Words - A Zoo for the Metaphysical
There are many ways to think about words.
Words are spells. Speak carefully.
Words are meaningless. Speak little.
Words can shake the globe.
Which of these ideas is true? Is it (wait for it) ‘difficult to say’? Or maybe using words to talk about words is pointless, like drawing with a black pen on black paper. Maybe all is true.
A major theme in brainstorming the creation of this blog and website has been the insufficiency of language. Words are, indeed, a path to power. They are utilitarian for concrete, physical matters. They are also very convenient. Words are useful when moving a couch through a doorway or giving someone directions to the store. Put another way, words are highly applicable to effectively function in our ‘third-dimensional’ bodies. In the modern world, they are lifeblood. But how do we employ these practical, utilitarian things to talk about the mystical, about mysticism? How can we describe the soul’s relationship to Infinity with words? How can anyone talk about an Infinite God using something inherently finite?
Words do little justice for matters of God or our connection thereto because they are specific to this physical plane of existence. The great wisdom traditions rely heavily on stories, poetry, and metaphor. They compensate for the inadequacies of words to express Truth by weaving them into tapestries that become something more than the sum of their parts – more than what words can say on their own. We can better convey certain truths without speaking to them directly.
Think about that. Read it again.
If nothing else convinces you that we have severe limitations in our ability to comprehend and explain our existence or understand the swirling masses of energy around us, let it be that. We have had thousands of years and some of the greatest minds writing and refining the way we talk about existential matters. Yet, it is still near impossible, according to our most connected and enlightened beings, to directly explain the experience of knowing God without wrapping it riddle and myth. Even then, how close are we coming?
The plethora of books, particularly in the last fifty years, on every topic of spirituality and religion of which you might be able to conceive, attest to our collective desire to explain God and our place within the Universe. The same extraordinary number also points to the imperfection, the inadequacy of any of them. If some book out there had sufficiently ‘nailed it’, why would we keep buying others? Why do we keep producing new works if any (or some combination) of them had been able to effectively get the full point across? Sure, words can help us connect to the divine; but do they help us connect to Divinity itself?
We may be using the wrong tool. Perhaps it’s like putting together Ikea furniture with a chainsaw. Words can successfully posit a theory of the structural relationship of humans to an infinite cosmos. They are structural themselves and appeal to the logical. But when we truly step into realms of mysticism, uneasily defined and necessarily entailing matters beyond ‘logic’, language falls short. Words can paint a beautiful picture, describe an awakening spirit within a desert landscape or an intense battlefield. But these remain human constructs, attempts to ground the ungroundable in things we can touch, taste, smell, and hear so that they become digestible to the limited physical faculties of our mind and body. Words can give us a context to receive bits of wisdom. Useful, but to accomplish it, they necessarily leave behind the essence of God and Truth, which is beyond the physical world. How can we use human constructs to talk about that which, by its very nature, is not concrete and not human?
The very idea of understanding mysticism is paradoxical, a contradiction, oxymoronic. The same might be true of God. There are many wise beings who claim God is not meant to be understood by humans, at least not intellectually. Realizing and accepting that might even be the whole point of our time on Earth.
Whenever I write, I am deeply aware of myself as a finite being, using a finite tool to barely scratch the surface of anything like Divine Truth. My myths and stories fall short of their intended goal like any other. They take place, they exist, in the realm of the physical. They take the form of wolves and seals, of women and feasts. The trouble is that these are earthly symbols. Like words themselves, it’s a way to capture part of divinity and put it on display. But the container limits the full articulation. As Rumi tells us, there is a part of ourselves that has nothing to do with “day and night.” There is a part of us that might as well be physical but has not sprung from anything physical, “grapes that never saw a vineyard.” It is here in the material realm but could not possibly be the subject or action within a linear (or even a non-linear) narrative. What does that leave us with? We use “day” and “night” to talk about all the other stuff, the greater part of the Universe, that is not day or night. We end up talking around it.
The loophole (and the beauty) of approaching anything from a mystical perspective is that it is all a reflection of God. It is all tied together in some way with Unity and the Infinite. If we are willing to look hard enough, the intellect can always find a way to connect a part to the whole. When reading a powerful story, we don’t necessarily need to be able to explain the Understanding we receive. The understanding just is.
Words present limits; but, the key is that they bring us to something foundational for spiritual growth – the longing for Truth and the realization that we don’t have access to it. Perhaps their greatest gift is their inadequacy. They leave us just a little empty. They are snacks of truth, enough to whet our appetite while we look pensively around the restaurant for the Main Course. As far as I can tell, living with a greater awareness that the immaterial is the more potent and present aspect of the Self and our lives than the physical realm is the goal of mysticism and at the root of all spiritual teachings. What better teacher than words? The hunger they leave us with, no matter how much we consume them, becomes the proof – a reminder that our capacity for understanding and explaining is limited and it may be best to surrender ourselves fully to God rather than waste time continuing to muck about, pretending we have a handle on things.
In that way, words are a gateway to mysticism, even as they pull in the opposite direction. By being sufficiently opposite, they again become the same – the way the universe bends back on itself or travelling east eventually leads to the farthest western point. Words ultimately lead to a call for some greater truth, beyond what words can express. Their inadequacy becomes motivation to transcend them. Words actively seek understanding and mysticism does the reverse. Words lead us to frustration. The mystical path to elation. We give up trying to understand things intellectually, in language, in a way that we can share and express. We know that there is no way to explain someone into being Whole and One with God. Once that happens, we might decide that our energy is better spent getting to know God on a more visceral level, the mind only there to witness. That’s where the mystical path begins. The understanding comes when we stop trying to understand.
Here again, words, those logical little buggers, do as much to confuse as to clarify. Trying to talk about something that both is and isn’t, the opposite that is a perfect metaphor for and path back to the whole is frustrating to write and read. It defies good writing and storytelling, which ought to have clear boundaries, distinctions, and separate archetypes woven together into an arc. We can’t properly talk about non-duality using the inherently dualistic tool of words. It traps us in a paradox, a logic-loop that leads back where we begin. Each word is a slice of duality. Invoking a word reaffirms separation from God. Rather than bringing us closer to the Divine, to true understanding, words invoke and trap us in the very thing we seek to transcend. They ultimately stand in the way of understanding.
The best advice I can give you, assuming you want to ‘understand’ God and our divine nature, is to stop reading, go outside, find a blade of grass, and don’t stop interacting with it until you’ve seen God’s face.
Imagine you did that. Would telling someone about it give them the same experience? Would they then have the same ‘understanding’ you gained? Herein lies the conundrum of writing about mysticism.
That’s not to say that words are not useful to the spirit. Like a chant during meditation, they can aid our way because we exist in a three-dimensional plane. Our bodies, our souls, are here in apparent duality, distinct from God. So, while we’re in that situation, it’s perfectly natural and fitting to use tools that operate at the same level. Words are no less divine than our bodies or hearts or minds. All are a potential channel for Divine Intelligence to express itself in this third density reality.
But that reality is only part of the picture.
Words, like us, exist in a world of limits. They have a ceiling – they are an expression of our limitations as 3D beings, even as they gesture to something beyond. They express Divinity only to the extent that Divinity can be expressed by language – not full Oneness but racked with the constrains of the mind’s ability to successfully translate sensory experience into concrete paradigms and symbols. It is not the full spectrum, but a section of it, beautiful though it may be. God exists, perhaps the greatest part, beyond the concrete, certainly beyond senses and symbols. The expectation, then, that words are a conduit to Clarity about the nature of a non-dual “God” is ill-founded. Words will forever be bound to the ego mind.
And so, I move forward blogging about mysticism, acknowledging the limitations of words, especially outside of story, metaphor, or poem, to really accomplish the stated goal of this blog. However, in the limitations there is opportunity. It is my secret hope that this blog will imprint spirituality in the everyday. And, to that end, words become an ideal vehicle. They necessitate grounding the metaphysical in the physical. It is a trap, a prison, or more aptly a cage at a zoo. It is a cruel, crude diminishment, a replica of the environment in which these concepts should properly exist. However, like a zoo, it also gives us a glimpse of something we wouldn’t normally see during our everyday lives – something that only a privileged, enlightened few get to experience in the native habitat. Hopefully exposure to the ‘caged specimen’, however diminished from its original form, will spark our interest for further exploration, conservation, and connection. Through communication (with words), we can build a spiritual basis for strong community and more firmly root the parts of God beyond “day and night” in our physical existence.