just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness
November, 2012

Don’t Let Words Shackle Your Mind

Monday, November 26th, 2012

I spent my adult life studying language. I have a deep appreciation for how language influences our life experience, hindering or helping our spiritual journey. As a child, I was taught that Jesus loves me, not matter what. This gave me great peace, a spiritual experience that rose beyond the fear of the Old Testament words threatening judgment and damnation. Yet, the Christian tradition is filled with powerful words that people reacted to in such different ways. It was disheartening to see how people used the power of words to hold power over others, often blinding the all inclusive love of Jesus.

When I was nineteen I was introduced to the field of General Semantics. This linguistic study presented the truth that the ‘meaning’ of words was held within the experience of the person. The symbols of language were arbitrary. Yet, we continually encountered suffering as people argued about their ‘right’ meaning. General Semantics trained one to speak from one’s limited perceptual frame of reference (i.e. ‘The banana appears to be yellow’). The use of the verb ‘to be’ was discouraged in recognition to our unique perceptual experience. This practice opened the mind to the broader mystery of meaning. It clearly demonstrated how language could only point to our shared experience and humbled me to the complexities of the entire communication process. Most noted was the need for extensive training in listening.

Here’s how it works. Someone says something. The meaning of what they say is within me and my personal experience. I ‘assume’ I understand what the meaning was in the other person and react accordingly. My failure to more deeply explore the meaning held in the other person more often than not causes misunderstanding and faulty action. Compounding this, my ‘attachment’ to a particular meaning ‘within me’ causes suffering. Suffering diminishes when I ‘let go’ the attachment to the meaning within me, in curiosity and honor to the vast mystery of life. This is where the Buddha and mystics from various religious traditions have helped me.

To reduce suffering from attachment caused from shackling the mind with words, it’s helpful to cultivate the ‘word free experience’. This is the gap between thought. Given that all thought is linguistically based, this is that wide open field beyond judgment and opinion. While children naturally have this up to about nine months of age, once we’ve got the thought of object permanence in our heads and the naturally wired process of language acquisition on its way, we’re caught in the restlessness of ‘wanting’. The Buddha’s Four Noble Truths address this. He discovered that 1. Life is difficulty from our restless minds. 2. We suffer because we’re attached to this restlessness. 3. There’s a way from this suffering. 4. The way is becoming aware to the illusion of our separation. Stilling the mind, letting restless thoughts drift away, touching the experience that’s beyond words, is the way to ‘feel the Divine’. It’s not describable or definable, yet we know when we’ve touched that deep peace. We right many books about it and do what we can to share this with others, regardless of our spiritual tradition.

We use analogy’s to explain this. A favorite is the Zen story about the finger pointing to the moon. The finger is not the moon and we’ll miss experiencing the moon if we say the finger is the moon.

Our peace is dependent upon a very deep respect for the mystery of life, a cultivation of the ‘sense of the Divine’, and a practice that works to increase our sensitivity to the limitations of thought and language. This unshackles the mind, opening it for the creative experience. Giving the mind respite from thought (90% of which are just repeating) may be as important as the food we eat. It’s why a meditation practice may be the most important activity one could engage in.