In thought and communication we have a tendency to use what may be called “stop words.” For example, we may say, “God is Love,” or “Life is about awakening to truth,” or “Life is initiation into X.” The last word in such sentences is often, as we typically use it, a stop word.
Words and thoughts are intimately intertwined, often becoming for us as if one thing. The sentences, the set formulas we arrive at, often have a kind of finality to them. We make our formula with a neat ending point, a point that may easily stand as headstone marking the death of our free and open thought. We do a mental word-magic that gives us the sense that we understanding something, and perhaps sometimes we do. Yet the vast realities of life are far beyond our simple formulas and we may fail to appreciate the limited experiences of life that have given birth to our thoughts and words.
Today, I overheard someone say, “I know God is Love, but what does that mean?” This simple question is an achievement of considerable magnitude. Often, we fail to question meaning, and so in our busy verbal plentitude, fail to fathom the great distances between words and experiences.
The proselytizer on the street corner asks, “Have you been saved?” “Have you accepted Christ as your savior?” Is it not astounding that people can launch such questions at each other?
In my formula “Words express thoughts,” the last word is or can be another “stop” word. I suggested that we use words to express thoughts, but of course words also express emotion and sense experience, as well as a world of things transcendent to these.
Perhaps the wise use of words is akin to crossing a bridge. We don’t want to stop on the bridge; rather we want to crossover and ever beyond. Our use of words should be as fluid and free as the wind and the ever-widening depth of our experience. The bridge of words is no place for a permanent dwelling. Our life is in the infinite, so let our play with words like “infinite” be a truly free and open way.
Words are useful and support community of understanding when those who use them are “on the same page,” as the cliché has it. Some language works against this through ambiguity or vagueness, which no doubt mirrors the corresponding weakness in human consciousness. Each person is free to spin words and concepts in a certain way, often without regard to the language of another or the confusion engendered. We can mitigate this Tower of Babble effect by paying close attention to the thinking and communicating process as mediated by words. One aspect of this pertains to the degeneration of terms and concepts.
Perhaps one of the most difficult word-meaning problems occurs in cases where the same word can mean opposite things. This sometimes occurs where unfriendly forces hijack a word with a benevolent tradition. For instance, a dictionary shows that the word “mystic” has suffered some debasement, having spilled over in its usage with the word “occult,” a term with some unsavory magical associations. So, a given word may point to it’s opposite where popular thought arrives at a strange mix of dark and light, of spiritual and anti-spiritual connotations.
“There are trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”
— Niels Bohr
“It is a platitude as well as an occult paradox to say that in the midst of profound personality distress and unhappiness, the joy of the soul may be known and felt.”
— A Treatise on White Magic, Alice Bailey
“…it is necessary primarily to preserve the personality but be freed of egotism. To many, such an antithesis will seem absurd; for them, egotism is personality. The manifestation of a powerful personality devoted to the General Good is beyond the imagination of many, but without personality thinking would not have potency.”
— Helena Roerich
We have all the time in the world, but there is no time to loose.
One must achieve detachment. But detachment is separation, and one must achieve unification that is the ultimate “attachment.”
We are to be oriented to the soul that takes us away from the world. At the same time we are to be oriented to humanity that involves us in the world.
The individual is of supreme importance, and at the same time not important at all because it is the larger whole that is important.
Death is the result of a living process.
All metaphysical teachings are full of abstract concepts, yet it is said that nothing abstract is of any use. What’s the use of anything abstract? Abstract floats lonely in the upper regions of the cosmic undefined.
Someone speaks about the concept of truth within and the need to turn within. Notice the paradox between this and the concept of unity. Since unity exists, turning within can also be turning without. Since unity exists, looking without is in one sense looking within. So it appears, that in broadening of consciousness, the distinction between inner and outer melts away.
Contradictions may be considered as different aspects of the same manifestation. But if one, then there is no contradiction.
“Nothing is farther than earth from heaven; nothing is nearer than heaven to earth.”
— Hare & Charles
“All high truth is the union of two contradictions.”
“The Fanatic Is The Man Who Cannot Understand A Paradox. Most fanatics, cranks, and madmen, are those who are unable to understand a paradox. Every truth has its opposite, which is also true. Sanity consist in understanding this; insanity in failing to see it.
Workable, every day truth is made up of two or more contradictions. The true doctrine is always the balance. For instance, the truth lies not in fate (determinism, predestination) nor in free will, but in both. Man is not a spirit, nor a brute; he is both. Whoever excludes wholly the one or the other from his idea of man is not so much untrue as he is crazy.”
— Frank Crane
Words seem to spring from classifications and division, yet the paradox is that every word may become catalyst. So, ultimately, words bridge the gaps between divisions, yielding sparks of amazing cognition.
It’s lovely to have a thought or question from another, from what they are, because it’s an invitation to find our thought, to find ourselves, to really learn and discover. Often people do not know how precious these conversational gifts can be, or they would share themselves more lavishly. They do not see what an adventure it is.
Sometimes we speak, not from what we are, but from what we imagine ourselves to be. Sometimes it’s a creative act-as-if, and sometimes just pretense, a kind of groping in the dark.
But in real talk we would speak from what we are, and that speaking would be an act of discovery. But if we’re frozen in shyness, how will we discover, how will we find the open road of adventure? We can’t achieve unless we assert ourselves and speak the facts as we see them. We can’t relate to people unless we have a thought, say it straight, make it heard.
The teacher spoke. No one had a tape recorder handy or seemed to know shorthand. He used our words instead of his, adapting a little of what he saw we could grasp. Of the part we heard, we recalled a portion. In time, we came to understand, vaguely, a part of what our memory seemed to say. Of that portion, we wrote and spoke a little, and strangers with their own political agendas moved part of that to other languages. We heard, or thought we did—had we been women, we would have heard differently. No one in the chain thought much about the anomalies of retro-cognition, or vicissitudes of linguistic obscuration.
In the sky, sunlight in the air; on Earth, fragments on the ground…
Everything transcendental is above the limits of external language. In direct realization we no longer need translation by linking words to meanings via external personal experiences. Yet fidelity of “reception” and “transmission” are still issues. We may catch a meaning directly, but there will still be limitations surrounding its embodiment on the personality level, that is in the form it takes in the mind, emotion, or physical world. Yet, in the depths of consciousness we can still sense the truth directly. And if the realization is revisited directly, it becomes apparent that the body we give it is inadequate. Words and images never fully embody the realities of spiritual life.
We always feel, do we not, that if some true note occasionally slips into our sayings, that it is the gift of some muse or a fortunate catch from the waves around us all.
“There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.” R. W. Emerson
Often people imagine that a definition relates words to the world. But actually, a definition only relates words to other words—it is we who must, based on our experience, relate the words to the world. Definition is the substitution of words for other words, but it is experience that lets us to link words to the world. This is why experiences in common are the basis of communication, and why expanded consciousness is so vital to harmony and understanding.
A definition is only helpful when the words used link to our personal knowledge and experience. If we have an experience that relates to a word, then that word becomes like an arrow pointing to the experience. Where we have only the word, and lack a corresponding experience, that word remains like an arrow pointing to a question mark. We can, of course, also have in our minds a word-arrow that points to the wrong part of the world. What makes it “wrong?” It’s wrong because we are alone in our definition, so the mistaken word-arrow is useless and misleading as a means of communicating with others.
The practical value of reflecting on this is that it helps us understand something of what happens when we try and fail to communicate. And it also helps us think more clearly, because in so far as we use words when thinking, we can better understand what it is we are doing.
“A SONG of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines? Those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground and sea, They are in the air, they are in you.”
— Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
Some illumination exists in understanding when we have got hold of the words, but not that which the words point to. Our psychological condition in this respect is not always as clear and obvious as one might at first think. If it were, mutual understanding would be a far more widespread than it currently is.
The key is to be free of imprisonment in our own vocabularies.
“Each man wrappeth his thought within his own egotism and calleth the brat a new name.”
— The Case of Patience Worth, Prince, Walter Franklin
We do not know to what extent we agree or disagree with another until we understand each other’s thoughts, and to do that we must get behind each other’s words. Intellectually, it would seem that we all know this obvious truth, yet emotionally we often demonstrate we do not. So, if a person’s words are foreign to us, we may assume the thoughts behind them are foreign as well though this may not be true. Frequently, we will argue, so to speak, with the words of another and never connect with the ideas, never realize that we failed to understand what was is in the other’s mind and heart.
It’s useful to understand the special language used by another, especially when that language contrasts with our preferred usage. It helps to be able to put on different verbal hats. Indeed, the externalization of thoughts is so intimately bound up with language that often we must be able to put on a different verbal hat in order to think toward something new. Adopting another’s terms and meditatively translating them into our own language can often advance understanding of the new.
Through this discipline, we gradually approach the realization that words are not the same as meaning, that essence is not the same as form. It would seem that this is obvious and that we understand this, yet the frequency of arguments based on unexamined definitions shows that our understanding of word/meaning relationships is weak. In the abstract we may know that words are not the same as the things they refer to, and that words mean different things to different people, yet to often in our conversations we betray “the better angels of our nature” and foolishly fail to act from our understanding. Here then is a practical aspect of semantics that can promote essential understanding and avert many arguments. About arguments, fools may rush in, but angels can tread most anywhere without ill effect. And where we prove more the fool than angel, well there’s the lesson also.
Teachings are not the truth, but a catalyst to aid in approach to the truth. There are limitations to be found in every verbal formulation and in those who give them. Good teachings have merit as general guidelines and as stimulus to thinking and reflection. Also, even in a great teaching, the specifics and their application to any time and space involve much ambiguity and vagueness. So, in this sense, we are always on our own, in other words a good teaching or teacher stimulates independent thought.
A lot of synchronicity occurs without our realizing it because it simply does not come to our attention. For instance, when I was sixteen, I had a strange dream. I was with my best friend the following day, and though we rarely spoke of dreams, we discovered by accident that we had dreamed the exact same dream on the same night. My friend related my unusual dream to me in vivid detail, exactly as I dreamed it except that he was the central character in his dream and not I. If it had not come up in the conversation, we would never have known anything paranormal had occurred. Obviously, virtually all such events are never noticed because the communication that would reveal the events never occurs. Such things suggest that daily life may be far more miraculous than most people imagine and we are simply unaware of it.
Semantics is the study of meaning in language, thought, and communication. Our thoughts are embodied in language and images. We give our thoughts bodies; we create these bodies in the act of forming words and pictures. We incarnate in our thoughts and words and become identified with them. This identification is apt to create an illusion in that we feel we have hold of reality whereas in fact, we often only have hold of the words, some mental pictures and associated intellectual constructions.
The soul of words is the meaning, the experience that our words point to, or should point to. It is this living experience, the consciousness behind the forms that ensouls words. By this understanding of the nature of our verbal and conceptual incarnations we arrive at the possibility of Transpersonal Semantics. The word “transpersonal” points to that which is beyond the personal. “Semantics” refers to the meaning of words.
Let us define Transpersonal Semantics as spiritual-perspective-semantics. It is a way of thinking about body and soul with special reference to the way we humans use language in thinking and communication. So, a certain approach to semantics becomes an art of spiritual interpretation–a way of thinking and talking about spiritual and material problems and their solutions. In this sense, a key to better thinking is found by constant awareness of the difference between form and essence, between word and reality, between thought and the silent reality behind thought.
Everything is gateway and symbol. See these dots:
. . .
They’re an “ellipsis,” a form of punctuation indicating an omission. The word “ellipsis” is from Latin and means, “to fall short.” When we speak, write, or think, we always fall short and the ellipsis reminds us of it. Therefore, for honesty, we must add an implicit ellipsis to each thought and expression.
The ellipsis is the most important form of punctuation. It should be burned into our memory like bright dots of fire. These little dots are not dots at all: they are points of light opening into the larger cosmos. The ellipsis has a powerful gateway attribute. It’s one of the most useful symbols in an open-minded person’s equipment. It reminds us that there’s always more to everything than is said or expressed. This means that no book, group, idea, teacher, philosophy, religion or science, ever tells us all we need to know about anything. There is always more beyond what is given…
Also useful for our understanding is the word “etcetera,” from the Latin, “the rest.” It is an antidote to our human tendency of period-and-stop thinking. The word should remind us of the bad habit we sometimes have of picking up a piece of the truth and straying with it. This is simple and obvious yet rarely understood and applied.
People tend to listen and respond as if words have more or less fixed meanings. But words don’t have fixed ordained meanings. They mean what we, the community of word users, agree they mean–and we often disagree and change our minds. Word meanings are in motion like the fluid consciousness that gives them birth, and dictionaries are the fluent history of our collective verbal habits. Dictionaries are not meaning bibles but an ephemeral record of how we have used words. Words are a catalyst for consciousness–there is no meaning in the words themselves. Or we might say words have shadow meanings that follow the actual meaning that exists in the life of consciousness. Words are symbols, forms, obscure mysteries—they are in the world of dead things and only take on meaning in a moment of illumination in the mind and heart of the reader or speaker.
Thought is poised between dimensions, dropping easily toward earth and more rarely deep into luminous reflections of other worlds. In thought is an opening door, a world of rainbow silences lovely as light, where then, when the veil wears thin, thoughts come with the lighting edge of fire.
Where then, when the veil wears thin, the gleaming surfaces of objects dissolve to exquisite meanings. And in ready moments, mind glides quietly into the blue and into landscape of distant worlds, where with all drawn close to the eyes, the way is clear. And for company in and through all the glowing silences of lost spaces, are true friends, and love in the air all surrounding.
And more sure than fine sun of cloudless day, interior radiance proves spirit well. So clear, pure, tremendous, the ethereal pressures of sacred things to be, mount within us, and mysterious shadows of ancient days crowd round us in night and day. See then the Life laid out, a clear and certain path, even to the most distant stars and times. And Life as something far beyond our reach, proves illusion, for distances dissolve and real life fills the creative fires of each happy day.
Let us consider the world of the “esoteric” or “spiritual science”—these suggests a wide diversity of things such as psychic phenomena, the supernatural, mysticism, meditation, tarot card reading, kabalistic obscurity, crystal balls, reincarnation, astral bodies, auras and chakaras, Eastern thought, metaphysics, and the occult. For some, the language may also call to mind witches and wizards, seances, a yogi in a mountain cave, magical charms, mysterious rites, and perhaps even some UFOs thrown in. And for some, the esoteric terms even associate with cults, satanic worship, or some TV show on the latest strange, weird, or bizarre phenomena. We might say that, the human scene, being what it is, people inevitably acquire a superficial picture; a caricature of whatever realities esoteric language is intended to point to. And among many people, a term like “esoteric” or “occult” conjures emotions most strange, while in this maze of language and concepts–usually but vaguely and poorly defined–wander the metaphysically oriented people of the world.
All this is not to belittle the truth underlying the language, but rather to help us realize more clearly the difficulties of discerning that truth. It helps to realize that excellent things are rare, and that for every true teacher, there are a thousand pretentious gurus. For every true psychic, there are a thousand pseudopsychics. For every prophetic visionary, thousands of false prophets walk the earth. And for every truly enlightened individual, there are thousands spiritual charlatans. And the matter is further complicated by the fact that we rarely have just obviously “false” communications but a cryptic blend of the true, and half-true, of false, and a partly false. There are a thousands of shades of partly true offered us from every direction.
And everywhere we find systems, gimmicks, offerings of pretty packages, of effortless cures and quick enlightenments, and even metaphysical versions of get-rich-quick schemes. And for every purely wrought axiom of wisdom, there are a thousand clichés and inferior versions.
It may also help us to realize that, at one extreme, everything becomes counterfeited and debased. Everything has false and glamorous versions. Everything has illusory and shadowy counterparts. So, on the surface, everywhere is scattered fool’s gold.
At the other extreme, in deeper spaces, is the clear gold light of wisdom. But between the extremes is a world of grays where things gradually shade toward the light. This is the world where our discrimination and insight are constantly tested. This is the world where we must learn to think and see ever more clearly. We live along a twilight path of human understanding, a world mixed of dark and light. Yet, along the way, we may more optimistically recall that shadows suggest the light that cast them.
Take heart then that the Powers that be thought so well of us as to lay upon our path such difficult circumstances. Our own powers are equal to the challenge, if not today, then surely tomorrow, and we have an infinity of tomorrows.
Let us bring out of the dense fabric of human thought some clear ideas, set them upon a pedestal, elevated, striking, luminous—suitable objects for reflection. The light of them is beautiful and, in one way, simple, yielding to us by interior radiance that vision of clarity we so deeply need for the difficult journey.
What a wild world! We’re bombarded with so much information these days that the onslaught threatens to overwhelm us. Ideas, images, propaganda, voices, montages, songs and screeches–a veritable whirlwind of communication beckons us to the heady heights of some new comprehension or threatens to plunge us into a maelstrom information overload. Words and images assault us–we ride waves of communication that pour toward us from all directions. Plug into the new world and the blinding Technicolor radiance of it flows through us; some of this is dazzling, some awful.
Pause of stillness, thought, focus, and clarity. It must be about discrimination. I will choose carefully. I must be critical, yet open. Carefully verify what is important; ignore what is not. So then, to choose, to carefully discern what is most worthwhile. It is a modern school for an ancient and time-honored lesson: the tests of discrimination.
This morning I spoke with someone with a voice unlike any I’ve ever heard. It had a clarity and quality that was astounding. I was struck by the message within the message that was this individual’s voice and presence. Though the external meaning of the exchange was exceptional, it was virtually obliterated by the quality of the speaker. The encounter impressed upon me the difference between symbol and essence.