The Power of Speech
Swami Radhananda - From ascent magazine Issue 14 summer 2002
The other day in yoga class, Johanna, a student, discovered that she had based her idea of her intelligence on negative remarks she heard when she was seven years old. We have all taken in opinions of others about our beauty, our creativity, our body shapes, our abilities and have realized the power of speech to stick in the mind and influence who we are and what we do. We see how in a few seconds emotionally charged words can affect us for years.
We all know the saying, "Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me," but this statement seems untrue if we really look at the power of speech. Speech can hurt and speech can heal; it can start wars or resolve an argument; it can encourage confidence in a young person or destroy self-esteem.
Why is speech so powerful? The power of speech spoken aloud or voiced in our heads combines sound and purpose. From the babbling that babies make to ensure their survival to our ability to express the complexities of our emotion and thought, speech is our tool to navigate our world. Sound, tone of voice, pitch and choice of words can manifest many things. Through the power of speech, the varied and multilayered meanings of words, we have an incredible resource for communication and creation.
In yoga, speech is a feminine force called the Devi or Goddess. Speech is seen as feminine in acknowledgement of its ability to bring things to life. We constantly use the power of speech to create the world we live in it can be boring, full of anxiety and disasters, or it can be full of joy and positive experiences. How you describe your life is how it will be. We are responsible for our speech and the effect these words have on others.
Each word that is spoken is a vibration of sound, and a vibration is never lost. There is a great responsibility in what is said and what is set in motion through our speech. If the power of speech is not respected, then the powers of conditioning and self-hypnosis through language and memories of language will continue to keep liberation an unfulfilled hope.
Yoga liberates us from limitations even those limitations that others have placed on us. When Johanna began to question the purpose of her life and ask "Who am I?" she started to uncover what she had held in her mind for so long. Through the practice of reflection she caught the negative thoughts and saw how she had accepted someone else's definition of who she was. She had a choice to continue within the limitations or to break free. She realized her negative image didn't belong and through language began to affirm her intelligence, her creativity and her divinity.
You are given a choice of how you use the power of speech. Reflection on daily events brings awareness of the words you use and how the words work in your mind, call up memories, and ripple into your life. A prayer to Divine Mother starts with the line: "May all my speech and idle talk be mantra." Speech does have the potential to evolve from everyday idle talk to mantra if we bring awareness into what we think and say.
Mantra is the practice of the highest form of speech. One way to understand the power of speech is to establish a mantra practice. Chant the mantra with dedication, love and the desire to connect with the Divine. Sense the power of your voice and try to discover where the sound is coming from, who is chanting, where the words go and what is created in your mind and in the space around you. Through mantra practice you train your mind and refine your speech. By repeating words of power you begin to make a connection to the Divine. Mantra allows you to recognize the Divine in yourself and in other people, and to make your speech congruent with that ideal.
This life is the opportunity to practice. By repeating sacred words the mind and heart become filled with mantra and even your everyday speech begins to hold power. Then you have a connection to the Devi in her mantric form; she is always there encouraging and helping you. If you repeat the mantra, drawing on all your emotional force, you will passionately engage in the practice of life.
Speech has a tremendous effect on the direction of our mind and the evolution of our life. We must respect and take responsibility for what we say audibly and inaudibly. By refining our speech we can also open to a sacred potential beyond speech, the gift of the Devi, the knowing of the heart.
Swami Radhananda became president of Yasodhara Ashram in 1993 and was initiated into sanyas in 1994. She carries forward the spirit of Swami Radha's work with creativity and practicality. Instrumental in developing the Teacher Training program at the Ashram, she has also successfully opened the way for young people to become involved in yoga- both through the Ashram's Young Adult program and through opportunities at ascent magazine.
Swami Radhananda lives the teachings and encourages others to see the depth of Swami Radha's legacy. She writes a regular column in ascent magazine, oversees the direction of Yasodhara Ashram and Radha Yoga Centres, and travels during the year offering workshops.