Language as a Barrier

The difficulty with words is that they serve as placeholders. Each word represents something, from ‘table‘ to ‘tongue‘. When we speak, we make a series of sounds to communicate an idea. When I say ‘street‘, most likely an image appears in your mind. It isn’t a particular street that you could find, only the concept of the street. You see some asphalt or dirt leading in a direction.

The word symbolizes the idea of a street, not one specifically. You could be speaking about any of the 10,000 I’ve seen in my lifetime or you could be speaking about any of the 15,000 you’ve seen during your lifetime. The difficulty is that we may not have ever seen the same street. So when I say it, you understand the concept, not the exact street I’m thinking about.

Occasionally the words don’t like up properly and we have misunderstanding. If you grew up in England, when I say that I want ‘chips‘, the concept in your mind is fried and served at McDonald’s, while mine is crunchy and found in a bag. The word ‘chips‘ represents two separate concepts.

More likely a misunderstanding would revolve around a subtler difference. I could say “drive to the end of the street and turn right”. In our minds, an ‘end‘ to a ‘street‘ could represent multiple values; like a dead-end, a change from asphalt to dirt, or when the name of street changes. Any of the above could cause confusion.

Our minds define ‘end‘ differently and the word represents two different images. When I speak about the ‘street ending‘, I speak as if we have the same definition. So I speak with confidence that you must turn when the street ends. Unconsciously you pick up that confidence and believe me. You must turn when the street ends. Now you trust that, if you don’t want to get lost, you’ll change directions when the ‘end‘ appears. Your ‘end’ is different and now you are lost.

If we want a more common example, we’ll use words that have lost their meaning. When you ask someone “how are you doing?”, they may respond with ‘good‘. What does this word mean? We all know that ‘good‘ is less than ‘great‘ and better than ‘fine‘, but, by itself, what does ‘good‘ mean. Moving to other words, what does ‘fantastic’ mean? Is it a lot of ‘good‘? Well we still don’t know what ‘good‘ even means. How could something be ‘very good‘ or ‘exceptionally good‘?

Feelings aren’t tangible and therefore don’t stimulate the same concrete images as many nouns. When you say ‘wood‘, I have something to reference. My mind is full of images of forests, bon fires, chopping blocks with ‘wood‘. However, our feelings don’t represent images in the same way. When I say that I’m ‘happy‘ (another empty word), we can remember a feeling from a moment when we were joyous. But what is joy? Are our definitions equal to each other? Do you understand when I speak to you?

Now you may see the problem, language is flawed because it cannot communicate completely. When I say ‘ceiling‘, we are thinking of similar concepts but not exactly the same. Mine could be made of glass while yours is tiled like an office building. However, to say that language is entire flawed would be to discard an incredibly useful tool.

We may not think of the same ‘street‘ or ‘ceiling‘ but we generally understand one another. I can say that I replaced my ‘roof’ today, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. If I shout “call the police”, you’ll (hopefully) react by pulling out your phone and getting help. Language is incredibly useful!

Returning back to my original statement, words are placeholders. They represent concepts we have in our minds. When we use them, we speak as though they are made of concrete and tangible. “Turn left after the purple building”. I speak as if you understand me, and for the most part, you do. But you don’t fully comprehend what I’m saying. When I tell you that I’m ‘fine‘, there isn’t a reference or something you can touch. It’s subject to your interpretation. ‘Fine‘ to a girl may be synonymous with ‘depressed‘ or ‘unhappy‘, while, to a guy, it may mean ‘alright‘ or ‘okay‘.

Now that we see words as concepts and placeholders, we see language as a tool. We can pick the tool up and use it to communicate. But when do we set it down? At this moment, pause and pay attention to your mind. What words are going through it? Perhaps it appears silent now. Eventually you will start talking to yourself. You’ll notice that the chair you’re sitting in is uncomfortable and that tomorrow you have work.

Your mind communicates with itself through language. Therefore there must be two of you; one to experience life and the other to examine it. There’s a person who feels the rain when you walk outside and another who complains that it’s cold or very wet. They are not the same person. Here’s a famous exercise to demonstrate it;

Wherever you are, sit tall. When you finish reading this paragraph, you’re going to close your eyes and try to stop thinking. You don’t want a single thought to go through your mind… Go ahead and close your eyes and try…

After you’ve done that, you’ll see that thoughts just arise. You can’t control them, they just appear. Still don’t believe me? Where do your thoughts come from? Where is the beginning of a thought? How did you start thinking about lunch?

You understand that there are two ‘selfs‘; one that experiences life, when you touch a table or stub your toe, and there’s another that curses loudly or criticizes you for tripping.

As the day progresses by you may think about the weather or what you’re going to eat for lunch. Since you don’t actually know what you’re going to eat for lunch, you fill your mind with words. These words are placeholders because you don’t actually know what you’re going to eat for lunch. You don’t know how it will taste or the exact temperature of the sandwich. You just don’t know.

So you describe it with words; “my lunch is going to be a PB&J sandwich with yogurt and tea”. These words are placeholders for what you remember a PB&J to taste like. When I say ‘yogurt‘, you may remember the last time you had some. Unfortunately today you left yours in the sun and it’s going to taste a little different than you remember.

We were discussing misunderstandings earlier when two people speak. When you have a mind, you have similar miscommunications. Your mind says, “we’re having a sandwich”. You remember the last time you had a sandwich, and create an expectation. You remember a chewy bread with peanut butter, so this one should be the same, right?

This internal dialogue creates many problems. By having two ‘you‘s, you have miscommunication. Instead of turning on the wrong street, like we mentioned earlier, you create an expectation and either fulfill it or fail it. You tell yourself, “I’m going to have a good day at work today”, then you either do or you don’t. The language isn’t concrete. When you say those words to yourself, you don’t actually know if you’re going to have a good day.

The trouble is, we continually have conversations with ourselves. We’re constantly talking and labeling the world around us. We look at the grass and say ‘green‘. We look at a puddle of water and think ‘wet‘. Both of these statements are probably true and there’s no reason to doubt them. However, both words are unnecessary. We don’t need to tell ourselves that the grass is green or a puddle is wet.

What is happening is the two of you in your head, the experiencer and the examiner, are separating. The examiner says ‘green‘, ‘stiff‘, ‘dry‘, ‘needs water‘. Because the examiner labeled the grass, you no longer need to experience it. Instead of actually looking at the grass, you’ve reduced it to words, or placeholders.

When you reduce the world to words, you cease to experience. You’ve labeled everything and now you’re remember what each descriptor means. ‘Dry‘ reminds you of running through a field as a child and getting stabbed by the blades of grass. ‘Green‘ reminds you of the algae in the pond by your house. Instead of experiencing what is in front of you, you relive your previous experiences.

This makes sense, because we experience many things ever moment. If we felt the grass when we walked barefoot, noticed the heat on our skin, gravity holding us to the ground, the 90 degree day, the ocean smell, tired eyes, and the other thousand feelings we have, we’d be overwhelmed. There’s so much sensory input that when we’re young, we teach ourselves to replace these feelings with words.

We can focus on our thoughts, how we feel about the moment, what we’re going to do in the future, et cetera. If you notice, when you go to a new place, you look around. You can always tell if a person is new by how much they move their head. As time goes on, people start to walk with their heads facing forward. They have already experienced the drive to work, so there’s no need to look around anymore.

Unhappiness stems from here, when we stop experiencing the world and we decide to label it. We relive the past rather than experiencing new feelings. We stop living.

What is the solution? Pay attention to everything as it happens… but don’t label it. Don’t walk into a building and think ‘gray‘, ‘tall‘, ‘bright‘, ‘open‘. Just feel. It sounds simple enough but it takes time to learn how. You have to let go and stop judging the world. Let everything be as it actually is. The grass just is… The water is… Sitting feels like…

It’s very difficult not to finish those sentences but you need to learn how to. When you stop communicating with yourself, you stop miscommunications. There isn’t any need to have conversation with yourself. If your mind is a tool, you don’t always need to be using it. When you’re done with a tool, you set it down.

Unfortunately there isn’t a good way to explain how to feel, you just have to do it. Take in the world and really experience it. Stop filling it with words and placeholders, the world is so much more than just a memory. It’s an experience! So take this as a lesson to start feeling the world and finding a silence in yourself. No more conversations or thinking about tomorrow, just feeling what’s in front of you.

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Why does pizza taste better at 3 a.m.?

The human mind is capable of so many paradoxical phenomenon: have you ever been on a temporary diet and when you finish it, you feel like food tastes twice as good? Have you ever been at the beach all day, then later walked into an air-conditioned room? What about when you spend a few hours standing up – sitting down feels incredible, right?

Nothing has changed in any of these scenarios other than our perspective. The pizza you ate after your diet has the same flavor as before you started. Most of us live in air-conditioned houses, and the only time we seem to notice it is when we leave or enter the building on a hot day. Each day we wake up and get out of bed, throughout the day we sit down and get up constantly. Why is it that when our perspective changes, these common activities become so pleasurable? The only variable that changed is us.

Is there a way that we can live and make each moment as incredible as that first bite of pizza? Can we feel relief every time we sit down to relax? What is it that conditions us to forget these simple pleasures and seek greater ones?

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Look Around

Moving to a new place gives a fresh view on life and a new invigoration. In the first few weeks after moving to a new location, you have to absorb the world around you. From the way you get to work to the nearby supermarkets, and from the culture of the city to finding what places you want to explore. When I first moved to Charleston, I couldn’t help but look around.

It’s easy to spot a new person or someone who is not from your city because they move their heads. They look around to see what’s going on. Instead of staring forward, they look at the size of the buildings and the restaurants as they pass by. New people do not keep their heads down, there’s too much to see!

In those first weeks, I think people are more authentic. They don’t know the area and they don’t have a reason to please others. When you talk to them, they are more present. They are more involved in their environment and easier to talk to.

As time goes on, we learn to look forward. We already know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, so we go on autopilot. If we know where we’re going, we can just sit in our heads. We’re not going to get lost. So we can think about what we’re going to do today or how work was. We lose touch with the moment.

In today’s culture, this is even easier. We can pull out our phones and just sit on Facebook. When we’re sitting on the subway or the bus to work, we don’t look around. We think we already have experienced the subway and there’s no reason to look for anything new.

There’s something to be learned from those initial moments after you move to a new place. When you’re look around, you’re more involved with the world. By interacting, you are living life. Sitting in your head or spending all day thinking is not living. It’s just thinking. In your daily life, start to notice how much you look around. Do you spend all day looking forward or do you openly explore your environments?

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note#14. moving on

Life is about moving on and letting go. It’s about experience but only as it happens. After the moment is over, we need to move on. When we feel emotions, we really need to feel them. But after they’re gone, we need to let them go. Don’t hold onto anger, frustration, and don’t claw after happiness.

When relationships aren’t working and friendships are falling apart, let them go. If it’s meant to be, it will come back. You can’t hold everything together. You can’t stop a ship from sinking, you can only plug the holes until another one appears.

You have to be willing to sacrifice everything that you know to live in this moment. When you feel directly through your senses and before you think about what you’re seeing or what it means. You must depart from moments as they leave so you can make room for the next moment. Holding onto every second is too painful.

Now I’m working on letting go of what isn’t working. I can’t make a failing relationship bud or fix a friendship that isn’t meant to be. I must depart from it and let it go in its own way. Life is about moving on to open room to experience. I can’t grow if I always look back, I must realize what it in front of me now.

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“Dude, just enjoy”

As a writer, I’m often guilty of pouring out words and labeling my life. Instead of relaxing, taking in the moment, I’m fantasizing about some far away place. It’s easy to write about these fantasies and dreams because our minds can create such beautiful possibilities. What is truly difficult, however, is living in the moment, whether good or bad, and taking it all in.

On Facebook, a person commented on a photo of mine with “enjoy”. What they probably meant was “I enjoy this” but they didn’t finish the thought. Instead of letting it go, I responded with a question mark. The comment seemed unusual and I wanted to know what they meant.

Almost immediately another friend responded with, “Dude, just enjoy”. It’s taken about a year to realize the true meaning of this.

While I was walking down the beach earlier today, I thought about it and was lead back to the word “enjoy”. It’s a simple two syllable word that we throw around and occasionally hear when we order food or go to the movies. We think of it like, “here’s your ice cream, enjoy!”. Essentially it has lost its meaning because of how often we use it.

What does “enjoy” really mean? It’s when you appreciate the world around you and the situation that you’re in. It means that you’re living in the moment and loving what is happening to you. More than anything, it’s the acceptance of life in its rawest form: you’re letting the world in. You’re truly feeling the taste of the ice cream or the sand on your feet.

Later that day I went out with some friends who got really drunk. The police were involved and it’s a long story that I’ll write about tomorrow. When we were sitting down with the cops, after about an hour, I remembered “enjoy”. Our situation was horrible and we would be up staying late that night, but I accepted it as part of my life. I took “enjoy” and just appreciated the moment for what it was.

In retrospect, it’s the small moments in each day that form our lives. Sleeping late on Sunday may seem meaningless but after a month, maybe you’ll appreciate stretching in bed and laying around. After a year, you may look back and remember those days when you could lounge around the house. Those are the moments that create a life. We look back and see the bliss.

What value is as of that if you didn’t actively “enjoy” those moments? Think back to the last time you thought to yourself “Wow, I’m having a good time” or “I really enjoy this”. Chances are you’ll remember a few moments but they will be few and far between. We don’t appreciate life at its core, only in the ‘grand’ moments. But life isn’t built on these moments, we don’t have them often enough to call them common.

Life is built on making oatmeal everyday for breakfast, or the long commute to work. It’s built on working in the heat and coming home covered in grease. These are the moments that populate our lives and keep our days filled until we go to bed. They are the first breaths after waking and feeling of exhaustion after a long day’s work.

“Enjoy” is a reminder that we need to take a breath and enjoy the moment. If we don’t take in the world and relax, life will pass us by. We were too busy thinking about our next action, or what could be, that we lose sight what is happening around us. When you’re on the side of the road with a group of cops and a group of drunk friends – “enjoy”. When you’re craving pizza and you finally get a slice – “enjoy”. Don’t question it, if you do, you’ve missed the moment. It all boils down to; “Dude, just enjoy”.

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What it feels like to have lips

You know the feeling when you kiss someone for the first time? When their lips feel foreign and their skin feels light because you’re afraid to press hard against it. Everything feels so new and unusual. You don’t know what the other person is thinking and you know that you’re thinking a lot. At this time you’re really in tune with the other person and you’re receptive to whatever they do.

There’s a certain delight in that strangeness and how foreign everything feels. Someone’s lips are weird but they’re not weird at the same time. Their skin has a particular feeling and you like that tang.

The other I was thinking about all of this and it hit me. Why does it feel so unusual? We should be used to feeling of our own skin. Every time we touch something or brush our hands against ourselves we feel ourselves. So why is there a delight in feeling someone else’s skin?

I think it’s because when we’re with someone we have that receptivity. We’re completely present and ready to feel whatever is going on. We pay attention to all of our feeling and all of our emotions. The joy that we get may not be just because we’re with another person but because we’re totally here. We’re fully alive in those moments.

Most of our life we don’t pay attention to the normal sensations of living. The feeling of gravity or our feet as they step on the ground. We only notice our back when it hurts us but we don’t pay attention to it otherwise.

We seek solace in other people because we crave the feeling of being alive. We crave the sensation of what skin feels like even though we’re already wearing a full suit. We don’t notice what our lips feel like when we’re eating or breathing.

What we should be doing is finding that presence within ourselves and sharing that with somebody else. Find where you feel most alive and bring that our in somebody else. Not only when you are intimate but when you’re just walking around. Remember the physical sensations of life like walking into the hot sun or the feeling of grass. Truly feel it and breath it all in! That is the way to happiness, not through somebody else.

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No-Mind Language

No mind is the condition when thoughts pass through your head but you don’t place any attention on them. Eventually it’s as if there are no thoughts because what you are taking in through your senses at the moment are more important than your thoughts about it.

Think about a Hawaiian sunset, how catching it is and how beautiful. When you see something very beautiful like that, it’s as if everything else vanishes from your life except what is in front of you. It’s as if your life has peripherals and you spend more time staring at the peripherals than what’s directly in the moment.

Basically no mind is this condition of the absence of thought. It’s like a clearing where you can direct your attention and make thoughts arise as needed. You can act more efficiently and get more out of life.

Much of no mind comes from removing your desire to label everything. This coffee is cold or the palm trees are beautiful. While neither assertion is incorrect or bad, we spend too much of our time labeling things that don’t need to be labeled.

Ponder this for a moment; why do we need to say something is hot or cold inside our heads. We can just accept that our drink is what it is without labeling it. We can look at the sunset without the desire to try to make it tangible. We can walk across the sand and feel the sand without the need to call it soft or hot. We can just leave things at their experience or sensation.

Much of this leans into language. For example, we make action more tangible when we explain what we’re doing. I can go through the process of walking over and picking up a glass of water without thinking about walking over and picking the glass up. We have a fixation on words.

Like I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with words. However, we passively label everything in our lives. This is too hot, too artificial, interesting, boring, great, horrible. We don’t spend enough time without these words.

As I’ve started to study Danish, I learn by labeling the things in my life. For example my friend turns into min ven. After learning many words to describe the objects around my dormitory I realized that I do this in the English language as well. My mind constantly speaks to my body. “Let’s go for a walk”, “I’m hungry”. Rather than making these expressions tangible I could just do them.

It’s difficult to explain but I think by labeling everything, we remove so much of the experience. By saying the sunset is beautiful, we reduce it to a word that is too generic to describe the experience of that sunset. Extravagant, or unique cannot do it justice.

These things which are conversations in our head “wow, that sunset is beautiful” are going nowhere. We are literally thinking them to ourselves. Because we are only thinking them and not communicating with somebody else, we mental reduce our experiences to generic words. We reduce them to much less than the experience of it.

Instead of labeling things, we should just feel them. The sensation of them and what it’s like to experience it. If someone asks, reduce it into language. But if you’re trying to remember something in your head, remember it for it’s sensation and not it’s descriptors.

Experience things as they are, don’t label everything.

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