February 2016 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 spiritual teacher once addressed his congregation on the power of words, pointing out how harsh words could destroy and damage, while gentle words had the power to appease. 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.” Word traps 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 &ld
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