologies for the slightly headline grabbing title of this article, but as a project manager and trainee golem builder I would really like to stress the importance of choosing words carefully.

In numerous lectures that I’ve attended, books read and conversations with other project managers (PMs) communication has come up as THE most important thing that a project manager does. The most common figure for how much of a PM’s time is spent on communication is 90%.

So as you can imagine there is a LOT of literature written about communication. My apologies for the repeated use of CAPITALS in this article, but if you’re not so fussed about communication as a PM, I would seriously ask you if you’re fussed about staying employed as a PM.

The Trainee Golem Builder bit
Now that I’ve ranted about the importance as a Project Manager (PM) of the importance of communication – what has this got to do with being a trainee golem builder? Well, as discussed earlier ‘words have power’. It’s fair to say that Kabbalists are obsessed with speech. Chapter 1 of Genesis is about the ten sayings with which the Creator formed the world. Hence human speech like Divine speech is very important as by our speaking we can attempt to imitate Divine speech.

I realize that I’m not doing a great job of explaining this, so let’s turn to someone who knows a lot more what he’s talking about than this ignorant Englishman. I am referring to Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok (of KosherTorah) who wrote the excellent book “Walking in the Fire”.

In Section Two: Meditations for Prayer, Chapter One: The Secrets of Successful Prayer – Rabbi Bar Tzadok has translated some extracts of The Book of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Parshat Noah – Amud HaTefilah (section on prayer):

20. When a person wishes to speak [about anything], he should first make sure that his thoughts are radiating through the speech. The word for thought “mahshava” also means “hashav mah” (think about a thing).
Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok’s comment: (Thought is to speech what soul is to body)

44. When one speaks without forethought is like one who improperly spills his seed. For a person's thoughts are a “complete image”. The proof of this is when, during sexual intercourse, a man's mind is not on his performance, he is unable to perform. Thought is wisdom. Speech is the “child” [born from it]. Even thought is made up of letters, for every thought is formed [of images of things with names which are spelled by] letters. When a person does not think about what he is saying, he is spilling his [spiritual] seed. For [our] speech is out life [force].
Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok’s comment: (Every word we speak is important. When we waste our words with idle speech we are wasting away our life force energy.)
Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok’s comment: (The Neshama soul is the “breath soul”. The length of our lives is numbered by how many breaths we breathe and how many words we speak. Both these use up the amount of “breath soul” that was breathed into us at birth. This concept is very familiar to those who have studied Chinese medicine. Similar lessons are taught here.)

Mindfulness
Awhile ago in the blog Doing Magic there was a posting about being in the present. I’d like to build on the ideas in that blog and combine them with the thoughts from this article mentioned above; namely mindfulness in terms of speech.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who has been distracted by television, music or some other thing that was taking up a significant portion of their attention? Does it feel like the person was not all there with you taking part in the conversation?

Well according to the Baal Shem Tov that person is not really there; they are in fact where their thoughts are and not with you. The Baal Shem Tov illustrates this point quite graphically and Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok adds to this that waster speech is wasted life force energy.

I’m not going to explain this post what life force energy is as I’m not 100% sure myself. However, I am going to attempt to be more mindful in my conversations to ensure that I am living in the moment of the conversation, aware of each sentence in my thoughts before I speak them aloud. 

Stop, listen, respond
At a celebratory meal in the seven day period after a friend's wedding one of the guests shared an interesting idea. He blessed the newlywed couple that should receive wisdom with their ears. He explained that of course we use our ears to hear and that seems an obvious way of gaining wisdom. But he explained that what this meant is that often we start to prepare our response to another person even whilst they are speaking rather than listening to every word, then thinking about our response and then responding.

Too often we jump in to the end of another person’s sentence or even in to the middle. I’m guilty of this which is why I’m going to try to be more mindful of listening, thinking and then responding. If that means I don’t get to speak as often that’s ok, I believe quality is more important than quantity in speech and that’s backed up by what the Baal Shem Tov and Rav Ariel Bar Tzadok have written.

If you think you’d like to try this and may struggle with trying it out – then perhaps you could start by doing it with just one person, or perhaps just one day of the week. Observe the effects that it has and build on your successes.