As a child of the 70s, I want to point out that, in addition to Right Speech, this ceramic image is merely another version of the Tootsie Pop Owl. And it too carries a message for me; those Tootsie Roll Pops are, notoriously, an inside job.
They never seem to go away, those stylized owls--they never will. Why? Because as sound carriers of a particular good message, they work. And choosing the Charm pop over the Harm pop is a wise factor in cultivating happiness for yourself and for others.
You can think of Right Speech as a sweet nobility, at your fingertips and lips. It’s choosing, moment by moment, to use a sweet tongue over an acrid one because it’s just less harmful for us all. Our Speech, even in less-obvious ways, like the Prattle and Hum of idle chatter or gossip (a good litmus test I use with myself is, “Um, is this a conversation you would have with Bono, Stacia?”), can turn and stick us.
Like the Owl, "How many licks?” was the question for me then, as a 70s kid, and it’s the question for me now, as an adult in the new Milleni-yum.
How many licks will I take?--not just from the sticks and stones of the external world (almost none of which isn't in my control), but what about the sodden, cardboard-tasting and red-stained stick I turn back on myself with an impaling gesture?
The Buddha called this the second dart; Tara Brach (unintentional confectionary surname noted) calls it the second arrow, and here, it’s going to be called the second stick.
The second stick is the one you wield yourself, at yourself, on top of the other damage: zzzzzzwing!
It comes in all kinds of insidious flavors:
maybe I punish myself for both needing and possibly somewhat (gasp!) enjoying a sugar rush; she, who’s trying to eat clean. Maybe I beat myself up for ordering take-out four nights in a row for my family during those weeks when I have 64 papers to grade. Maybe I notice that my best flare jeans are tight and then I eat a despair cake, finished off with a Diet Dr. Pepper (I never drink soda anymore), followed by a self-stick and stoning. Get the idea?
Look, the Tootsie Pop Owl couldn’t make it past three licks before trying to get to the center—and neither can I. I don’t want to lick all around the artificially-flavored mulberry bush to get there, never have. I want to get to that sweet, chewy, flavor-condensed center its with implied inner peace. I also want to get over my self-harm (insert: self-starvation, self-poison, self-sabotage—whatever your stickiness), and I want it in three licks or less.
Pretty much as fast as possible. Pretty much NOW.
Like grated carrot in a green salads, these things crop up into adult life and remind me of my unwise youth in a way that I can now use wisely. As fuel.
Sugar is a darn fine fuel—don’t forget.
My grandparents Viola and Boris had traveled the world, and I remember being frightened and transfixed by many of their artifacts, including a Japanese statue depicted the Three Wise Monkeys and this principle: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.
As grateful as I am for the artifacts I grew up with, it wasn’t until I swapped out the word “Evil” for “self-harm” that I became integrate-ful:
It is said that the well-spoken word can only be the one that would not torment oneself nor harm others.
As a methods maven, I can tell you that I can’t digest judgment words like “Evil” anymore. Something happens around 40 Licks. Yet there is is no judgment in a) what works and b) what is true.
It’s true that I know a lot of self-harming recipes that all have the same ingredient—Speech.
And it's also true that even an old cog-in-the-wheel can learn new licks. And I am.
And, I am (savor the power of the "And").
Perhaps you’re near 40 Licks yourself (either literally or metaphorically). We expect we must take our licks as we age—but we rarely think that we can be in control of the gentleness and the intention of the licking.
That intention, conscious or not, is to reveal our true, sweet selves.
I know this is true from my very center.
The minute you stop breaking your teeth trying to get to your own goodness, the world will do nothing less than conspire to show you its sweet, true nature, which is to lick for you and with you (trust me, much more gently than you’d do it alone).
Because consciousness isn’t a BIG crrrrunch! It’s more of a slow reveal.
The good news is that you get to do a lot of taste-testing of your own goodness, as you go.
And you will use this taste of your own sweetness, which is like coming home, to realize that suddenly, one day, you can identify the same sweetness in everybody else.
And that really is the mother of all sweet spots.
And then you can toss (but recycle) the stick for other purposes.
I’m giving the owl totem to my sister, Kara, as a belated housewarming gift. She’s starting a new, self-nourishing life and about to turn 40. She’s in the beautification industry (and um, there’s definitely a reason they call it “40 lashes”).
Surely there is more than a 3-lick statute of limitations on such a thing, the wisdom of beautification from the inside, out. Of investigating what's under our wrappers.
This is how we are meant to live, by the way, like the owls: nested on each other’s shoulders, tandem-shoring up each other’s forgetting so that we can reach ever up as we reach in for the natural sweet spot.
Like a rainbow assortment of sweet and resilient gems, stacked skyward.
For you, my beautiful sister (imagine Billy Crystal gently holding a Tootsie Roll Pop for you, Meg Ryan): "And I'm going to be 40!"
Someday. In ten years. And Now.