05 July 2015


"Words do not express thoughts very well; everything immediately becomes a little different, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another." - Siddhartha

I read this quote in The Journey to the East by Herman Hesse earlier this week, and it's been on my mind ever since. I'm currently visiting Nicaragua, where I'm feeling the importance of words as I attempt to recall a past learned language. My Spanish is rusty, and I often have to talk around nouns and verbs that I can't recall. My expressions and requests absolutely become "distorted" and "foolish," as I rummage through my limited junk drawer of words and phrases. However, while I may feel the pressure and nerves around trying to communicate, I've noticed that being once removed from a language is nice in that it takes the emphasis off of selecting just the right word to convey something. Being limited by my textbook collection of vocabulary means that I can't fish around for a more beautiful adjective or verb that could infuse a slightly different, distinct meaning.

In the case of a being a novice at a learned language, words become more strictly about (basic, necessary) transactions, instead of conveying emotions or deep exchanges. You're using the language to check in at a hotel, order food, or find the nearest bathroom. It's more difficult to connect intimately with someone or quickly get personal when there is a language barrier. That's when body language, hand motions, and eye contact is imperative - but that's a whole other post...

What I'd really like to explore in this reflection is how we use words in our native language. I thought it would be ironic and fun to write about language in my blog, as this is a place where I attempt to tackle deep, dense, heart-musings in my posts, and word choice is important. When I write here, I am usually delving into a subject that I am newly fascinated, confused, or inspired by, and it is my goal in writing this blog to:
  • Help myself capture and process it, as well as... 
  • Share it with others, who may find it valuable and illuminating for themselves too.

The quote from Siddhartha above is particularly resonate, because it spotlights how limited we are in our ability to share those emotions and thoughts that swirl around our hearts and minds. Each of our personal experiences and memories are untouchable - inaccessible to others, and even to ourselves in retrospect. It is impossible to use words, like Legos, to recreate the exact image or sensation you experienced, such that another person can experience it too. (Apologies to all authors and filmmakers who are hating on this perspective.) We try, of course, to recreate life, as sharing and communicating with words is part of building human connection with others. Language is important - especially in an increasingly digital world, where we are able to connect with disparate groups of people and we lean on words so much more (email, texts) to conduct business and stay in touch with friends and family. So we use them often and in large amounts to carry out everyday relations and transactions. 

But, words - nouns, adjectives, verbs - are, in reality, expressions twice removed from the pure source from which they are born. They filter through the brain, the ego, and then emerge from our mouths or fingertips, bastardized in their end result. Like a copy of a copy, our words are a fuzzy resemblance of their origin. This is starting to sound like Plato's Aesthetics... but bear with me.  

Words contain so many implications and connotations, and those evocations and interpretations are naturally different for each person. The varied set of collected experiences, learnings, and environments of each person contributes to their digestion and production of language. So you can't even be sure that, for example, using "happy" vs "content" will get closer to the meaning you are intending. There's really no telling how your words will land with the recipient or if they will convey the image or feeling you are trying to recreate.

So as I write now, I can't help but wonder... "Am I really getting through to my reader? Do they understand what I'm saying? It is resonating with them?" The answer is that I will never really be able to lend anyone my skin to truly step into what I'm experiencing, feeling, and thinking when I write. It's impossible. 

But instead of being dismayed or discouraged by this, I find humor in it... How hard we struggle to "see eye to eye" and "level" with each other, when we are all operating with different emotional and mental machinery. We try to standardize meaning at an attempt to find common ground. Even the phrase "I love you" is a blatant attempt at creating a space for two people to connect. Most can agree that it differs from "I like you,"  "I adore you," and "I see you." It's meant to be heartfelt, vulnerable, and enveloping. Or is it? Are you using to with friends to instead say, "I'm here for you," or "You mean a lot to me." Do you toss it around, like a 'good' habit, or do you use is selectively? What about in the context it's used, and how many times you've said it to someone? It loses meaning when it's been uttered several times to the same person, verses the first time it's spoken to another. 

We are limited in our tools to communicate idiomatically. Dictionaries, thesauruses, context clues... they can only get us so far. But every day we use language - in excess or limited amounts - to feign connection and understanding with each other. 

Despite the limitation of words to provide true, parallel context between communicators, perhaps we can recognize that we are abundant in our tools to feel. And I would argue that feeling, without words, is the most powerful way to communicate. Energetically, we all emit a force field around us and possess a light within us that communicates, consciously or not, with others. I'm talking about when you can sense the persistent rain cloud that trails behind someone, and how it feels to be pulled into their slow, dreary orbit. Or when you know someone who makes you feel so nurtured and safe, just with their presence. This is the deeper level of connection and communication that speaks louder than any word or action. The frequency that you put out is how your spirit makes transactions with the people and world around you. Yet, many are stunted in their emotional receptors and expressions, and words or deeds become a crutch for expressing deeper meaning.

As I sit in my pool of thoughts and feel the learnings wash over me, I now see myself mentally grabbing at words and phrases to attempt to convey how this whole set of realizations has touched me. It has enlightened my human experience with compassion and a deeper curiosity for others and myself. But it seems silly now to let my ego tease me into churning out more words in hopes of my readers feeling the same 'aha!' sensation that I do now. Instead, I will retire to accepting and embracing, "to each his/her own."


No comments:

Post a Comment