Recently I wrote this sentence:
There is no other way because we are already what we seek: are already the very home in which we long to rest.
It was in the same paragraph as this little gem:
We are love.
I try to be careful when writing that way. It’s not that the given statements are wrong per se, but that they are poetic in a way that allows for – perhaps even instigates – confusion. And the goal now is to be less confused. Better things happen when confusion abates.
If you read those sentences – now or back when they were first posted – did you like them? Was there a little shiver of yes? A little mental click like finding just the right puzzle piece? Certainly there was for me. Else why would I have written them?
“We are love” and “we are already the home in which we long to rest” are resonant because they link the self (“we”) to a couple of powerful words: “love” and “home.” And it’s a favorable association.
Language has power. Certain words and phrases resonate for us, often intimately. There is no way around this – it inheres in the human experience – and so all we can do is give attention to the experience of resonance and see what, if anything, reveals itself.
Often, we conflate interior congruence – that little shiver of yes, the joyful mental click – with the actual truth of the proposition. That is, we read “We are love” and it feels good and so therefore it must be true. But we don’t actually inquire into it: we don’t test it, we don’t tease its many strands into the open, we don’t look for alternatives, we don’t examine our biases.
And there are plenty of true facts that don’t instantiate any interior frisson in the first place. “Groundhogs have four legs.” Yawn. I mean true, but . . . yawn.
So there is something special about some words and it’s worth digging into this to figure out what exactly appeals to us and whether in our happiness we are accepting a level of confusion we should really be opposing.
Take a word like “love.”
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as love. When someone says “love,” they intend for the word to cover their personal felt understanding of ideal human behaviors, social obligations, historical patterns, et cetera.
“Love” is just a symbol that points to a welter that no single syllable in the universe could possibly reliably contain. It’s like saying that reading the word “wet” feels the same as swimming at night in the sea.
You have two choices when I use the word “love.” First, you could enter into dialogue with me. You could start by asking: “what do you mean when you use this word?” And then work with me for however long it takes to understand what I mean with what I say.
To be in dialogue this way requires time and patience and care. It is demanding. It is form of service, perhaps. To give attention to another human being in the deep way of truly aiming to understand what they mean when they say “love” . . . is itself – as I understand and use the word – an act of love.
The other option – the default option and so the easier option – is to correlate my use of the word to your own interior welter. That is, you implicitly assume that I must mean what you would mean if you had used the same word. A lot of our human communication is predicated on just that kind of assumption.
The problem arises when my use of the word and your use of the word are so apart they could almost be different languages. Then, every subsequent move in our communication only widens the initial divide. We fall further and further apart even as we think we are moving in sync. A lot of our human problems arise from just this kind of ongoing error.
Why do we accept accept this division? Why do we refuse to see it is an error? Why do we deny its ruinous effects?
These are important questions.
What matters is not the word that we use but rather the person who uses it. When we are in dialogue, what works is to see the whole person before us, and to be aware of what it is in us that prohibits us from seeing who is before us. Words are helpful in that meeting – that mutuality – that bringing forth of love – but they are just words. They are not that to which they purport to point.
Our practice is to live lightly with language, ever aware of that to which it points, and unafraid to do the hard work of bringing clarity to confusion.
The work is to go slowly and be careful – to be filled with care – with respect both to our wordiness and the wordiness of others. What do we mean when we say “home” or “love?” What do others mean? How shall we know?
How shall we be in dialogue, you and I?