Choice of Wording

Words are so unusual. They’re just sounds that we create with our mouths. Yet, each word bears a different value. “I love you” has stigma but “nothing much, wbu” can be thrown around in text messages. Why is it that the sounds that form “love” are so different from others?

Words like “fuck”, “shit”, “goddamnit” are not allowed to be played on the radio but you can talk about the same concept, as long as you use different words. “Gosh darn it” is another way of saying “goddamnit” but yet one is more socially acceptable. They refer to the same thing but use different sounds to describe it.

So why is it so hard to say “I love you” and so easy to say “fuck you”? Why do we treat words as if they are tangible?

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Cont. “Language as a Barrier”

Yesterday’s post was about language and miscommunication. I explained how language is imperfect and a substitute for more tangible experiences. For example, when I say ‘street‘, a picture appears in your head. You imagine what you remember as a ‘street‘, which limits our communication. Your version of a street is different than my image of a street.

Then we moved onto less tangible words and moved onto emotions, like ‘good‘ and ‘happy‘. Again, these words are placeholders for a memory of an experience. Therefore, inevitably, your ‘good‘, is different than mine. We tried to define what ‘good‘ means but we couldn’t arrive at a conclusion without using other empty words.

We then moved onto internal dialog and discussed thought patterns. To have a conversation, we must have at least two people. We are always talking to ourselves and labeling the world. The conversation we’re having is between two ‘people’; the experiencer and the examiner. At your core, you are the experiencer, you experience life. But another part of you is the examiner, where you label the world as ‘blue‘ or ‘beautiful‘.

Today I wanted to further this discussion and say that it’s important to turn down the voice of the examiner. We use words as placeholders for memories of experiences. We remember what ‘hot‘ feels like or rough‘ food tastes like. Rather than experiencing, we live through our memories.

When we focus on wordlessness, we begin to feel more. There’s no reason to internally label a food as ‘spicy‘ because we know it. The words are useless because we’re directly at the experience. It’s like jumping into a pool of water and thinking ‘wet‘; it’s a useless thought that reduces an indescribable feeling into something that it isn’t. You can’t fully explain what it feels like to be immersed in water, nor can you explain ‘heartbreak’. It’s just a feeling you have to experience.

The reason I felt obligated to write about the same topic is because I wanted to simplify what I wrote last night. It became many words longer than I originally intended it to be. I wish that I could write this in a simpler way but language is limited. The table is… there are no words to fully describe the experience of stubbing your toe. You can try but you can’t fully communicate it. Language only passes a certain amount of information, not all of it. So instead of trying to label the world, just feel the world. When you need to explain something to another person, you can, but know that it’s limited. Perhaps you already understand this, it is simple but complex. Nonetheless, strive for wordlessness.

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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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Language

You cannot prevent the suffering of others, you can only teach how others can alleviate suffering. People don’t understand that even though there’s thousands of words, there’s even more feelings and sensations than we can describe with. It’s impossible to explain everything though language. There are things that can only be understood through experience.

You cannot explain heartbreak to someone who has never felt it before. In the same way, it’s not possible to prevent others from suffering. You can’t fully explain how to stop heartbreak, or even that it will end. You can tell them “everything will pass” or “you will move on with your life”, but the words aren’t enough.

The truth could be told to you but if you don’t understand it, then it’s useless. Remember that words fall short of actions and experience. You tell more about a person by the way that they live, than by explaining it. Life transcends linguistics.

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Word Count

Last year I earned a reputation as a blog-pusher, which is a person who enthusiastically attempts to get others to blog. I fell in love with writing online, so naturally I spread the passion to friends. I spent a lot of time asking friends to start a blog and usually I was met with much resistance. Often I heard the excuse, “I don’t know what I would write about”.

After writing for eight months, I still don’t know what I’m writing about. Some weeks I write about artists, and other weeks I review things that I like. There are even days that I blog about about blogging (like today!). However, I can always push out 100 words a day for this project. Anyone can.

When this project was created, the minimum standard set for myself was 100 words a day. Like others, I thought that it would be too difficult to write. I feared that eventually the words would run out and there’d be nothing left. Today I installed a plugin to read how many words have been published since December 2013, when I began this blogging project.

I have published 111,117 words. According to Wiki, a common thriller has between 60,000 to 80,000 words, and a mystery could have 100,000 words. While writing a book requires much more organization, I feel like blogging has shown that I have the capability to write over 100,000 words.

This fear that you don’t have enough to write about is completely irrational. It may take time but you can fill a page. If you did a project like this and wrote the bare minimum, you would finish with 36,500 words. Even that is incredible and a low commitment! You just have to spend time building it and cultivating it.

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Unfortunately tonight I lack an order to the words that are flowing through my head. I wish I could write more but I haven’t digested my thoughts yet. Days like today feel chaotic because I have so much emotion but I don’t have a way of letting it out. I’m not short on feelings but I can’t bring them to a line of text. There isn’t that organization to box how I feel right now. Waiting until I figure this all out will have to suffice. Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’m just trying to find myself and make sense of my life.

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Fill a page with words

If you aren’t blogging, I don’t know what you’re doing. You are missing out on an incredible experience. Yes, I know that most blogs are boring but wait until you find one that really catches you. When you fall in love with a lesser known actor and discover that he’s been writing a blog for years. At that point you realize that it’s not the content you’re looking for. It’s the experience of the person – which is achievable through reading their blog.

When you discover an artist that produces beautiful work, you crave more. Their work is impressive to you but it only says so much about them. Finding a their blog gives you the opportunity to see their process. You have the opportunity to understand something that you otherwise couldn’t have known. You can learn about being an actor or a lower budget musician. Their writings give you a guide when you need it.

After you become accustomed to reading blogs, it’s difficult to go back. Twitter is only half of a paragraph and Facebook posts are often bemoaning. One day you’ll be scrolling through the internet and find an amazing artist. You’ll fall in love with everything they’ve produced. Low-and-behold they only have 15 pieces total online and there’s almost no information about them. Discontent isn’t an exact enough way to describe the emotion you feel when there’s only so much of a person.

That’s why I want you to blog. Take a moment everyday, or a couple of times a week, to write something. It doesn’t have to be a recount of your day or anything you don’t want it to be. Just find some time to fill a page with words. I know you don’t think you have them but you do. You won’t run out of them. Your creativity won’t stop. The world may not hear your voice or listen but it’s about filling that page out for yourself. It’s also about filling it out for that straggler who runs across your page. Maybe your words will connect with someone.

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