Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The unformed word

The value and meaning of words is forever in question. They grow out of us as spontaneously as leaves, emerging, collecting energy, feeding something, and then falling behind us. Fertilizer, perhaps, for future ideas and future generations.

I have pointed out before the irony of speaking about the silence that we encounter in our practice. And indeed, we are left with these poor tools to express a quality of experience and life that, by general agreement, is inexpressible. The Zen masters invented koans, so it seems, specifically because they addressed this issue, issuing a challenge to go beyond words with the words themselves.

The deeper the experience, the more inexpressible it becomes. It calls for silence. And yet, perhaps we are reminded of the Yeats poem After Long Silence, which begins,

"Speech after long silence, it is right..."

So: we are called on to speak. We are, in fact, required to speak: silence alone cannot help us to share our search or, perhaps, even discover it for ourselves. In the end, a quality, a vision, an expression must form within us that corresponds to the experience of living.

Gurdjieff and DeSalzmann did not hesitate to express; rather, they expressed consistently, but with great precision and insight. And always leaving an open space for us to walk into as we attempt to penetrate that mysterious world of understanding that they were touched by so deeply.

In posts within the last year, I have spoken about the fact that touch is a language unto itself; that, in fact, we have many languages in us, each one the property of a particular sense. Language, in other words, cannot be restricted to the words alone; in nature, language is a language of chemicals, of photons... of birdsong, of electrical charges and sensory impressions. Man is unique in his reliance on words; all other creatures find different– and perhaps even more potent– mediums in which to express the truth of their existence and exchange with one another.

We are, in fact, filled with all of these languages, just as every other organism. Yet we incessantly rely on the one that you and I are sharing now in order to achieve–attempt, that is, to achieve–an understanding within ourselves and between one another.

Why do we do that? Well, once again–there is a requirement. This is a mystery that needs to be explored, and a question that needs to be asked. Words are necessary. But why?

Even more so, our inner work calls us to recognize that there is an unformed word within us–a "do," a word that begins before the words, a note that is sounded within the context of impression, and before association seizes it. DeSalzmann speaks about this idea in her book, “The Reality of Being.”

We should not, however, think of this as an idea. We should, rather, attempt to experience it as a truth. There is an unformed word. We inhabit it; we live within it. Yet we rarely recognize it or acknowledge it.

What is this unformed word that we wish to come to together? Is there a word for that word that is not a word?

One is tempted to invoke the word love, is one not? And indeed–this is the very word Yeats wrote his poem about.

After Long Silence

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily Decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

May our prayers be heard.

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