I remember a specific moment in time when I was talking to my mom. I would say I was about 10 years old. Old enough to believe strongly and young enough to make bold claims. We were talking about some medical condition, she was a nurse at the time and these were common discussions. She had used some medical term I didn’t understand. After a long explanation I understood, but was resolved that the world shouldn’t be so complicated. I responded with sincerity and enthusiasm, “When I grow up, I’m going to write a dictionary that explains medical terms in words that everyone can understand.”
I assumed at the time that I would go into some medical field and then make my knowledge accessible to the layman. I never did go into medicine.
I didn’t realize then, but looking back I can see it wasn’t that I was interested in medicine. It was that I wanted the world to make sense and I wanted others to be able to see the sense of it. I also saw language as a way of segregating people. The languages we learn in each profession are an elitist tool that draws boundaries around areas of knowledge and exclude those “uninformed”. As if to say, “If you haven’t spent 10 years learning the words I know, I won’t bother talking to you”. It may reflect a need to feel superior, and language tends to be the quickest path to isolation.
I find I still both balk at and embrace the differentiators in language. As my primary profession in computer software, an industry riddled with specific terms, the segregation shows up every day. Don’t get me wrong the terminology is crucial to specificity. But it’s also a path to overburden that must be cleaned up before any effective communication can take place. Then to make matters worse, in an industry already buried with specific terms, here comes the acronym. RAM, ROM, HD, VGA, HDMI, USB… And these are just the common ones. I’ve been at companies where they produce their own new acronyms on a daily basis. If you were out of work for a month and come back to a group meeting, you can find yourself completely lost as they bandy back and forth with the latest TLA (three letter acronyms), to describe everything from cloud software to going to the bathroom.
I recently entered the world of VOIP (Voice Over IP) (IP means Internet Protocol) (VOIP means telephones). And I came across the acronym POTS. It means an old style land line, as opposed to mobile phone or VOIP. So at first I thought it must refer some hardware structure of the land line. Something that resembles a pot or a bucket. Nope. At the risk of sounding stupid in a meeting I asked what POTS means. The answer even surprised me. Plain Old Telephone Service… Really?! We can’t just say that? Or land line? Did we really need to spell it out the long way and then acronym it… Well POTS it is.
It’s endemic, It’s the nature of a metaphorical language. Even, and I should say, especially, spirituality requires it’s own language. Imagine stepping into a christian church for the first time as an uninitiated, or if you happen to be lucky enough to be unitiated, imagine the lost feeling as you walk into a yoga studio for the first time. What did he say? What’s an asana? What does Namaste mean?
Metaphors evolve and words get stale. Think of some of the words in your world that are completely buried in mire. Words that mean so much, that they now hold little meaning at all. Words like ‘Politics’, ‘Religion’, ‘God’. The word ‘God’ will conjure an image in everyone’s mind, everyone you talk to will have an impression from this word and the use of the term will impact everything in your dialog from then on… But what does it actually mean to the person you’re talking to? Do they have any impression in their mind that’s even close to the meaning you had originally intended? The more loaded with meaning a word becomes, the harder it is to communicate using it, because the translation on the part of the receiver is less predictable.
So we come up with new words, and more specificity. And then we educate those around us, that we care about communicating with, to help them understand what it is we’re trying to say. The cycle of language and metaphor grows and recedes and repeats.
This is why I use the word Namaste in my close. Partially because it has strong meaning to me. But also because it has new meaning to me. It’s an ancient word and in certain cultures it is overloaded with meaning. I’ve seen it used in presentations in India as casually as saying “hello”. I was honestly offended. It was impersonal and quite frankly too intimate for a presentation on how the Oracle database was going to help my business…
For me it’s much more precious.
When I say Namaste, it means to me: Putting aside my ego, the divine within me acknowledges the divine within you.
It means I see the spark of God within you.
It means that I have the spark of God too.
It means that I’m not bragging, I’m not being pretentious.
I’m being authentic and setting aside the part that will judge both you and me and determine if we are worthy of such a gift and if one of us has it to a greater extent than the other.
That voice is silenced and I sit in wonder amazed that we are even able to have a flawed conversation in language that both of us share but neither of us fully understands.
And I pause each time I write it, to consider, do you know what I mean?
Watch your language.