Words Fail; New Project
“God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).
With words, creation began; and with words, separation began. Expulsion from divinity and wholeness was put into motion.
The power of the word isn’t just Jewish, or even Judeo-Christian. In brief: In Judaism, the above line, and later: “By the word of God were the heavens made” (Psalms 33:6); In Christianity: “In the beginning was the word… The Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 1:14). In the Trika Tradition of Tantra: “…the totality of existence is understood as an expression of the Supreme Word [Parāvāk]; …everything—stones, trees, birds, human beings, gods, and demons—is a harmonic vibration of that one supreme Word.” (Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallace)
But words are symbols. They point to reality, give us a way of referring to, thinking about, and communicating reality – but they are not reality. We can talk about “trees”, and the beauty/power of words is that we can thereby discuss trees – but the tree doesn’t know it’s a tree, doesn’t care, and the word “tree”, the sound and formation, has absolutely nothing to do with the tree itself.
In a sense, words are like the finger pointing at the moon. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon.
So if/when the world was created with the word, there was immediately a separation placed between “reality” and how we, as conscious beings, could participate in reality. And theologically, that was necessary – before “the word”, everything was God, so God needed to remove itself (pronouns also fail!) in order for anything to be created – for anything to exist other than God.
So the word created separation, created a symbolism that we often mistake for reality, create expulsion from true awareness and experience. To touch on an even bigger challenge – words create our thoughts. We think in words, and by the nature of the symbolism, we thereby think in symbols.
At the same time, words are generally the best we have, at least to connect with others and the world. (I’ll hold off on mediation/silencing thinking for now). Even in thought, words are crucial – without symbols, we couldn’t even conceptualize past or future, and would be stuck, like animals, in present moment (also gonna hold off on going deeper on that one for now).
Words separate, create chasms. And writing makes these chasms even greater. Writing is words without human cues – without facial expressions, tone of voice, human intangibles. And in pandemic times, we lean on writing more than ever, and even when we don’t, our communication is filtered through technology (losing so many intangibles), or through masks.
And like with masks, it’s so easy to hide behind words. And to construe ourselves as something we’re not, or to strive for the understanding of others, despite the fallibility of the symbols.
With the renaissance coming, I’m feeling more and more compelled to think about how to minimize the barriers in connection.
For those who see me or work with me, I’ll be trying more tools for connecting without words. Or when words are present (usually!), ways of thinking about and using words to find more meaning and connection.
It’s been a few years in the making, since a major inflection point I had 4.5 years ago, but I’m going to be launching a new way of communicating and working with people in 2021 – because, to my point about words, dense philosophical novels may fall short…
As a result, you’ll be seeing/hearing a lot more from me in coming months. I hope to see you in person, but in social media (back to my points about the challenge of words, and writing) I’m planning on doing spoken/video content – because even if mediated by technology and words, I hope that those forms connect more deeply, are more resonant.
Because words, while they are symbolic and separate, they are also available to address the problems they create, especially if we’re aware of the problem to begin with. It’s the Tantrik Proverb, “We rise by the support of the same ground that trips us.”
Anyway, I’m just starting to build now, and its a giant experiment, a huge scary learning curve for me, so I hope you’ll come along for the ride as I embark on this inflection point in my life.