The Good Side of Wrong Speech

The fabulous Annals of Improbable Research has awarded some research into the emotional benefits of wrong speech – specifically swearing.

Does shouting about your pain lessen it? In fact, psychologists (and others) have long noted that things hurt less if you direct attention away from the source of discomfort.

Much of meditation is learning to put your attention where you want to put it.

This way you can govern your perceptions, see the way you create suffering by grasping, and take back some control putting wisdom ahead of the unruly mind. Further, you can deliberately focus attention on certain perceptions that foster wisdom and good qualities. Such perceptions include impermanence, dukkha, the fragility of your own life, old age/illness/death etc. One insight that comes from this is just how much Dukkha you creat for yourself.

‘We are not disturbed by events, but by the view we take of them’.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus


A recent story shows a not uncommon ability of a hypnotist to focus his attention where he wishes to, and keep the mind from creating suffering, even when surgeons are chiseling away at his thumb bones.

A hypnotist has undergone surgery on his right hand without anaesthetic.

Alex Lenkei, 61, from Worthing, West Sussex, sedated himself by hypnosis before the 83-minute operation.

He told the BBC he was fully aware of everything going on around him but free from pain.

The operation at Worthing Hospital involved removing some bone in the base of the thumb and fusing some joints in an attempt to improve his arthritis.

Mr Lenkei said: “It took between 30 seconds to a minute for me to place myself under hypnosis, and from that point I felt a very deep relaxation.

“I was aware of everything around me, from people talking and at one stage a hammer and chisel was used as well as a surgical saw, but I felt no pain.”

Throughout the operation, an anaesthetist was on standby to administer an anaesthetic if necessary.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon David Llewellyn-Clark said he’d been confident Mr Lenkei was a skilled hypnotist and was “delighted all went well”.


Is this meditation?

Lenkei is focussing his attention expertly. He is not letting his mind create suffering around the situation. And, he claims that he is fully aware of everything going on around him.

While the article focuses on the ‘party trick’ which makes for good news, it does demonstrate just how far the mind can be trained by a gifted meditator.

Well, it seems a good rant has a similar effect! Here is the abstract from the Ignobel Awards:

Although a common pain response, whether swearing alters individuals’ experience of pain has not been investigated. This study investigated whether swearing affects cold-pressor pain tolerance (the ability to withstand immersing the hand in icy water), pain perception and heart rate. In a repeated measures design, pain outcomes were assessed in participants asked to repeat a swear word versus a neutral word. In addition, sex differences and the roles of pain catastrophising, fear of pain and trait anxiety were explored. Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing. However, swearing did not increase pain tolerance in males with a tendency to catastrophise. The observed pain-lessening (hypoalgesic) effect may occur because swearing induces a fight-or-flight response and nullifies the link between fear of pain and pain perception.

4 replies on “The Good Side of Wrong Speech”

  1. New word of the day: “catastrophise”

    Describes the behavior of several people close to me.

  2. Our centre has recently had a series of talk by a well-known Dhammaduta from Indonesia. He said when he was young, on a somewhat public meeting he was forced to reflect on his own swearing words. Probably he was ashamed of the words he used, so since then when he got angry, he uses incoherent words to swear. For example, when he feels like swearing, instead of reciting the names of zoo residents, he would yell “Toothpaste!”, or to his wife: “I love you!!”. That works well, because the person he’s upset to would laugh instead of yelling back to him.

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