The Life-Changing Magic of Shutting Up

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The Life-Changing Magic of Shutting Up

Batya Solomon
April 15, 2019
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Have you ever had the experience of reactively hurling venomous words, only to regret them later?

I painfully recall a time when I engaged in a heated argument with my father when I was a teenager. I felt so crushed that I thought I would explode from all the painful feelings that I kept bottled up for years, then so angry that I blurted out something very hurtful as a way to unleash my pain at him. (Teenage years are so tough!)

"The power of words is not to be taken lightly."

I remember it as if it was yesterday. As the words escaped my mouth I wanted to take them back. Then, suddenly, another part of my mind witnessed my crime in action and was attempting to retrieve the words. It was like watching an accident about to happen. You witness the event, but you don’t have enough time to stop it. I wanted to catch the words as they furiously flew out of my mouth, but I felt like I was living it in slow motion. For a moment I experienced time as if it had almost stayed still.

As my words escaped my lips, that witness part of me was inside my head, silently screaming, “Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

But, it was too late. The damage was done. I will never forget the look of hurt and pain on my father’s face. I knew that I had caused it. We were never the same after that. I was still living in my teenage angst. Little did I know that I would not have the luxury of time to cool down and ask for forgiveness, because he suddenly died of a heart attack within a couple of months after that.

Hello, therapy.

My predicament now reminds me of a story that goes like this:

A schoolboy name David was walking along his usual route to school, when one morning, he saw his teacher run into a local food market, grab an apple and run out again.

Nobody seemed to notice the apparent crime of theft by the school master except for this boy.

He was beside himself with judgment toward his teacher. “How can my teacher, who is supposed to be a role model of living a spiritual lifestyle, act like a common thief?!” He didn’t know how to process what he had just witnessed.

In order to get it off his chest, he decided to confide in a few of his friends. They had all automatically assumed that what their friend witnessed must be true. Their beloved school master was really a liar and a cheat.

It was no time at all before everyone in the whole school was steeped in the vicious rumors about the school master. He was subsequently publicly condemned for his crime by the angry community who demanded justice by him losing his job.

The school master was puzzled, as well as greatly distressed by what was happening to him, and decided to get to the bottom of this rumor. All inquiries eventually led to the boy.

When the school master confronted the boy about what he witnessed, the boy replied, “I saw you run into the market, grab an apple without paying for it and then quickly run out.” The school master began to laugh. He explained that he had an arrangement with the shopkeeper to pay him in advance for the apples, since he is usually in a rush to get to school on time.

The boy felt greatly relieved and embarrassed at the same time. He apologized profusely and asked the school master what he could do to make amends. The school master gave him the solution. “Meet me tomorrow morning on the roof of the school. Bring a pillow and a pair of scissors with you.”  The boy was puzzled, but would gladly grant his teacher’s odd request if it would result in alleviating his guilt and shame.

The next morning the boy eagerly appeared on the roof with pillow and scissors in hand. He was so happy that he was going to finally repair the damage he had done to his teacher’s reputation.

“Good morning, Sir,” said David. “I am here to make amends for my mistake so that everything can go back to normal.”

“Good morning, David. I see you have the pillow and scissors I requested. Good. Now all you have to do is cut a hole in the pillow with the scissors.”

David quickly cut a giant hole in the pillow.

“Good job, David. Now release all the feathers from the pillow. Scatter them as much as you can in the wind.”

David vigorously shook all the feathers out of the pillow. He watched the strong wind carry the feathers as far as his eyes could see. It was surprisingly a lot fun so far. He could already feel the relief setting in – that is, until he received the next instruction.

“I see you enjoyed scattering the feathers in the wind. That is wonderful. Now please go find each feather and put them all back in the pillow.”

“What?! I can’t do that. It’s impossible to find each of those feathers now!”

“David, the feathers represent the words we speak. Once we say them, we have no control where they will land.”

"Our words can change lives for the better!"

The power of words is not to be taken lightly. The words that we utter have so much power. The words we utter affect our souls. If we only had a glimpse of the damage we do by engaging in mindless chatter or vicious gossip, cursing, insults, careless insensitive comments, and lies, we would never utter a negative word again. Unintentional as well as intentional negative speech about someone else or even ourselves, create negative angels that return to the speaker via other people speaking negatively about the one who initiated those words! 

The Ari, Rav Isaac Luria, 16th century kabbalist, wrote that a person’s speech is somehow connected to a person’s spouse. So the cleansing process of speaking negatively can also be experienced through challenges in a person’s marriage.  

The good news: When we speak positively, sharing spiritual wisdom, lifting others up, using our words for good - we create positive angels that support us in our process.  If you’ve ever been unexpectedly complimented, promoted, supported, acknowledged, guided, assisted, supported - that may have been a positive angel that you created with your words!

The manifestation power of our positive words can foster love, joy, happiness, prosperity, peace, health and connectedness for ourselves and others. Our words can change lives for the better! It is amazing when you really think about it.

Now would be a good time to ask yourself, “What words do I habitually say?” I highly recommend making a conscious effort to choose your words more carefully.

The kabbalists recommend that we all think twice before we speak - literally.

They explain that when a thought travels from your mind to your mouth, the first thing to do is send it back to your mind, your Da’at, your consciousness of understanding. Then, think to yourself, “Is what I am about to say something I truly need to hear for myself? Only if the answer is “Yes”, then say it. And if you don't feel that it is something you need to hear yourself, then don't say it to somebody else.

I trust by now we can all fully appreciate the saying, “If you have nothing positive to say, then don’t say anything.”

Please take it from me: the next time you are tempted to say something you may later regret, pause and remember the life-changing magic of shutting up.