By Suma Varughese
Not only do words determine our destiny and that of the world, but they also have a tremendous impact on our spiritual growth, says Suma Varughese
A young student stood up and deferentially told the master, “Master, it is said that sticks and stones can break my bones, but words are only words. But you say that words are powerful. I do not quite understand.”
“You would if you had any intelligence in you. Shut up and don’t interrupt me,” the teacher snapped. The shocked student was silent for a while, but unable to swallow the insult, he shot up to his feet and said, “You have insulted me. You are not my master any more. I renounce you.”
Just as he was turning to leave the congregation, the master gave him a melting look of love. “I see that you agree with me that words are powerful.”
Mumbai-based businesswoman Kunti Nagwekar, would also agree. Says she, “My life is nothing but what I say it is. What I say to myself about myself, money, others, my children, is what shows up. Nothing more or less. Even my body aligns to what I say. “If I say that I will get a cold after eating a guava, that is what my body will produce. Your whole life is on your tongue.”
|Kunti Nagwekar and the love of her life, husband Gautam, in happier times|
She gives a powerful example of the creative power of words. In 2011, her husband, Gautam, then CEO of Mahindra & Mahindra, passed away from cancer. For Kunti, the bottom fell out of her world. She says, “Suddenly, I did not know what to do or how to live. I knew that if I did not take a decision, default thoughts would enter my head. So I decided to live life as a celebration. At his funeral I had the visceral experience that I too had burned away with him. I decided that the new me was boundlessness, love and joy. Every morning, I would wake up and even while crying, I would affirm, ‘Who I am is love, joy.’ In three months, people were coming to me and saying, ‘I can experience love in your presence.’”
|Harvinder Kaur: Using words to describe reality objectively|
Harvinder Kaur, a Pondicherry-based educationist, says, “I was brought up to tell the truth, so in a way one used words with reverence without realising it. This deepened as I started to live with more awareness. Loose talk or gossip didn’t get a place. One of the most significant things was that I became more precise in the use of language and words with time. Not ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, but more precise, and so nearer to reality. Describing the outer world or offering opinions was not about projecting emotions merely, but also ‘seeing’ the world as it is.”
The power of words
Words make our world. They shape who we are and how we see life. They shape our response to situations and people and form our destiny. The words we use today become the life we live tomorrow.
Indeed, our very world has been created by the power of words. Our collective understanding of who we are, the values we stand for, the culture that defines us, the civilisation we belong to, is largely a creation of words. First orally and then through the written word after the invention of the printing press, mankind has been creating and recreating itself and life through words. The worldview we inherit and that we take to be the truth has been handed down to us from society through words.
I remember how shocked I was when I first read James Redfield’s book, The Celestine Prophecy, and discovered that the separatist, fragmentary and externalised lens through which we saw the world was the creation of Descartes and other influential figures of the Rennaisance Age, who maintained that only what was material, visible to the eye, and passed the objectivity test, was real. Science began its explorations with this as its foundation, while spirituality, God, and all things subjective were given a backseat. Through Redfield’s big picture lens, I realised how over the last 300 years mankind, or at any rate the West, created a civilisation based on this understanding, and all of us have taken it unquestioningly to be the truth. Fortunately, we are waking up from this illusion, and are collectively reaching for a higher perspective than the material one. Once again, through words, insights, vision and perhaps the veil beyond words, a new worldview is being created by mankind, which all of us are participating in. How exciting is this?
The power of words is largely drawn from the fact that they express our thoughts. And thoughts create our life.
Here is what the Buddha said in the first verse of the Dhammapada:
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
Our thoughts influence our feelings, and physical sensations. They coalesce into habits and behaviour patterns, become what we think is our personality, and eventually determine our destiny.
Watch what you say
Which explains why we need to pick our words with care.
|GL Sampoorna: Exploring the power of words|
GL Sampoorna, a psychologist, popular workshop facilitator, and trainer, shares her own experience of working with words both on herself as well as on her clients.
She recalls that her first experience of spirituality came through participation in a course called Energo 8, run by a group from France. Having been told all her life that she was slow, including that she walked slowly, she shared this handicap with the facilitators, who looked at her with surprise. “You are not slow, you are unhurried.” They pointed out to her that there was an economy in her movements; for instance while helping herself to a cup of tea, she had taken the tea bag and sugar in the same trip, while others had made two trips for it. Moreover, on the project to find a house for the group, others may have been in a ferment of motion but it was she who actually got the house. “You are not slow. You have a system in place.”
Says Sampoorna, “It changed my perception of myself. I stopped thinking of myself as slow and enjoyed being unhurried.”
Says she, “In India we have many nuanced terms for relationships that the West does not have. For instance, ‘co-sister’. People run it down as an Indianism, but if two daughters-in law become sisters, what a gift that is.”
The language we use is also an unconscious indication of our personality. In an Internet article called Power of Language, Cat Thompson points out how the language we use determines our sense of power. She says, “‘I have, I choose, I love, I enjoy, I can, I will’ are words of strong intent. When we feel powerful, we naturally employ these kinds of ‘I’ statements. When we feel less powerful or fear that our power will create conflict, we tend to water down our words, by saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I am not sure’.”
The nadir, of course is “I can’t” Says Cat Thompson “(It) is a strong statement of victimisation, implying that circumstances outside of your control are running things, and you have no power to change them.”
“Change ‘I can’t’ to ‘I won’t’” suggests Sampoorna. Similarly, she suggests freeing oneself of terms like “I had to”, “I should do” “I must”, and using “I choose to” and “I could”. She says, “I remember how I changed when I moved from ‘should’ to ‘could’. The pressure reduced and I actually started wanting to do whatever I was meant to.”
At her workshops, she urges her participants to become more aware of the words they use and the questions they ask. She suggests converting questions to statements, unless the question is directed at seeking specific information. One participant said to the room in general, “Do you think it is cold in here?” Asked to convert it to a statement, she said”I am cold and I would like to turn off the airconditioning.” Taking responsibility and stating her need, instead of looking for assent from others or hoping that someone would take action, gave the participant a sense of power.
Samporna offers another invaluable insight, “Every time you use the word, ‘but’ you are negating all that came before it. Can you say, ‘and’ instead? Instead of saying ‘You are hard working and intelligent but careless, you could say, ‘You are hardworking and intelligent and you could be more careful.”
Another word that traps us into helplessness is “try”. Indeed, I had deep insight into its insidiousness many years ago at a Life Positive Expo when the hypnotherapist Pradeep Aggarwal put a couple of volunteers to sleep on stage and then said, persuasively. “Try to open your eyes.” Not one of them blinked. Later he told us, that if he wanted people to go even deeper into the trance, he would use the word, ‘try’ because it creates an unconscious struggle that stops the action from manifesting. At that time, I was desperately ‘trying’ to be the enlightened soul I longed to be, and I wondered why my attempts at putting the other ahead of myself, or at being empathetic and sympathetic boomeranged so badly. Naturally, I was only ‘trying’.
Yet another word that stymies most of us is “I want”.
Want is a powerless word because it comes from a resistance to what is our present reality. “I really want to lose weight” means that we do not like our present weight. “I really want more money” means we do not like our present financial situation. So the message we actually send the universe is that of resistance. What we resist, persists. So we will stay stuck in wantingness.
Instead, what if we were to use the word “I intend”? “I intend to lose weight”. “I intend to make more money”. Intention comes from an inner decision to do something about it and is therefore powerful. Another option, Cat Thompson offers, is to substitute “I want” with “I have”, which brings into the present moment whatever you are pining for. Affirmation experts echo the same advice.
Probably the most destructive word when used to admonish ourselves and others is the word, “No”. This morning, while cooking, I heard myself say, “No, you will not waste time.” Immediately I felt a helplessness and a sense of being all wrong. I immediately shifted it to, “I will waste all the time I want,” and instantly felt the power coming back into me. “No” invalidates and annuls us and banks our energies. When children hear too many “Nos”, they either lose confidence and shrivel up, or turn rebellious and destructive. Watch your “Nos” .
Many thinkers have also talked about the seminal power of the words, “ I am”. Anything that follows these two words becomes the person “I am”.
Therefore if we habitually say, “I am lazy”, “I am fat”, “I am no good” that is exactly what we will become.
Robert Tennyson Stevens, founder of Mastery Systems, and the creator of a personal development method called Conscious Languaging, suggests that instead you “directly express how you feel about your current reality (sad, scared, hopeless), and then declare what you choose to be and do instead.”
The path of the word
Deeply aware of the transformative power of words, the Indian tradition has long advocated the chanting of mantras and holy words, a practice called Japa. From single words like ‘Om’ to phrases such as ‘Om namah Shivaya’ or ‘Hare Krishna Hare Ram’, to the chanting of mantras like the Gayatri mantra or the Mahamrityunjaya mantra (to ward off death), Japa is recognised as one of the most popular ways to self-transformation.
Today in modern times, we also have affirmations, which are statements of positive intent. French psychologist, Emile Coue’s affirmation, advocated as far back as in the early 20th century, is still one of the best in that genre, and goes: “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” Louise L Hay, author of the iconic, You Can Heal Your Life, is undoubtedly the queen of affirmations, and you will find innumerable powerful statements in her website. www.louisehay.com.
Japa and affirmations seed our consciousness with positive thoughts. These, in turn, counteract the impact of thousands and thousands of unconscious negative thoughts we sow into our consciousness. Our default state is that of resistance. We are always in a state of resistance about something or the other. Maybe it is hot or cold. Maybe you have a headache, or you don’t like your dinner. Maybe you are hungry, sleepy. Maybe you had a fight with your spouse that still troubles you. Watch your thoughts and the sensations in the body and see how much unease you experience ongoingly.
The constant recitation of japa or an affirmation helps to reduce the impact of these negative thoughts and slowly shift the quality of our consciousness. We become happier. More accepting. More peaceful. Or whatever quality that we wish to manifest. Affirmations and japa bring to the surface the person we actually are, or wish to be.
I am myself testimony to the power of affirmation. When I entered the path about 20 years ago, I was in a very bad way. I was full of anger, fear, guilt, resentment, resistance, feelings of victimisation, and so on. My mind was deeply damaged. I had zero levels of focus or concentration. My discipline and self-control were abysmal. My self-esteem was zero. And that is only a partial picture. It was through the use of awareness, acceptance and affirmation that I pulled myself out of this hole.
I would be afforded insights which I converted into affirmations that I would repeat to myself all the time, which would eventually afford another insight. Insight by insight, I recreated myself. Perhaps the most seminal affirmation I used came to me early in the day when I had a visceral experience of the Higher Self, which I perceived as a sparkling white ball-like form. Immediately I realised that I was whole, perfect and complete. I repeated this to myself all the time. And although I don’t as yet experience this wholeness or perfection ongoingly, I have to acknowledge that I have come a very long way.
The ancients have always maintained that words, or sound which is the vibration of words, have creative power and that the Universe was created through sound. The experiments that Japanese scientist Masoro Emoto conducted, bear this out with stunning clarity. Emoto took a sample of water, said some negative words over it, and froze it. He then breathed a prayer over another sample and froze it too. The water crystals formed from the sample with negative words were unformed and incoherent. The crystals formed over the sample with the prayer were beautiful and perfectly formed. When you consider that 70 per cent of the human body is made of water, we can imagine the powerful effect words have not just on the mind but on our body as well.
Biologist Bruce Lipton, author of the pathbreaking book, The Biology of Belief, arrived at the same conclusion through a different path. While cloning stem cells he put them into three different petri dishes, and immersed each in a different culture medium. In one dish they changed into bones, in another into muscles and the third into fat. Making a startling intuitive leap, he understood that the cells are influenced not by the genes, as earlier understood, but by the environment in which they are, because the genes had remained the same and the only difference was the culture medium, or the environment in which they were placed.
Its implication for the human being is powerful. It means that the blood, which is the equivalent of the culture medium for the 50 trillions cells of the human body, can influence the cells either negatively or positively, through the chemicals it carries within it. And chemicals are secreted by our thoughts and feelings. Says he, “If you are thinking about love, the brain secretes important chemicals like dopamine, which is the pleasure chemical, another chemical, oxytocin, which is the bonding chemical, and another important chemical is the growth hormone. If that same person is living in fear, the brain releases different chemistry. Fear chemistry has stress hormones and inflammatory hormones. This is the story of the mind-body link. How your thoughts, how your beliefs, are translated into chemistry and change the health and vitality of the body. If you want to change your health, you have to change your mind.”
Language and spirituality
As we move along the path, our awareness increases until we perceive that the person we think we are is nothing but conditioning, a construct made of all the thoughts we have thought of, and that our True Self is something else; the only way to access our True Self is to dismantle our false or ego self. Language has a role to play in the disassociation. We can learn to use language to detach from any aspects of our personality such as physical sensations, thoughts or feelings.
For instance, we often say, “I am angry”, “I am scared”, “I am jealous”. Can we instead say, “I feel anger, or fear or jealousy?”
Similarly, we need to detach from the qualities or states of mind we identify with: “I am lazy”, can be reconstrued to, “Sometimes I defer doing things” .“I am sick”, can be reconstructed to: “ I have a sickness”.
We need to disassociate ourselves even from positive identities: “I am charitable”, can be shifted to “I do acts of charity”.
We need to disassociate ourselves from our actions as well. Who we are is whole, perfect and complete. What we think, say or do is often flawed, destructive or hurtful. Can we, however, distinguish between the deed and the doer? We may do bad things, but that does not make us bad. If we can separate our pristine Higher Selves from the stuff that we routinely do, we would find it easier to access our true Self.
This is a discipline we need to practice most of all with our children. Calling children bad, stupid or useless not just damages their self-esteem deeply, but reinforces their identity with the ego self.
In time, as our consciousness levels rise, the words we use will automatically change. And even the same words will emanate a different vibration. The essential nature of the Higher Self is softness. And the essential nature of the ego self is hardness. The more we identify with our Higher Self, the softer our words, and the softer our vibrations. People around us experience a sense of being soothed, understood and appreciated not just from the words spoken but by our very presence. Such a person does not have to think of the right thing to do. He will just do it.
Recently, I was asked to give a talk on this same subject to a group of English teachers, organised by the Education Cell of the Chinmaya Mission at Coimbatore. While travelling to the venue, which was about an hour-and-half from the airport, another speaker joined us after a shopping expedition in town. Sitting in front with the driver, a very alert and able man called Raju, he kept up a stream of conversation. Raju would repeat the key words of his every statement. For instance, he told the driver that houses in Bangalore cost over Rs two crore. “Two crore,” Raju murmured. Moving the conversation to the USA, he remarked that Americans were very efficient. “Very efficient,” Raju repeated, agreeably. The result was remarkably soothing. No dispute or disagreement, just whole-hearted listening.
NLP has a concept called mirroring which holds that in order to create harmony between us and the person we are talking to, we mirror their gestures, expressions and postures. Raju almost certainly had not heard of NLP, but there he was, mirroring the other’s words, and creating harmony.
The more we empty ourselves of our ego, the more available we become to the other, or to life itself. At that point, we can create magic with our words, both within ourselves and without.
Within ourselves, a depleted ego enables us to fuse our will with our intent to such an extent that our very words manifest what we want. This is the power of sankalpa. If we say we are going to lose weight, there is simply no room for anything but loss of weight. The mind with its fears, desires and doubts does not obtrude. If we decide to serve the poor by starting an NGO, we will do it without further ado. Mahatma Gandhi was travelling in a train in South Africa, when he was given a copy of John Ruskin’s Unto this Last. Fired by this treatise on the dignity of labour Gandhi got off the train and established Phoenix Farm in 40 hectares of land near Durban, where he published the periodical, Indian Opinion.
When it comes to dealing with others, we will be able to exert singular influence on them because we are free of their influence. No matter how negative the other may be, we will be able to transcend it, and instead emanate our own positivity towards them until it transforms them. Sages and great men have been able to transform even hardened criminals simply by virtue of their own inner power, and faith in the other. The Buddha’s conversion of Angulimala, Jesus Christ’s conversion of the prostitute Mary Magdalene, have all gone down in legend and are of lasting inspiration to mankind. At this stage, we are alchemists, able to routinely convert negativity into positivity.
Although far from being anywhere close, I do get occasional and exhilarating glimpses of this possibility. I belong to a Whatsapp group composed of old schoolmates and friends. When the Aamir Khan fracas broke out, my erstwhile comrades were very exercised and shared many critical posts against the actor; and shortly after that, against Shah Rukh Khan. Goaded, I eventually took issue with them. They responded defensively about how such comments from celebrities increased the atmosphere of intolerance and lack of safety. Almost unthinkingly I asked one friend, “Why should we expect them to give us safety; why should we not add more safety and tolerance to the situation with our words?” Even as I wrote it, I felt a change of energy. I felt charged and excited instead of angry and upset. What was my delight when the person wrote back applauding the idea, adding that through our words and actions, we would show the celebrities that there was no safer place than India. That day, I felt a little like Neelkanth, having taken just a very tiny sip of poison and converted it into nectar.
But this is about as far as words will take us on our spiritual journey. Eventually, we will come to a space where words will not accompany us anymore. Only silence can.
Says Eckhart Tolle, “Enlightenment means rising above thought. … When you do use your mind, and particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes or so between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. … Only in that way is it possible to think creatively, because only in that way does thought have any real power. Thought alone, when it is no longer connected with the much vaster realm of consciousness, quickly becomes barren, insane, destructive.”
At this stage, silence is infinitely more eloquent than words can ever be.
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