The Noble Eightfold Path and Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistics (FIML): Part 1

The first four parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, and Right Action. In the sections below, we will discuss Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistics (FIML) in relation to these four parts.

Right View: An important aspect of having Right View is knowing that our minds are deluded in many ways. In Buddhist terminology, we say that our minds contain many kleshas. The word klesha is translated as “defilement”, “hindrance” (to enlightenment), “toxic fixation”, etc. A klesha is a delusion. It is an error or a mistake in consciousness. It is a wrong view.

It is very difficult to overcome or eradicate kleshas because much of what they obstruct is Right View. When we add the practice of FIML to Buddhist practice, because we are including an intimate partner, we make it much easier to identify our kleshas and correct them.

Right Speech: In the practice of FIML, we focus on the dynamics of our speech and our partner’s speech as it is happening in the moment. For our purposes, a moment is defined as 3-10 seconds. It cannot be longer than what both partners are able to remember with great clarity. Spoken language is a linear series of sounds whose basic unit of meaning is generally a phrase or a word. By focusing on only small bits of language–usually no more than a phrase or two–we provide both partners with real data that they both can agree on. If I say, “I want to go to the store” and you agree that you just heard me say “I want to go to the store”, we can do FIML with that phrase because we both agree on it. If you think you heard me say “I want to go to the floor”, we can also do FIML, as long as you accept my correction when I say that what I really said was “store” not “floor”.

Right Thought: Once two partners (for discussion we will use only two partners in our examples) have fully agreed on exactly what was said, a discussion of the thoughts and feelings behind what was said and heard can take place. To be very crude, if I said “I want to go to the store” and you thought you heard me say “I think you are a whore” much pain and misunderstanding would result if this mistake were not corrected immediately. A good FIML exercise often begins at this point–when one partner believes they have heard something disturbing, something that makes their nerves jangle or that causes unpleasant feelings to arise. At this point, the hearer should immediately begin a FIML exercise by signalling that that is what they are doing and then proceeding in a neutral state of mind to open a FIML query. In this case, the hearer would say something like, “Stop: What did you just say?” The speaker, ideally, would stop and recall what they had just said and then repeat it: “I said ‘I want to go to the store.'” At this, the hearer will probably laugh and say, “I thought you said ‘I think you are a whore.'”

In this example, the FIML exercise might end there. It might also continue with a discussion of why the hearer misheard in that way. Partners might also want to discuss what might have happened had the mistake not been corrected.

Right Action: In FIML exercises Right Action entails observing and/or controlling our emotional reactions the moment they arise. We want to be mindful enough to catch them the moment they arise and trusting enough to discuss them with our partner right away. If the two partners in the example above start arguing about what the speaker really said (“You did too call me a whore, you stupid drunk.”), obviously no progress will be made and basic kleshas will be strengthened.

Good practice of Right Action requires partners, to the best of their abilities, to be mindful of what was said and heard, to observe and control their emotional reactions, to listen to each other, and to be honest with each other. If emotions get out of control, it is best to agree to drop the subject and return to it the next time something like it comes up. If a real klesha is involved, you can be certain a similar or closely related misunderstanding will arise again. Both partners will be better equipped to deal with it when that next happens if they are capable of realizing that they might not have handled themselves as well as they could have during the exercise that just got derailed.

Right Action also comes into play in FIML in that during FIML exercises we must also be aware of our tone of voice, our expression, our gestures, demeanor, and so on. All of these are “actions”. We will get Right about them when we are clear about what they are and how they appear to our partner.

FIML exercises can get heated and go wrong, but once you get the hang of it, that is a very rare occurrence. Over time, a strong foundation of mutual trust and understanding will help partners achieve a Right View of almost all situations that arise between them.

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