This morning the tag on my teabag advised me, “Let your energy be used to build, not to destroy.” And that brought back a memory…
When little Patsy was about six and sitting on a kitchen stool having the night’s tangles painfully teased out of her hair, her mother told her a story to distract her: “Many years ago your grandmother visited the site of a famous, long-ago battle in Scotland between two clans, the Camerons and the MacDonalds. And there the Camerons, who won that battle but left many dead on the battlefield, had put up a cairn, a pile of stones, to honor their dead and their victory. And all around that cairn were stones lying on the ground. And the tradition arose, over the next two hundred years, that whenever a descendant of the Cameron clan visited the site, he or she would add a stone to the cairn. And whenever a MacDonald descendant visited the site, they would take a stone off the cairn, to say that this wasn’t such an important battle after all and meant nothing.
“So Grandma and the lady she was traveling with visited the cairn, and since, as you know, your great-grandmother was a Cameron, Grandma found a beautiful big stone and, with much effort, placed it on the cairn, to add to the glory of the Camerons. ‘There!’ she announced to her traveling companion. ‘You probably didn’t know my mother was a Cameron!’ ‘No,’ said her friend, ‘I didn’t.’ She went over to the cairn. ‘And,’ she continued, carefully removing the stone Grandma had just placed there, ‘you probably didn’t know that my mother was a MacDonald.’”
“Poor Grandma!” Patsy exclaimed. “What did she do then?”
“Well, dear, she made a very, very important decision that she later told me about, as I am now telling you. She decided that life is a lot like that ancient battle site. And when we do or say something we hope will add to the happiness of the world, we add a stone to the cairn that honors life itself. And since we never know when someone will come along and take a stone away from that cairn, Grandma decided that she would keep adding stones to the cairn her whole life through, so as to be sure to leave it taller than when she began. Little stones, big stones, it doesn’t matter; just leave the cairn taller in the end.”
And on that very day, age six, little Patsy began her lifelong building campaign. Quietly she promised herself that somehow, no matter how hard it seemed, she would keep adding stones to that cairn honoring life—and that she would try to make sure that others would add to that cairn even after she died.
Adult Pat agrees with that promise and ongoing project. As consciously as I can, I choose to use my energy to build, not destroy, as I thread my way through life’s wins and losses. And today…
Well, it just so happens that today, as spring builds into summer, the sun swings into the astrological sign of Gemini. And it also just so happens that Gemini, “my” sign—for those who are interested, I’m a Gemini/Gemini rising with five planets in this sign!— is said to govern communication. So my question this spring has been: How can this loves-to-communicate sextuple-dipped Gemini be sure that her communications build up more than they tear down?
I have chosen to honor life, truth, love with my deeds. How can I be sure I’m doing that also with my words?
That’s a trickier question than I once thought. But there is one simple tool I was given years ago that makes the choosing easier: a question, courtesy of longtime friend and mentor Kevin Billett. Before opening our mouths, he suggests, we would do well to ask ourselves, “What is the positive intent of this communication?”
Beth and I keep coming back to this tool. Especially when our lives, health, energy or moods are in a downward dip, we each have permission to ask, “And the positive intent of this communication is…?” And our ongoing agreement is that whoever hears that question will stop and listen to what energy is truly being transmitted by our words. Are we engaging in conscious co-creation or verbal junk-strewing? Building or destroying?
This question seems even more pertinent right now, given how many verbal missiles are flying through the ethers all around us, borne on an ever-intensifying stormwind of tweets, posts, interviews, articles, commentaries, books, etc. etc. etc., all devoted to proving how boneheaded, wrong and possibly criminal the other guy (or gal) is. In the face of this hurricane, it’s pretty easy for our own communications to pick up some of that flying debris and hurl it onward.
So, this year’s spring building project has been to focus more deeply on applying the “positive intent” tool. Sure, it’s pretty easy to identify the destructive energy of insults, verbal tantrums, threats or cutting sarcasm. Looking deeper into my own communications, though, I’ve found more subtle agendas. Some are cairn-builders that I’d like to keep and strengthen. Others look fairly innocent on the surface but have turned out to serve me, and my world, very poorly.
Cairn-destroyers. Here are some less-than-positive intents I’ve uncovered:
Inflating or reassuring my egoic self by fishing for attention, sympathy or love.
“Joining the crowd” in focusing on what I don’t like.(This includes most “reports” on what’s wrong with the world, my life, etc. etc.)
Proving that I am right (or wise or enlightened!).(This includes giving unsolicited opinions or advice.)
Filling the silence:talking to hear my own voice.
Defending or justifying myself and my actions.
Persuading another to agree with me or follow my (right, wise, enlightened!) plan for them.
For me, I’ve found, speaking with any of these underlying intents is not truly life-honoring. And of course, these agendas don’t often step forward and identify themselves before I open my mouth. No, they’re usually hiding somewhere in my other-than-conscious back alleys. But developing the habit of asking myself before I speak, “Just what is my positive intent in speaking this thought aloud?” has definitely helped me develop more of a “nose” for the cairn-destroyers. If I can’t answer that one question immediately, then perhaps silence, stillness, would serve better than words.
Cairn-builders. The great news is, though, that there are some truly positive intents that make it through the question-filter. I’ve found that I and others feel more joyful when I use my words to:
Report on how life, grace, the universe is operating wonderfully in my world:a blessing acknowledged, a lesson learned, a miracle observed, a gift of wisdom or encouragement received.
Give a voice to the beauty I see in others—especially the “other” in front of me right now—and around us all.
Express encouragement, love, and support for that person in front of me.
Ask for help when I need it.
Offer respectful help, in the form of questions like, “How can I best help you right now?”
Invite laughter—the laughter of joyful play that points no fingers, but spreads its arms in delight at this game we’re all in together.
Fortunately for me (and those I'm speaking with), I don’t have to run solemnly through an inner checklist in order to use the positive-intent filter. With practice, I’ve found that the question itself has dropped out of my conscious awareness and is running in background mode. It’s definitely still running, though. When some unconscious destructive energy is yammering to be given a voice, that question re-surfaces: “And the positive intent of this proposed communication is…?” And when I pay heed and check in, my body or my heart or both will tell me these words aren’t conveying an energy which serves, which… builds.
Do I pay heed all the time? No, of course not. But still, I think overall little Patsy is pleased. Even though sometimes the stones get hurled down, they can always be replaced. And added to. Some of the building stones are little; some are big, old stones. I don’t think she minds lugging the heavy ones up into the light, though, because it seems to us both that, through our efforts and those of many, many, many others, the cairn honoring life, truth, love and freedom is a-building.
Thank you for being among those cairn-builders.