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family speaking the truth

Biting One’s Tongue


When asked why he didn’t want to take revenge on someone who had abused him he said: “When you bite your tongue do you knock your teeth out?”

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi

I’ve noticed something interesting lately which has to do with the truth and the speaking of it. I find that sometimes, the only real way to get to the truth, especially as it relates to the truth between two or more people, is by speaking it. I find that in my life that that has not always been easy for me to do. I think I get overly concerned with how others might react to whatever I am thinking about saying so I often tend to bottle it up. Get me talking and it’s another story, because once I start it’s much easier for me to actually articulate the truth of the matter as I know it and I’m not so afraid to explore multiple sides of an issue to get to the core of what’s happening. I find that in relationship, conversation often seems to be the best way to determine the shared truth, since what is true is really an interplay between the involved parties. While there maybe individual truths, the shared truth is in the ground where the multiple truths intermingle, thus melding into a merged or communal truth. This ‘common ground’ truth is much more relevant I believe than the individual truths themselves which are brought together.

The peculiar thing though that I’m seeing lately is how not speaking the truth can actually reveal the truth in a way that can’t be unveiled by conversation. I recently returned from a trip to visit my father. Our relationship, especially over the past many years, has been somewhat precarious as we seem to hold very different perceptions of life, our shared history, empathy, and the truth as we each see it. We’ve tried over recent years to communicate about these things and that communication served actually to separate us more rather than bring us to a common understanding and connection. On this recent trip, I decided to “not get into it” and simply let the moments stand for themselves rather than engaging with him when strong feelings came up. It’s a new spiritual path which I’ll coin “Enlightened Tongue Biting.” One might think that this might preclude getting to the truth, and in some ways I’ll grant you that it does, but in actuality, I found that it helps one get to the truth in a much more deep, accurate and expedient way. For example, at some point during a conversation on this trip, he said something which really irked me. It wasn’t necessarily all that irksome on it’s own merit, but rather more likely because of our history around the topic, for me I was definitely bothered. At that time, I could have (and historically would have) engaged him on the topic and voiced my opinion and gotten frustrated in the process. Instead, I bit my tongue. Said nothing. It’s not that that made the situation go away and that wasn’t its intent. On the other hand, it actually made things fester and bubble up, but only within me, rather than between the two of us. So rather than diffuse my mounting anxiety and frustration by engaging with him, I simply let the feelings arise within me and watched them intently as they started off with frustration, moved to anxiety, to anger, to rage, to sweetness, back to frustration and eventually to love and appreciation for the preciousness of what we had together at that moment which may never come again.

In the process or studying myself and my feelings as they arose, I learned much more about myself and came to understand the source of these feelings, recognizing them as coming from long before that moment, and thus not actually fully accurate in the present. I don’t believe that he needed to know how I felt as history has shown (the truth according to Ted) an inability on his part to actually empathize from my perspective. My need for him to understand how I was feeling is really based on my own narcissism. What emerged from this whole encounter, which actually happened several times over the week or so that I was there, is that I learned much more about the truth of my own internal workings, which led to a much greater capacity to love my father irrespective of whatever history and present that we might be sharing.

Truth, it seems, has two different levels in relationship, an internal truth, which is perhaps best reached by biting our tongues and exploring our own internal reactions, and a shared truth, which can perhaps best be reached through conscious and committed dialog between the parties. The truth of all relationships is love, even under all the anger, frustration, and annoyance, that can arise, I do believe we actually love everybody. If we can sit long enough with the underlying feelings within ourselves which get in the way of that love, (and biting our tongues is but one way to get there) I believe that love is actually what we would find between ourselves and every animate (and even every inanimate) object.


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