Awakening: Why is it difficult to put into words?

Why is it difficult to put awakening into words? Or anything related to our more fundamental nature?

There are a few different reasons.

IT’S NOT BECAUSE IT’S SO SPECIAL

It’s not because it’s unfamiliar, distant, or special, or for someone special.

It’s what’s already most familiar to us, whether we recognize it or not.

THE GIFTS & LIMITS OF LANGUAGE

Mental representations serve an important function. They help us orient and function in the world, and to communicate with ourselves and others.

They are questions about the world. They can serve as pointers.

At the same time, they have limits. Words cannot properly capture anything.

It’s the nature of words that makes it difficult to put our nature – and anything else – into words.

Our nature is not a special case.

WHEN WE ALREADY ARE THERE

Words and mental representations are maps.

They help us orient and navigate in the world, and they help us communicate with ourselves and others.

Say we have a map of a place we haven’t been to. The map can give us a rough and abstract sense of the place, but not much more. We fill it in with our imagination and past experience, and that imagination is bound to get a lot wrong. It’s bound to get everything a bit wrong, and some a lot wrong.

If we are there, then the map can help us explore it more in detail and discover more about it.

That’s another reason it’s difficult to put awakening into words. If someone is not there, no words are sufficient to describe or explain it. If someone is there, then words can help them explore new aspects within it.

Here, the limitations are in where we are, and that’s the same with everything. If we are familiar with it, then words can serve as practical pointers. If not, the words remain more abstract and we imagine more into it.

WORDS DIVIDE

Words operate on distinctions, they create imaginary boundaries and divisions. That’s how they are useful.

Our nature is one. It’s what forms itself into any and all of our experience, without exception. It’s all we have ever known.

That’s another reason why it’s difficult to put it into language.

Often, the best we can do is to say what it’s not and use poetic expressions to point to it.

IT’S NOT IN OUR SHARED CULTURE

If we lived in a culture where exploring our nature was common and a part of our culture, we would have more of a shared language for it.

In the Western world, we don’t live in that kind of culture (unless we are in the Bay Area!) and we don’t have a shared language, apart from what we borrow from other cultures and a few mystics from our own.

I am trying to talk about it in a language that’s natural to me, simple, mostly free of jargon, and that reflects my direct noticing as much as possible.

FAIL WELL?

I know I am bound to fail in trying to capture any of this in words.

In the best case, it may be slightly interesting, create a frame, or serve as a pointer or reminder.

It always falls short. That’s OK. That’s how it is.

There is a gift there. It’s a blessing that we cannot capture any of this – or anything at all – in words.

It leaves us with one option, and that is to experience it for ourselves. We have to explore the terrain for ourselves.

There is no substitute. The experience of others is not a substitute. Words – no matter how beautiful or apparently insightful – are no substitute.

That’s how I can attempt to fail well: I know words cannot capture it, and I know there is a beautiful blessing and pointer in just that.

Image by me and Midjourney

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Language includes body language

YouTube suggested this short to me, and I thought it was a great example of how language includes body language. If we are bilingual, and the languages belong to relatively different cultures, then switching language also means switching body language.

In this case, she gesticulates when she speaks English and becomes far more still when she speaks Japanese, even if she speaks with the same person and in the same setting. She also does the little bow I associate with Japan and their body language. You can see the switch about 38 seconds into the clip.

We are endlessly fascinating creatures.

Is God he, she, it, neither?

In our patriarchal culture, people have traditionally used “he” when referring to God.

Why? Likely because it makes more sense in a patriarchal culture, and whether it’s intentional or not, it has also likely justified patriarchy.

No matter the reason, it does tend to limit our understanding of God.

Why not use a more rich and fluid way to talk about God?

Why not sometimes call God she and highlight the more feminine characteristics of God and existence?

Why not sometimes call God it and highlight our (imagined) third-person relationship with the divine?

Why not sometimes call God mystery and highlight the mystery inherent in the divine and existence?

Why not switch between all of these and more, and highlight the multifaceted and fluid nature of God, existence, and ourselves?

Note: This article is originally from one of the Brief Notes posts. These are usually topics I find interesting enough to mention but perhaps not so interesting that they warrant their own article.

Grant Barrett: If you find yourself angry or irritated by something… it’s probably because you don’t have enough data

If you find yourself angry or irritated by something about language, it’s probably because you don’t have enough data. 

– Grant Barrett, A Way With Words, episode 1594 Familiar Strangers, about 12 minutes in

Yes, the more we understand the background for variations and changes in language, the more we’ll tend to find appreciation for it rather than being annoyed.

For instance, I remember my uncle being upset about changes in the Norwegian language over his lifetime. If we know that language always changes from generation to generation, and that’s why we have different languages and don’t speak the same as our ancestors, we’ll tend to be more at peace with it. It’s just how it is. Language changes with how we collectively change and it’s how we adapt to new places and conditions. We may find that annoyance gives a place for fascination.

That’s how it is in life in general as well.

If I find myself angry or irritated by something, it’s probably because I don’t have enough data. 

I may not know enough about the other person and her or his background and history and current situation, and what they struggle with and how they deal with it. 

I may not know enough about my own patterns and dynamics, and how I deal with the parts of me struggling and in pain. I may not have thoroughly enough found love for what’s been unloved in me, or seen what’s been hidden. 

I may not know enough about the bigger picture. I may not recognize thoroughly enough how everything is happening within and as what I am. I may not know enough about the bigger picture of life and the play of life. 

When it comes to language, we find there is an innocent and often fascinating and perhaps even beautiful reason why language is as it is and changes as it does. 

And in life, the more I understand and examine it, I find the same. There is often an innocent, ultimately impersonal, and fascinating reason why things are as they are. I may even find it beautiful, and sometimes also heartbreaking. 

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Mental field and communication

In exploring the mental field, I notice a few things related to language and communication…

The mental field mimic each of the other fields. It mimics sight (images), sound, taste, smell, sensation, and even itself. (For instance when there is a memory of a previous thought.)

The mental field labels and interpret what is going on in the other fields. There is a sound, then an image of a bird placed on that sound. (In the area of space where that sound seems to come from.) A smell, and an image of a possible source and further associations.

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Reading level: Elementary school!

The most helpful and profound insights – in any area of life – are often quite simple can be expressed in a simple and clear language. So although this blog is not of the most profound or insightful ones, I was still happy to see that the readability of this blog is at the elementary school level.

blog readability test

There are several reasons to aim for a simple language. 

It is more naked and reveals what it refers to more clearly. It is easier to see what it is about. The topics and insights are less hidden behind complex language or a particular lingo. (As Arne Næss said, if you can’t see to the bottom of a pond, it is not neccesarily because it is deep. It could just be muddy.)

It makes it available to more people. It doesn’t require an advanced reading level or vocabulary, and it does require as much familiarity with a specialized vocabularly. It is more democratic.

A complex language may require educated readers, or at least readers familiar with a particular lingo. And a simple language can express any level of insight and intelligence, and make it available to more readers. 

It helps me clarify it for myself. If I use an overly complex language, it is often because I am not clear. So aiming for simplicity is an invitation to clarify it for myself. 

And when I use a personal language, it is not only more easy to read, but more honest. I say what I mean, and don’t hide behind abstractions such as “we” and “one” or pretend I present abstract facts when it is always from a personal view. 

In aiming for simplicity, I ask myself a few questions: 

Am I clear? Am I as clear about it as I would like to be? If not, I take some time to clarify it for myself. Partly, through inquiry. And partly through outlines and drafts. 

I am writing from my own immediate experience? From what is alive for me here now? If I don’t, it tends to get dry and convoluted. And when I do, it is usually more clear, juicy and direct. 

Can it be expressed more simply? How can it be expressed more simply? How can it be expressed in most simple way? Can I find one simple sentence that captures its essence? And if there are more layers to it, can that too be expressed in a simple way?

If I express something in an unnecesarily complex way, what happens? What do I get out of it? Do I get to (think that I) appear more intelligent? More educated? Am I doing it to impress myself or others? To get appreciation or approval? To feel that I belong to a certain group? Do I get to exclude certain people from understanding what I write about? 

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Constructing reality

It is popular these days to talk about the ways language construct reality, slicing it up in a particular way and creating objects, relationships, characteristics of both, and more.

When I explore the sense fields, I see that language is doing this, but I also find another layer which is equally important: the wordless activities of the mental field. And these do the same.

I find images, and these are an overlay of boundaries on each of the sense fields, they serve as a source and fuel for language and discursive thought, they combine with activities in each sense field to create the appearances of gestalts, and much more.

It seems that language informs these images, including where boundaries go. But these images certainly inform language as well. There is an activity in the sense fields, an image of a singing bird overlaid on the sound field, and this can inform discursive thought about a bird singing, and also other activities of our human self such as walking over to the window to take a look.

Seeing this overlay, it is pretty clear that it is arbitrary. Boundaries can go anywhere. What happens in the sense fields can be sliced in innumerable ways. Yet since its only function is to help our human self live in the world, we tend to do it in the ways that are most functional, and this is determined in part by our particular culture and individual circumstances.

Of course, we can also go into stories about all of this. We can tell ourselves that language early on in our life helped informed where the boundaries go, including the wordless image ones. And that these images then helps support language, and serve as a guide and material for discursive thoughts. And that where the boundaries tend to habitually go, the relationships of the objects that emerge, and the characteristics of both, have infinite causes, stretching out to the extent of the universe and back to the beginning of the universe – going through the habits of this universe, the characteristics of this solar system and this living planet, the evolutionary history of this species, culture, individual experiences, and more.

All of that may be quite helpful and functional, but it is also good to see that those are just stories. Just other activities of the same mental field, constructing a partly imagined reality.

Simple language

I found this in one of cjsmith’s comments to MDs reply to cj’s post on arrogance in writing:

I think the project of trying to reconstruct the original meaning is a vital one, so long as we remember it is shaped by and for our current thinking, needs, and assumptions. I just think originalism hides this latter fact to its own theoretical detriment. There are better and worse reconstructions. But there are reconstructions. They involve a construction.

So I will now repeat my charge. No more smoke and mirrors. No more ducking and stalling. Why is this philosophical criticism wrong? Feel free to cite facts, opinions, logical arguments, etc.

Otherwise you show yourself (imo) to be out of your depth and would do better to admit it and walk away.

It seems that this has more to do with using a simple language or not, as the initial comment by MD points to. Why not use a simple language to talk about something that is most likely quite simple?

Without having read the posts leading up to this dialog, my (naive) guess that what cjsmith is trying to say is that we cannot say anything for sure about what has happened. All our ideas about it are just our best guesses. And that is of course true about anything. We don’t know anything for sure, maybe apart from that there is awareness and its content.

It is obvious to just about anyone, simple, and doesn’t need a lot of argumentation, fancy terminology or many words.

Of course, we can elaborate on specifically why we cannot say anything for sure about something in particular, which can be interesting and entertaining to a certain extent, but also just an elaboration of that simple noticing.

The reasons for using a complex and terminology-laden language are many. For instance, it can be a shorthand for communicating with oneself and others, if all we want to do is communicating with a small in-group. It can also, to a certain extent, be more precise. (Although that argument is often not as solid as it may appear. The clearest thinkers in any area often use a very simple and clear language.)

More interestingly, why do we sometimes use a more complex language than we need to? It can give a nice comforting sense of belonging to an in-group. It can give prestige. It can give a sense of superiority, and of being right. It can create a smoke screen to hide behind, for instance by muddling the subject which makes it difficult for others to respond. It can intimidate others from responding and engaging in a real dialog. It can give me an excuse to shoot down what someone is saying if they are not using the right terminology.

As someone said, if you can’t see the bottom of a pond, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is deep. It may just be muddled.

I can find all of those for myself.

Aspects of communication

An interesting point from Indistinct Union:

All writing is arrogance….of a sort. To say anything, however humble, is to assume one has something to say that has some validity, that someone will find useful. I put these thoughts on the World Wide Web. That’s arrogance.

It may be true, but some other things about writing and communicating – whether with others or myself – are also true…

Independent of anything else happening, when I communicate with myself or others…

  • It helps me clarify certain views and perspectives I am already familiar with
  • It helps me explore a certain area I am already familiar with, but in more depth
  • I can move beyond what I am familiar with, in the same general direction, in a more deliberate and systematic way
  • I sometimes surprise myself by coming up with something different from what I expected or something beyond what I was familiar with
  • I can actively take on, explore, and find the validity in views and perspectives I am less familiar with, including those very different from or opposite to my habitual perspectives. In this way, I move outside of what I am familiar with, it helps me understand better where others are coming from, and I also become more familiar with other sides of myself and the human experience
  • I can explore areas that are new or unfamiliar to me and learn something about them
  • By writing something down, I can more easily let go of it. I don’t need to try to remember it anymore, and can move on.

Among these, I see that all happen for me, and all have their own value.

If something is happening in the world, and I bring up something that can be a catalyst for change, I usually go with what is already familiar to me and habitual views (respect for life, widening circles of care, meeting people where they are, and so on).

If I work on myself, I often explore views and areas different from what I am used to, through for instance The Work or Voice Dialog or something similar. And this latter feeds back to the first since it helps me loosen my grip on certain views, understand better where others are coming from, and see how we are all in the same boat.

(As I write this, I see how certain KW flavored integralists will see this as green and holistic and all the things they don’t like very much, but that is not all there is to it. For instance, meeting people where they are at and speaking a language they understand also – obviously – means meeting people at red with red/amber means when necessary, including using force.)

As a receiver of what someone else communicates….

  • In general, whatever is communicated mirrors something in myself and helps me notice it. I find in myself what I see out there… views, experiences, qualities and more.
  • It helps me clarify, explore and move beyond views and areas I am already familiar with.
  • It helps me become familiar with views and areas unfamiliar to me, which helps me find it in myself and also understand better where others are coming from. We all are familiar with views and areas unfamiliar to someone else, so by sharing this inevitably happens.
  • It can help me explore views coming up in response to the view expressed. What I hear or see may trigger something in me in response, which helps me clarify and become familiar with it, and act on it as well in some situations.

So wherever it comes from, it can be of benefit of the receiver. In that sense, any sharing of views, perspectives, information, opinions, experiences and so on is an act of generosity. It may mirror something in the receiver, and may also trigger something different in response.

Does all of this automatically happen. Maybe yes and no. It may well be that most or all of this inevitably happens, and it then becomes an invitation that is consciously accepted and acted on or not. And for some, it is an active and conscious practice to work with it this way.

More obviously unique

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The conventional guideline for correct language is to use the word unique without the qualifiers of more or less. It is a binary situation. Something is either unique or not, so adding more or less is unnecessary.

Unique. Don’t use qualifiers (more, most, less) with unique. It means without equal or the only one of its kind.

But from another perspective, it is obvious that everything is unique. Anything is uniquely itself, different from anything else. Even a thought is uniquely itself, arising here and now, even if its content looks similar to the content of a thought no longer here.

In that context, it does make sense to say that something is more unique or less unique. Everything is already unique, so we can instead focus on the degree of uniqueness and how obviously unique it is in a more conventional sense. Something that really stands out is more obviously unique than something that does not, so it is more unique, or strikingly or super or [any adjective implying degree] unique.

How does this relate to the usual topics of this blog?

For one, it illustrates how there is a grain of truth in the reversals of any statement, even in language guidelines…!

More importantly, it helps us explore how thoughts can make something look the same even if they clearly are not. Sameness comes only from the inside of a thought, and in our immediate awareness everything is new, fresh and different.

It helps us see how we sometimes adopt conventional guidelines, in language and otherwise, without questioning them, or see what is more true for us.

And it helps us notice how we relate to those conventional guidelines. What happens when I have the idea that I should follow the guideline? What is the worst that could happen if I don’t follow it? What comes up for me if I decide to follow what is more true for me? Who would I be if I didn’t have the idea that I should follow the guideline?

Language and thoughts

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Some pretty basic things about language and thoughts, easily noticed through a labeling practice…

Language (as defined very generously) helps us communicate with ourselves and others.

When I use language to communicate with myself, it helps with mapping, navigating, orienting and functioning in the world. And this self-talk comes in two forms: non-discursive and discursive, or non-verbal and verbal.

Since thoughts mimic the (other) sense fields, the non-discursive language takes the form of thoughts of sound, sight, smell/taste and sensation. It is non-discursive, so most animals probably have this form of language, at least to some extent. When our cat recognizes the sound of our car, it uses sound thoughts, memories of the sound. When it walks up to the food bag, it probably uses image and smell/taste thoughts. And so on. She talks to herself, using nonverbal thoughts mimicking her sense fields.

The discursive thoughts also mimic sense fields, combining sound with and image, and often whatever other sense fields are appropriate. For instance, I can tell myself that I want to get up early tomorrow, have a bacon and egg breakfast, and then go our and dig out the soil for the retaining wall, and all of that is a combination of sound (words spoken to myself), images, and at least one smell/taste thought or memory.

This type of self-talkalso helps with mapping, navigating and functioning in the world, and is a slight extention of the non-verbal self-talk. When I look at it, the similarities between the two are more striking than their difference.

And of course, language can also be used for communication with others, and again, in the same two forms: verbal or nonverbal. I can speak with words, or I can draw, paint, make music, dance, move or anything else that expresses whatever non-verbal sense field thoughts I want to communicate.

There is, most likely, no end to how much we can discover when we explore this, even if we do it only by noticing what is alive here now in immediate awareness.

For instance, in terms of how the nonverbal and verbal thoughts interact, I see how the nonverbal thoughts serve as a storehouse for verbal thoughts to emerge from and draw upon. There is a sound, then a thought-image of a car placed where the sound seems to emerge from, and this can fuel verbal thoughts such as a car is passing on the street, it is pretty noisy, maybe there is something wrong with the muffler. Similarly, the verbal thoughts can easily evoke non-verbal thoughts. I tell myself that I’ll have icecream with strawberries tomorrow, and right away there is an image of just that, a smell/taste thought, and also a sensation-thought.

And by exploring this, I see how all of these thoughts are really just memories. Even if they are scenarios about the future, they all draw from the past.

I also notice how thoughts, whether they are non-verbal or verbal thoughts, live their own life, on their own schedule. Verbal ones are more easily noticed so there is a tendency to attach an idea of a doer to them, and the nonverbal ones are often less noticed so appear outside of the realm of the doer. But when I explore this more, I find only the idea of a doer – organizing perception in a certain way – and no doer outside of that idea.

Thoughts happen, and that’s it. They happen, they are sometimes precedet by something that seems to trigger them, and they seem to have certain effects. But no doer is needed anywhere there.

Language & Awakenings

Going to Breema intensives is a good opportunity for me to explore the connection between language and awakenings, or rather how the world appears and what language we tend to use at different levels of awakening.

Centaur awakening

The first level of awakening beyond the conventional (where the center of gravity seems to be for most people) is an awakening as a psyche/body whole. This is the F6 or centaur level in Wilber’s framework. It is a significant shift from being identified as a fragment within this whole, and we may say that I am that whole of which psyche and body are aspects. It certainly gives a sense of wholeness, fullness and of being more at home as a human being. There is still a sense of I, placed on this human self, so that in itself is inherently stressful – although within a different context than before.

Soul level awakening

At F7/F8 levels of awakenings (soul level, nature/deity mysticism), there is often a language of unity, no separation, intimacy, oneness and so on. All are words which reflects that there is still a sense of I there, although an I one with everything else. It is all God, Spirit, the Divine Mind, yet with a sense of I placed somewhere within it.

Witness awakening

In an F9 level awakening, as Witness, there is similarly a sense of I remaining, and language such as I am not this body, emotions, thoughts, etc. The world of phenomena here appears as a seamless field, there is no inside or outside. But there is a sense of I as observer, as Witness, as pure awareness. There is a sense of I as a clear mirror for the world. Itself absent of any preferences, and merely watching the preferences of this human self. There is also a taste of doing without doer at this point, the human self is just operating on its own as everything else. It is all just happening.

Nondual awakening

In a nondual awakening, where everything is revealed as inherently absent of any I, the language again changes. And it becomes even more clear how inadequate language is to describe the way the world appears from these awakenings. Everything just happens, I am That, Suchness, absence of I, emptiness dancing – none of these are very helpful, yet do make sense when the awakening happens. And it is completely clear that everything is just happening, including the activities of this human self. There is doing, and no doer anywhere.