The Matter of Words

Asato me sad gamaya, Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya, Mrityor ma amritam gamaya

-Pavamana Mantra

“Your tongue is a rudder, it steers the whole ship, sends your words past your lips or keeps them safe behind your teeth. But the wrong words will strand you, come off course while you sleep, sweep your boat out to sea or dashed to bits on the reef.”

– Brand New “Play Crack The Sky”

Writing can often be a struggle for me, especially when attempting to hone in on a specific topic to flesh out into written word. I feel like expressing so many things at once, as I have the tendency to see the oneness of everything. How hard it can be, to describe with any eloquence or conviction such a simple yet profound concept. All is one. Any attempt to describe that involves setting a course away from that universal truth in order to meet the reader where they are on their walk through this lifetime. Rather than feel stymied by indecision and having too many choices, I have decided simply to begin in such a logical place, here. Now. Where I am, what I am working on. I will be able to write about a great many things as they come to pass in their own time. Rather than struggle with myself to decide what words to write first, I have chosen to write about words themselves. The words we say to others, and perhaps more importantly the words we say to ourselves.

I do not need to be one more voice in your head telling you to say one thing or another. There are many other teachers who can say more beautifully than me such things like “Be kind” or “Take care of yourself.” But just as a refresher, we will briefly discuss the importance of the words we say to others. Words are how humans have evolved into complex societies. They have started great loves and they have started terrible wars. In Western society we believe we place so much importance in free speech, the belief that we should be able to say what we want and express how we feel. While I consider this a fundamental human right, no amount of freedom or law can free you from consequence. The vibration of your words has the power to elevate or destroy the vibrations of others. Just because you have the free right to speak ill of someone or something, does not mean that it is either the right thing to do, or that you have impunity from the reverberations of your words, natural or unnatural. There is a famous quote that has been attributed to everyone from Socrates to Buddha to Lincoln, about your words having to pass through three gates before speaking them. “Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it kind?”

Observing the tongue as a rudder analogy, these words exist within us and are created from our consciousness. They are a reflection to how we perceive our reality. This is where the real work lies. We have the power to shape or reshape our perceptions when we use our words with truth and kindness towards ourselves. This is where mantras and chanting come in as a spiritual practice, one that the words I have spoke to myself have held me back from walking my own path. For years I thought chanting and Sanskrit (the ancient language the first texts of yoga are written in, analogous to Latin for botany and medicine) were just for aesthetics,  that you’ll “look like a yogi” or that Sanskrit tattoos look cool. I did not see the purpose of chanting words over and over again, especially in a language I did not understand.  And I most certainly did not care for singing them. For those of you unfamiliar with yogic practices beyond stretching yourself into a pretzel, Kirtans are sort of participatory concerts where Sanskrit mantras are sang in a call-and-response style like a summer camp jamboree. Except instead of kids singing about a moose and juice, there are a bunch of dirty, jobless, somewhat privileged hippies singing gibberish.

That last sentence right there is an example of the words I speak to and about others being a reflection of the words I speak to myself. Some words have been spoken to me by others and I have made them my own in my unconscious mind. Some words were spoken by someone generations ago and have traveled through time into my unconscious mind via family members or people I’ve interacted with. They have molded my perception of reality without me even noticing them. I am learning to be more aware of them, how to make sure the words I speak to others are kind, and to be militantly kind in the words I speak to myself. I have always had a self-defeating voice in the back of my head that I have had to fight against and overcome to accomplish anything noteworthy in my life. It’s a voice that has paralyzed me in fear. That I’m not good enough, or that someone less fortunate deserves it more that I. I am my own hardest critic, and I think a lot of us are. We would never allow people to actually speak to us the way we speak to ourselves sometimes. For example, I was called a loser a lot as a kid. Those words became internalized into my unconscious mind, so it became part of my reality to think of myself as a loser. I wouldn’t be phased by someone else calling me a loser now,  and I’m so much  kinder to myself than I used to be, but there is that lingering word. That snickering voice. That bitter taste that evolved into me holding back from achieving great things, from making myself available and vulnerable, and taking a stand for how I really feel. This self narrative manifests itself externally into judgement of others. None of this is unique to me, our worldview and the words we use to describe others are a direct reflection of the words we use when we talk to ourselves.

One of the key mantras of understanding trauma psychology, is “Hurt people hurt people.” The meanest people we meet are even meaner to themselves. A meanness towards them became internalized into a meanness to themselves that gets expressed as a meanness towards others. This is why it is so imperative to be militantly kind to yourself. You are the captain of the ship that the tongue is a rudder of. You cannot control the words others say to you, but you can counteract negative ones with kind words to yourself. When I began this trip to India, I was in a yoga course with 15 other people. On the last day, while saying goodbye to some local women from the course, they noted “We weren’t sure about you. We were afraid of you. We thought you were like a tough mean guy or something. Very quiet.” This stung me to the core, because it’s not the first time I’ve heard that. I’m shy, I’m an introvert, I take a little while to put my shields down around new people. Even writing this and making it public is a huge effort for me. All of that is a reflection of those words I speak to myself. I don’t want people to be afraid of me, I wouldn’t hurt a fly. But it’s like people can hear you thinking out loud your negativity. Things that upset or trigger you are reflections of a wound within you that still needs to heal. I don’t like when people tell me I’m quiet. It reminds me of old depressions when I was actually very quiet. Or that I’m not cool or fun. That loser self talk popping up again. That’s the work for me in the here and now. To be militantly kind to myself.  Using the power of mantras to cultivate positive thoughts and clarity. It’s only hippie gibberish if I tell myself it is. If I’m tired all the time it’s because I’ve told myself I am. Because I know in my heart I am most certainly not a loser and I have a lot to say and a lot of benefit to offer the world. That those hurtful words were someone else’s internal struggle that had nothing to do with me. I need to make sure I’m being kind to myself first and foremost so that the words I say and these words I write don’t come out in a way that will hurt others or just bitter sarcasm that, albeit hilarious, is just masking a deeper truth that is yearning to be told. So go forth my friends and be kind to yourselves. Love yourselves so very fiercely. Stoke that home fire so that your light will shine for miles around. For some folks it’s easy, some folks it’s not. I’m right there in it with you. We’ve come a long way, and the journey ahead is bright. I leave you with the English translation of the Pavamana Mantra;

“From the unreal to the Real, lead me.
From darkness to Light, lead me.
From death to Immortality, lead me.”

Explore the wilderness within



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