“Before you speak, let your words pass through the three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself ‘Is it true’? At the second gate, as yourself ‘Is it necessary’? And at the third gate, ask yourself ‘Is it kind’?” ~ Rumi
I posted about the Three Gates of Speech on social media a few days ago and, in the days since, have been getting all sorts of questions about this yogic philosophy. Well, as the saying goes…ask and you shall receive because this week we’re talking all about the Three Gates!
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve got one hell of a potty mouth and consider myself a connoisseur of sorts in the fine language of swearing. For these reasons, prolific words of wisdom have never really my thing. I’ve made a name for myself tellin’ it like it is, being vulnerable in front of thousands of people I’ve never met and, more often than not, letting my words flow freely from my fingertips or tongue.
Needless to say, I’ve never really had much of a natural filter.
Just ask any of my close friends or family members and believe me, they’ll tell you that I’ve been blunt and to the point since preschool. And look, this trait isn’t always a bad thing (you’re reading this blog, aren’t you?). We all need that friend sometimes who will look us in the eye and call us out on our bullshit and, for most of my life, I’ve happily played that role.
Ironically enough, my blunt honesty also comes hand in hand with gossip. I love it. And for a long time, I indulged in it without care or consequence.
We all enjoy gossip and in many ways it’s just a natural part of being a living, breathing human. We live in a society rooted in comparison, so it’s only natural that we would occasionally compare ourselves to one another and gossip about the differences that pop up. But at what point is there too much gossip in your life?
I was first introduced to the concept of the Three Gates back when I was working as a corporate litigator in Boston. Whether or not my firm was an exception or the norm I may never know, but there was a heck of a lot of gossiping going on in that office. Legal assistants would gossip about other legal assistants or their bosses, partners would gossip about younger associates, associates would gossip about each other’s cases or personal lives…hell, we even gossiped about the lowly interns that worked two days a week for minimum wage.
Everywhere I looked, somebody was talking about somebody else…and it was rarely (if ever) true, necessary or kind.
I wish I could tell you that I was able to rise above this and avoid the pitfalls of gossiping myself. But, like I already told you, I got a Master’s Degree in Gossip many years ago and quickly found myself falling into this culture of negative speaking. Before long, I was complaining about Managing Partner X to Legal Assistant Y three to four times a day and, worst of all, coming home and venting about it all over again to my then-boyfriend at the end of the day.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but toxic language was creeping into nearly every aspect of my life…and it was making me pretty damn miserable.
Shortly before I up and quit the whole thing, I went to a yoga workshop. And during this workshop, I was introduced to the Three Gates of Speech.
Just bringing a level of awareness to my words, those “things” I verbally conceive and birth into the world every time I open my mouth, was groundbreaking for me. Never before in my life had I truly stopped and thought about what I was saying, let alone question if these thoughts were hearty enough to make it past the three golden-arched gates I’d conjured up in my head.
When I got back to work on Monday, I created a new sticky note on my desktop that simply read:
Is it TRUE?
Is it NECESSARY?
Is it KIND?
I kept that sticky note open in the background next to the deposition transcripts I reviewed and the emails I drafted, and honestly didn’t give it much more thought than that. But then something happened…
I got a snarky email from one of my bosses about my billable hours.
My gut response was to do one of two things:
- Fire off an equally-snarky response; or
- Get up and vent about it to my work bestie.
Just as I was about to stand up and walk out the door…I glanced at my computer screen. There, staring right back in front of me was my sticky note. Pursing my lips, I closed my door and sat back down.
“Okay,” I thought “I’ll try the stupid Three Gates test thing.” My logic went a little something like this:
Gate #1: is it true? Umm…yes. It is certainly true that Partner X was being unnecessarily snarky and peacocky (my go-to word for those times when people puff out their chests and try to demonstrate dominance over others). Moving on…Gate #2: is it necessary? Well…it may be necessary to warn my work bestie because she works with Partner X too and homegirl is clearly on the warpath. So sure, why not…next. Lastly, Gate #3: is it kind? Well, fuck. No, I guess it’s not kind to talk shit about my coworker behind her back. It’s not kind to her, and it’s not really that kind to me either. Fine. You win, yoga people.
And with that, I kept my mouth shut.
The Three Gates of Speech were hardly a long-term solution to staying in that office, and I ended up getting the hell out of there as soon as I could a few short weeks later. However, this concept has stuck with me in the years since and, I gotta tell you, it’s the sort of thing that’s pretty hard to ignore once you’ve started practicing it.
I’m far from perfect and I won’t even try to pretend that I’ve risen upon gossip or negative speech. Far from it. But what has changed in my life is my awareness of these negative words. Sure, I may slip up and say something snarky or gossip with a friend, but when I do…I think of the Three Gates. And sometimes, I can even catch myself before saying these words. When this happens, when I catch myself pre-word vomit, I ask myself those three little questions:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
9 times out of 10, my thoughts turn to the Three Gates when something is up. I rarely think about the Three Gates when I’m teaching yoga or writing a note to a friend or telling my fiancé that I love him. Why? Because my thoughts, my soul, my whatever-you-want-to-call-it subconsciously knows that the Three Gates are only really necessary when I’m about to spew out some kind of nastiness into the Universe. The Gates aren’t needed when my thoughts are concentrated on love because my language in those moments will only come out as love as well.
That’s the cool thing about a yoga practice…it’s just that: a practice. We’re not perfect and we never will be. But by bringing our attention to these things, our thoughts and our words, we can slowly practice making changes.
So here’s my challenge to you: write out the Three Gates on a post-it note or save these three little questions as the background on your phone. Surround yourself with these questions, and you just might be surprised when (and how frequently) you start to catch yourself too…
The Yogi Lawyer