15 Jun 2007 12:41 pm


A child is born helpless and dependent on others for survival. Human instincts seem rather paltry when compared to the many animals who come into the world swimming, walking or engaging in some other complex behavior. A human infant can do little more than breathe, blink and suckle (even these skills often need to be stimulated to get started). It is from this incredibly humble beginning that human life begins.

Though there is much debate over what skills are truly instinctual, it is general agreed upon that infants are quite lost during their initial days. Bombarded by a host of sensations and stimuli, a child gropes to organize experience. Through time he will learn how to focus; discern objects visually and tactually; and even develop an ability to express himself through speech and thought.

A child spends his first couple of years learning about and becoming situated in a world from a centered perspective. Months pass before sensations and colors no longer appear chaotic or mysterious. An infants incessant touching and sucking on his body teaches him how to create experience and recognize the relationship between skin and sensation.

Increased body awareness helps stabilize an emerging sense of individuality. With this comes a clearer understanding of the world around them. The body, one of the objects first discovered, quickly passes from an object to the means of incorporating and orienting a world. Through initial locomotion and hand eye co-ordination a child learns how to inspect, explore and manipulate his environment further solidifying his subjective view of the world.

Once a child recognizes he has a body which he can control, his desire to manipulate his environment causes him to make great strides in recognizing other things. Soon through seeing how his needs are met and not met by mommy and daddy he begins to truly grasp the individuality of his experience. Instead of there just being hunger, a child begins to realize he is hungry. Experience begins to teach him that though he is hungry mom, dad, and blanket may not be hungry.

At what point an infant’s cry stops being a reflex of discomfort and a true effort to communicate need is difficult to ascertain. Yet, every parent has experienced a moment when they realize their child’s cry has changed. At such a time the child’s cry becomes less global and more directed, with his head and eyes searching for you when he cries, or stopping when you come near.

Once a child intentionally communicates need through tears it is only a matter of time before he begins to express a host of needs in a myriad of fashions. Not wishing to expend the energy of crying, a child soon learns how small scale whimpers, shouts, or grunts can often succeed at getting mommy and daddy’s attention and assistance.

A little later, expression becomes more pronounced when the child begins to point at the object he wants, such as a rattle, while grunting for his parents attention. A later development in the expression of need prior to true speech may involve the child imitating the sound of the object he wants or recognizes (such as barking like a dog). He may even make a sucking noise or motion with his mouth to convey his desire for a pacifier.

As we can see, the desire to become more familiar with oneself, and the world around us starts almost from our first breath. The desire to get our needs met by becoming closer and more knowledgeable of the world seems as natural and instinctual to life as almost any other basic need.

Through our body and language we learn how to orient ourselves in a world and share it with others. Even before we can officially speak we are very busy attempting to communicate and express ourselves to others. At first such expressions are often wasted on attempts to communicate with everything from the cat to the couch, but these responses soon teach us how to discern what to communicate to and when.

A child’s cry is also instrumental in the development of a truly amazing skill, that being to imagine the possible and not just live in the actual. The instinctual cry turns into the directed cry of need (pain), which can become a cry of desire. The cry of desire is usually a little less earnest, such as in the case of the rattle lying just out of reach, only escalating into a full cry when no one responds.

Soon the child realizes he can cry even if he’s only slightly uncomfortable and still get the same response. Many a parent has spent at least one very frustrating night responding to a series of mock cries which end with a smile soon as you make your appearance. Though terribly frustrating for the parent, such a night might be one of the biggest events in your child’s development. Once a child realizes he can cry even if not the least bit uncomfortable, the entire world of the possible (or the creative) is opened up to investigation.

The interplay between the possible and the actual grows in importance as we develop. Much of human thought is spent playing with life’s possibilities, constantly seeking ways to manipulate real events to our advantage. Thinking of the possible is the basis of all creativity and invention, as well as all our ability to lie and deceive. It is in the possible that we can plan, anticipate and identify our needs. The possible is the realm of options giving us the ability to improve the quality of our life.

Speech and Language

Our desire to communicate, to express and share, begins long before we acquire the ability to speak. Before we learn actual words we resort to a host of sounds and gestures to convey a need or express an emotion. Random movement of the arms and legs become controlled and purposeful as a child points, kicks, bites and bangs his hands on things to drive home a point. The endless babble, shrieks, grunts and coos of an infant take shape into specific vocalizations intending to express a feeling or direct their parent’s attention.

Before a child learns a native language such as English or Spanish, he is well under way to mastering many other symbolic languages. A child through mimicking and testing learns how to use his body to express himself. Parents often take delight and foster the growth of their child’s body expression by smiling and laughing when the child first smiles, points, frowns or looks surprised.

By combining his early vocalizations with gestures a child learns to express a wide range of feelings. Simple behaviors such as throwing, clutching, kicking, biting and pounding take on a variety of meaning when accompanied by shouts, giggles, cries, song and rocking.

Each sense develops its own language, its own territory of experience and meaning. The development of an infants sense of smell is said to precede their ability to distinguish specific sounds or sights. Studies indicate that infants, only days old, are able to distinguish their mom from other people strictly by smell. Early on, before an infant’s eyes learn to focus, he learns to distinguish between environments by tell tale scents. This allows an infant to feel familiar and safe in a setting even though all sights and sounds remain disorganized and chaotic.

The power of the sense of smell is demonstrated with how many memories are triggered when we stumble across a long forgotten smell. I remember being in my twenties and walking into a musty old warehouse and instantly recalling the smell of my kindergarten classroom. A smell which I had not remembered for years, associated with faces and events I had long forgotten. Other times I can be walking through a forest and some faint odor arouses a series of memories without my even being able to identify the exact smell spawning my recollections.

Music is one of the first adult languages a child is drawn towards. Children at a very early age find it hypnotic and magical, even interrupting a full cry to listen for a few moments to a new or familiar sound. The use of music is one of the most successful ways parents have found to get even the most vigilant child to sleep. Children express a host of emotions while they listen to music, by humming, cooing, pounding on things, rocking, swaying and even dancing to the sounds of their most favorite songs.

Preferences in taste manifest themselves the moment a child begins to stick things in their mouth. Even before our children frustrate us by being picky eaters they already know a lot about the world orally. Objects are often known to an infant by taste long before they learn it’s name.

An infant’s endless curiosity and tireless exploration testify to the importance our desire for intimacy plays in our earliest days. Our desire to feel a close bond with the world around us is succinctly expressed in the picture of a child clutching his favorite blanket or in the tears of an infant when he no longer senses mom’s presence.

Soon after a child learns how to distinguish between objects he also learns how to group things together. Life is full of things which move, make noise, are brightly colored, taste sweet, feel smooth or have a distinctive odor. Certain qualities in objects begin to become preferred. Something that bounces often is more appealing than something which does not. Something warm is often more soothing than something hot or cold.

Even without having a word for objects which bounce, a child is able to group such things together and form a noted preference for them. One can observe a child’s preferences by noting which objects he routinely assembles around him, and the characteristics they share.

Our son surrounded himself with things which were soft or made noise. As he grew up and toddled about he cultivated his preference for soft things by spending hours building and playing inside houses he made out of pillows and blankets. The appeal of noise makers inspired him to arrange cardboard boxes and plastic pails into elaborate drum sets.

A child’s first words are usually a listing of his most and least favorite things and characteristics. Though one of the first functions of language is to name things, it is a child’s tendency to group things together which probably allows them to realize that a word (name) does not always stand for only one object.

Anthropological and linguistical studies of ancient man show that man’s view of speech and language has greatly changed over the years. Ancient man often felt a word and the thing it named were identical.

In many primitive societies uttering the name of a dead person was forbidden, for in speaking a deceased person’s name you were thought to be invoking their spirit and disturbing their peace. Séances, too, have a similar heritage, making it possible for one to conjure up a dead soul simply by invoking its name. The common origins of magic and religion included the belief that one could control any being whose name was known.

A word was, therefore, something sacred and very powerful. In some early societies, an individual could make an apple appear out of thin air if he invoked it’s true name. The origination of prayer was steeped in the belief that one could control the actions of the gods by invoking their names. One of the reasons the Hebrew god remained nameless was to prevent magicians from being able to control him.

Since a person’s name was synonymous with his very essence, naming a child after a relative was no easy task for ancient man. Choosing the name, was choosing the spirit inhabiting the body and, therefore, a very heavy responsibility. Naming a child after a valued and well-respected person was a sure way of insuring his future. Often times the infant, being named after a dead relative, was immediately given the same respect and position in the tribe his ancestor held.

The belief that a person is identical to their name could explain why some people in ancient times were reported to live hundreds even thousands of years. If one believed that naming children after dead relatives kept the spirit alive it is easy to understand how a person could be regarded to live generation after generation in different bodies.

The more we study civilizations the more evidence we find that ancient man equated a word with the thing itself. Separating the essence of a thing from the word representing it has been a long historical process. It is not difficult to understand the magical history of words if we try to imagine the effect of the first words spoken on human existence.

Just think of how incredible it must be for a child when he first makes the association of the word mommy with who it represents. A child, now without any error, can then make mommy magically appear anytime he wants. All he has to do is say the word, and there she is looking right at him.

All of a sudden a whole world of words opens up to the child. Saying the words “mommy…rattle” and mommy hands you the object you wanted. Saying transitional words like “wa-wa” for water, or “bow-wow” for dog are fine when they work, but within a short amount of time a child yearns to learn the “real” words for everything.

Learning to speak a language is full of trials and errors. Many children get very confused when they see another person referred to as mommy, or another animal called “dog”. Up till then, one person and one animal had those names. The prospect of there being more than one mommy is certainly a little disorienting. Soon, though, due to their growing ability to group things into categories a child learns to adapt words to more than one object.

Characteristics of objects are often mistaken for the things themselves having a child say the word “soft” to mean blanket and “milk” to denote any beverage. These errors are soon rectified when the child becomes frustrated with the assorted stuffed toys launched his way when he says soft, or with the lack of variety in his liquid intake.

Naming things correctly quickly becomes a major source of success in a child’s life. Correct speech not only has a child successfully communicate desires to an adult, but allows him to express and share events he finds enjoyable. A child’s sense of awe and control over electricity is often expressed by a seemingly endless game of reciting “light on-light off” as he learns how to manipulate a light switch.

The moment when a word becomes associated with a specific object, event or experience must be highly illuminating. When a child is first learning how to speak, such verbal realizations must be fairly frequent. Intoxicated by these revelations it is quite understandable why children often wonder where thoughts come from.

Ancient man, too, often felt that new thoughts and strong emotions were gifts or punishments from the gods. When mankind was first learning to speak he had few words at his disposal with which to string thoughts together. New words and even the simplest thoughts were often astounding events. His life was not filled with words and, therefore, each word was more novel and invested with magical qualities.

It is the power of words to precisely express and successfully communicate events, desires, and emotions which propels a child’s initial interest in speech. All other forms of communication from gestures to screams pale in comparison to the precision available through speech.

The initial magical quality of words is quickly lost to their functional value in modern life. In modern society even the mind of a three year is filled with words and is well on its way to taking them for granted. As we grow older it becomes almost impossible for us to imagine experience without words.

Trying to picture a child’s world before words is very difficult. Perceptual experience without words must be something like a movie with no sound. It’s hard to imagine an emotional response to the perception of a landscape unaccompanied by running commentary or being converted into words.

Music and the arts prove that many important and subtle aspects of human experience can be articulated without the use of words. These realms are most satisfying when they unveil experiences which words cannot capture. Yet, these very experiences become more meaningful as we struggle to transfer these elusive artistic works to word. With speech comes understanding and meaning. Words are not just names for things, but the very way we decipher our lives.

Thought without words is difficult to imagine. All we experience, sense, feel and perceive is almost instantaneously converted into words to be thought or spoken. We seldom pay attention to our speech process until we find ourselves searching for a word, up until that time we can talk for hours without once wondering where all our words emanate.

When we write music or draw we are very conscious of the creative act we are undertaking. Often when we write words we become aware of the process of selectivity and view it as an art form. Yet, when we spontaneously speak in every day conversation we do not view the words as being a creation of ours. We view the words as actually being and constituting who we are.

Our lives are so inundated and pervaded by language that words come to us quite effortlessly, in endless streams of thought. When not speaking to others we internally speak to ourselves. When not directly responding or reacting to the world around us we busy ourselves with inner dialogues regarding everything from planning and scheduling, to replaying previous conversations with friends.

Our endless stream of thought helps convince us that we are these words traveling through our minds. We are seldom surprised by our thoughts for they seem quite consistent with who we think we are. Yet, there are moments when we are in fact embarrassed, confused, bewildered or upset by our own thoughts. We respond to these uncharacteristic and unsettling thoughts quickly by restating them to ourselves in a way more consistent with our self-image.

Though most of our thoughts pass by undetected and unchanged, we are always prepared to step in to readjust thoughts we have which might seem a little extreme or foreign to our self-image. We monitor our own thought process through reflection, just as we do with every other event and conversation whose unsettling content we feel a need to accommodate.

We, therefore, have standards which we place upon our own thought. If we wish to be kind to others, we may (out of a burst of anger) entertain a passing violent fantasy. Yet, our original goal of kindness would cause us to quickly quell a violent fantasy before acting on it.

Since our lives are pervaded by thought it is only natural for us to identify ourselves with our thoughts. Our individuality is expressed through words in thought and speech. All of our experience is expressed and processed through the words which comprise our thoughts and verbal reactions. Even when we interrupt our free flow of ideas monitoring and reflecting on our thought, we use words to temper or redirect our thought. Whether we are thinking or reflecting, words are there at all times.

Nothing is closer to us than the words which make up our thoughts and feelings. Commenting on, translating, interpreting and expressing all our experiences, words are as much us as our bodies. How can we not take words for granted, when they are with us at every moment, making sense of and finding meaning in all our sensations and perceptions?

Yet, a person who truly yearns to be intimate with himself as well as with the world around him will try his hardest not to take his words and thought for granted. He, instead, will suspend the natural flow of life to inspect and evaluate the way he naturally interacts with the world. Our desire to be intimate with ourselves demands that we not take our way of living in the world for granted. Through reflection we can truly call into question all we think and feel.

All of us have preferred attitudes and styles which comprise our unique way of being in and responding to the world. It is this general way of viewing life which makes one a pessimist, optimist, idealist or pragmatist. Yet, often our general stance towards life which conditions every thought we have is blindly accepted by us no matter how dissatisfied we are with our lives. Our thoughts and attitudes are not predetermined and unalterable. They are the very things we need to reflect on and assess.

Since words are one of our most intimate possessions, we need to be very intimate with words themselves. We need to better understand the role and function of words and evaluate how to better use them to promote increased intimacy in our lives.

A child learning to speak hears words being spoken around him. With the help of the adults around him a child is shown through endless repetition that words are not just sounds, but mean something. Parents spend hours smiling while telling their child to “smile”, and point at themselves saying “mommy” and “daddy” ad nauseam.

After many months of these repetition and recognition games, the child, either through some form of understanding or just pure mimicry, blurts out with a “ma-ma” or “da-da” which is treated as though he just created heaven. The child (highly reinforced for this accomplishment) soon decides it’s his turn to endlessly repeat these syllables long after the parental celebration has ceased.

Through time a child learns to associate (identify) the word “ma-ma” with the lady who fulfills most of his needs. Soon after this first initial realization he begins to learn the names of many other objects such as table, ball, cat, blanket or any other such object constituting his immediate environment.

Basic emotional terms such as happy, sad, angry and love are also learned through adult demonstration and repetition. Most parents say the word “happy” when they smile at their children letting them see the association. Even if a parent is not so accommodating, they do demonstrate emotional reactions to things and soon the child begins to associate certain behaviors and reactions to emotional terms.

Once a child forms an elementary vocabulary consisting mainly of words for objects and basic emotional states, he learns new words by comparing them to those already known. This method of increasing vocabulary remains fairly intact the rest of his life, in which new words are learned by being compared and contrasted with previously known words.

If someone did not have a picture of a desk, yet felt a need to explain what it was, he would describe it to his child. In describing a desk it might be referred to as a small table with a drawer under the top of it. The same is true when defining a new word to an adult. If I had to describe a kiwi fruit to someone else, I’d say it a small brown-grey fruit with a hairy surface that tastes a little like a strawberry and has the texture of a melon.

In both cases what was done was to give the person an idea of the new word by providing a familiar frame of reference. A child unfamiliar with a desk was told that it was a table with a drawer, two concepts already known. The description of the taste of the kiwi fruit, likewise, contained the familiar frame of reference of strawberries and melons.

The building block fashion of words makes even the naming of objects a very imprecise science. Words are often meanings surrounded by other meanings. In the dictionary, the word “despise” is defined as looking down upon someone, to scorn, or hold in contempt. Yet, despise is not identical to scorn or holding in contempt, otherwise there would be no need for an additional word. Yet, through relating it to scorn and contempt a person is directed towards the unique emotion despising entails.

Despising someone is an emotional state bordered by many other emotional states such as contempt, disdain, hate or disgust. One learns how to despise in much the same way as buying a new pair of shoes, by trying them on and walking about. Through time the word (and, therefore, the emotional state) gains it own unique individuality no longer needing to be associated with other terms in order to be understood.

A couch is defined as a bed or other place of rest; a lounge, or any place used for repose. Yet, once again, a couch is not a bed, chair, recliner or love seat which all can be used as a place for rest. In fact, it is a couch as long as it is a place to rest without becoming a bed or recliner or any other mode of repose.

Already we are noticing how words are not as precise as we had originally supposed. Even a word such as couch does not name a specific thing, it rather represents a host of different objects which are globally referred to couches. The precision of the concept represented by the word couch is made more specific by the number of words we have to compare and contrast it with. The more words we have for objects of rest, the more precise our concept of a couch becomes. The differences between a couch, sofa, and love seat may be so minute as to make the concept of a couch a very precise term.

Yet, if an objective term such as couch can be so imprecise, what does that say about the subjective world of emotions and attitudes? If the meaning of words is dependent on the meaning of other imprecise words then how can precision ever be possible? If all words are global and general, how can they lead us closer to things? How can they be a source of intimacy?

Ironically, it is the very imprecision of words which makes them such a powerful tool promoting intimacy. If words were precise and exactly defined there would be little room for play, allowing no journey towards closeness fueling a growth in intimacy. Our desire for intimacy motivates us to play with language in such a way as to become increasingly precise in describing and relating our experiences.

In order to achieve increased clarity and precision language progresses in two fairly opposed ways. There is a tendency for words to become more technical and specific, in which their exact usage is very narrow. Scientific language is often very specific.

The abstract or conceptual aspect of language also allows for increased precision. When the word orange only stood for the fruit, it was a fairly limited expressive tool. An orange, therefore, was simply a round fruit which was not yet a grapefruit, tangerine, etc.

Yet, once the orange color of the fruit became a separate quality from the fruit itself, it became a great tool for precision. Now, the color orange is able to be seen in all things and not confined to that one fruit. Almost every object and event can be broken down into a number of distinctive qualities and characteristics. It is the growth in these abstract qualities which allows for a greater precision in both our expression and experience of the world around us.

Many of the abstract qualities we identify are sensual characteristics of inanimate objects. We abstract predominate colors, smells, textures, noises and tastes from familiar objects and use them to help us better analyze and appreciate other objects. We also often take dominate traits of living things and find abstract words summing up their traits and apply them to new things or people. The strength, power, stubbornness, loyalty, and elusiveness of animals hunted often became qualities sought after and revered by ancient cultures. Just as we increased the precision of the word couch by contrasting it with sofa and love seat, or hatred by comparing it with disgust and anger, we increase the clarity of our experiences through identifying and applying abstract qualities to all things.

Our vocabulary of colors has increased dramatically over the last few centuries. Where once we had a few dozen color names, we now have names for hundreds of colors and can distinguish thousands of minute shades. The amazing thing is that as our interest in naming colors becomes more acute, so does our perceptual ability to distinguish between shades.

This means that not only are we identifying new names for shades of color, but our perceptual ability to see new colors is also increasing. The average person from the middle ages would be relatively colored blind when compared to modern man.

The same is true of distinguishing different fragrances, textures, etc. Progress in vocabulary increases the precision of perception and increases in perception, likewise, stimulate new discoveries in vocabulary.

The relationship between words and intimacy can now be seen to be inter-dependent. Increased knowledge (intimacy) of an object or event allows us to articulate our experience more intricately, while increased verbal precision allows us to become more intimate with the object being observed. Any progress in either perception or vocabulary is progress in potential intimacy.

We use words to express and to paint our lives. If our vocabulary consists of only a few hundred words all of life must somehow be expressed through them. It is fool hardy to believe that even the largest vocabulary could properly capture life in it’s totality. Yet, the more words we have at our fingertips, the more colors we have on our pallets to choose from. With each word our landscapes become more lush and the range of expression at our disposal from vibrant colors to subtle nuances is increased.

When we take words for granted and view them as stagnant things, that is exactly what they become for us. Yet, when we reflect on language and begin to look at how words not only present reality but actually can be used to deepen or create experience, we begin to reveal the intimate potential of language.

Our experience of even the most simple event is unique. No matter how many people see a sunrise, none will have the exact same experience. Yet, sharing such a sunrise with someone I love makes feel very close to them. Why?

Though none of us can truly see through another’s eyes we take great joy in sharing. The more we know a person and share with them, the more assured we are that they understand and appreciate us. I feel close to my wife when we look at a sunrise for I have shared with her the feelings they arouse in me and she, too, has told me the importance they hold for her. Our knowledge of each other makes us relatively confident that our experience of this morning’s sunrise is similar, we see it in each other’s eyes, and feel it in the touch of each other’s hands.

During our day-to-day life we assume everyone we meet lives in a world very similar to ours. Yet, what assurance do I have that even my most basic perception is at all similar to yours.

Most of us learned many basic words through being shown pictures of the objects the word represented. A teacher or parent showed us a picture of a yo-yo or pin while saying the words written underneath the picture. When we learned the word for the color yellow we were shown a picture of a yellow crayon or some yellow splotch on a white background.

We all learned to associate the word yellow with the picture, and learned to identify that color in a number of objects from the sun to a lemon. Just because we all learned to identify the color we were shown as the color yellow does that mean we all see the same color?

The answer is obviously no. No one can be sure that we see the color yellow in the same way. All we know is that when shown a picture of a certain color we both call it yellow. Your yellow could, in fact, be my tangerine, or tan for that matter.

No one can inhabit my eyes and see the world the way I do. So there is no way anyone can be sure we see any object or perceive any event the same way. Though taking pride in the fact our emotional responses and experiences are unique, most people are uncomfortable with the possibility that our objective perceptual world also varies.

As children we all were shown a smiling face and told pleasant events which were designed to have us understand what the word happy meant. Though we all were given a general understanding of what being happy was from those examples, none of us ever expect everyone’s experience of happiness to be the same, the way we expect everyone’s perception of the color yellow to be identical.

Our expectation is that everything objective needs to be identical, while things we consider to be subjective are allowed to have individual variances. No human experience is totally objective because a subject is always experiencing an object. An objective fact is still experienced subjectively. Not only can the interpretation be individualized but so can the actual perception.

The goal of intimacy is to better understand our individuality while giving us as much common ground as possible. Our desire for human perception of simple things (like color) to be identical is twofold. One, on a strictly practical level it makes it easier for all of us to co-exist if we all are living in the same world. Two, our desire to share with others has us hope that there is enough common ground to make union possible.

Though we can never be totally sure we both see the color yellow or anything else for that matter identically, developments in the realm of science reasonably assures us we do. Using the perception of the color yellow as an example let’s look at how our drive to understand (to become more knowledgeable of the world around us) is finding a common world of perception.

Optics can isolate the band of light which produces the color yellow and project this light intensity onto human retina’s. Neurophysiology can see the similarities of the color yellow on each person’s retina, determining similarities and differences. Psychologists have noted that a prolonged exposure to the color yellow, as in being seated in a stark bright yellow room, can make a person irritable and impatient. Physiologists have found related respiratory and chemical changes in the body signifying irritability in people isolated in a yellow environment.

Such scientific studies do not prove that our perceptions of the color yellow are identical. Yet, they do show how we are all affected by it similarly and limit the possibility that our perceptions of color are radically different. One reason it is common for people to assume we all perceive the world very similarly is because our assumptions are tested and verified on a daily basis as we live and work together. By and large the differences we find between our perceptions and those of our neighbors are rather small. The similarities are overwhelming allowing us to take the shared world we live in for granted.

Though at times we mistakenly think words stand for one single object or event, words are generally flexible, representing a world of possibilities rather than being tied to one object. Even a word like couch does not name one specific object but represents an entire concept. Thousands of actual and possible objects are conjured up by that one single word. The possibility that one can hide things in a couch or store them in repose, made it possible for us to make couch into a verb as in the case where someone couches their ideas in a certain manner.

Our heads, being the top and center of our perceptual bodies, became synonymous for the top and center for a host of other objects, from the head of a pin to the head office. The abstract and conceptual nature of words is only made possible because we recognize words are not things, but only represent and symbolize them. It is this very imprecision which allows words to be so useful in helping us become more intimate with the world around us.

This is why I earlier said that speech and thought are creative acts. There is no true description for any one object or event. Each perception we have is full of options and capabilities, and it is the words we choose to describe, document, express and process these events to ourselves and others which makes up the very tenor of our lives.

Language, in thought and speech, should not be taken for granted. We should not just let our thoughts run on autopilot, blindly accepting that they accurately represent who we are. We should reflect on the world these words are not just representing, but are also creating. Such reflection will not only allow us to become more intimate with ourselves, but also help us identify life patterns and stances which we would prefer to change.

Much of what we think and believe in is habitual, never being reflected on or evaluated. Only through reflection can we realign our thoughts and beliefs to best represent our current priorities, views and needs.

Our desires for unity, as well as our inhibitions, are structured in the way we think and the thoughts we have. Only by taking an active interest in the creation and quality of our thoughts are we able to overcome the limiting thought and speech patterns we unconsciously employ.

Language and speech are very primary and, therefore, very powerful tools in the construction of intimacy in our lives. What we think and what we say are to a high degree, who we are. The more conscious we are of our thoughts and words, the more control we have over who we become, and the quality of intimacy our lives produce.

The Body and Intimacy

Our discussion regarding language revealed a paradoxical relationship between who we are and what we think. Though our thoughts naturally present us, it is through reflection that we gain a clearer insight into who we are. Only through stopping the normal flow of thoughts and using reflective thought to make our thoughts into an object to be studied, do we become more intimate with ourselves. This paradox of intimacy with ourselves is illustrated just as strongly with our relationship to our bodies.

Our bodies, along with our thoughts, are intimately bound to who we are. It is through our bodies that we identify a world to be explored. Our bodies are both our means of investigation as well as our mode of moving about in the world. The efficiency of our bodies to live and adapt to the world around us makes it possible for us to take them for granted. Unless we are in pain, or are frustrated at executing a particular task we seldom ever give our bodies a second thought.

Once in pain our bodies become a burden to us. No longer able to be taken for granted, they become an object for us to learn about and master. Often we try to massage away the source of pain or discomfort by using our own hands as a tool. At that moment our hands become the healer and the rest of our body becomes the patient.

Anytime our bodies cease to be self-sufficient in the world they immediately become an object for us to service, improve or instruct. If after six good months of steady progress on the golf course my game regresses, I will most likely analyze my golf swing breaking down it’s motion into a series of individual moves. My reason for breaking down the mechanics of my swing is to find my body’s error and correct it. (This closely parallels our discussion on the benefits of reflection where we become more intimate with ourselves by detecting faulty thought patterns).

My efforts to improve my golf game may even lead me to video tape my swing to assist me in further objectifying my body’s performance. Whatever devices I choose to use, the goal remains the same, to get some distance from my body in order to improve it’s functioning.

Though our body is the home of all experience, perception and sensation, it also can become an object for us to explore. This paradox of body as both subject and object is best illustrated by our ability to have one of our hands touch the other. If we rub our hands together, by a simple shift of attention, we can alternate the touching and being touched roles from one hand to the other. First I can make my right hand the subject and my left the object, and then without even pausing I can have my left hand feel my right.

Just as we can subjectively use our thought to objectively investigate our thought process in general, so can our body simultaneously be both subject and object. Treating our bodies as an object has many benefits and should not only be used to correct a problem or improve a skill. Analyzing our body has us appreciate how incredible it is, while making us more intimate with, and understanding of, who we are.

Even though we occasionally find it necessary to intervene and assist our bodies, they are remarkably efficient organisms. Our lives would come to an almost complete standstill if we were dependent on our thought process to guide and direct our bodies. It would take us minutes not moments to execute even the most basic task such as touching our nose if we had to issue step by step commands to our body. A simple task such as shaving would absorb the better part of a day if we had to program our bodies to execute every slight movement.

We, of course, do not have to command our bodies. They execute even the most complex behaviors in a blink of an eye. It is truly amazing to think of how much sensual and perceptual information our bodies process each moment we exist, even while we sleep. Not only do our bodies organize and process every millisecond of our experience, but they are able to respond to and even anticipate coming events.

Our bodies are also unparalleled in their ability to adapt to changes, even when the task involved is highly skilled. Becoming a piano virtuoso, for example, takes many years of practice. Countless hours of scales and drills are required to build into one’s body memory the dexterity and agility it takes to play a difficult piece. Yet, place a professional pianist on a new piano with larger keys and within minutes his body miraculously adapts to the new challenges the foreign keyboard presents. Overcoming such obstacles strictly through one’s mind would take years, not minutes. Luckily, our bodies do not require such assistance.

Our corporeal skills are even more amazing when one considers how scant our abilities are at birth. When born we can do little more than breathe and blink. Even our own heads are out of our control. Every sensation, let alone the world, is a complete enigma to a new born. Yet, within a few months an infant has made great strides accommodating himself to the world: eyes focus, ears sharpen and the body becomes a tool to explore the world with.

At first our mouths and lips are a second pair of hands we use to touch and identify the world around us. Without our mouths sucking on our feet it is doubtful that recognition of our bodies would come as quickly to us. Yet, soon the tactile role of our mouths recedes only to resurface once again during puberty as a means of sensual exploration and gratification. Our hands ability to stretch out and grasp new objects soon proves to be an easy and more efficient way of learning about the world around us.

Our bodies are not only an intimate part of us, but a never ending source of intimate experience. Our bodies bring us closer to the world around us, and our investigations into and reflections on the role and functioning of our own bodies brings us closer to ourselves. We can never know our world nor ourselves too well. Our bodies are, therefore, a limitless source of intimacy.

During our discussion on language we identified a reciprocal relationship between thought and perception (experience). We saw how the words we choose affects our perceptions, while our perceptions and experiences affect the thoughts we have. Our investigation into language concluded that novel experiences inspire new words, while new words make it possible to refine our perceptual abilities.

If I got sick every time I flew in a plane, my description of plane flight would be colored by my experience. If I had a fun time in a new city, my description of that town would be infused with enthusiasm. The words I choose to describe any object or event are largely determined by my past experiences, or present mood. Very little of our language, or experience is devoid of human emotion or attitude. Our words color our experience, and our experiences affect our selection of descriptive words.

This is why we can learn so much about ourselves when we reflect upon our thought process and the words we choose. Unintentionally, or out of habit we may be expressing a bias or fear of which we are totally unaware. Only through reflection will we be able to identify the source of our prejudice, or at least decide if we wish to adopt a new attitude.

We all know how hard it is to concentrate when we are sick or feeling ill. The whole world becomes colored by our aches and pains and we find it increasingly difficult to be patient with others and accepting of any complication. Prolonged sickness or physical discomfort induces us to become crabby and pessimistic, filled with self-doubt, anger, or defeated resignation.

Though we all know how hard it is to be happy when we are sick, few of us focus on the importance body comfort has on our lives on a daily basis. We often ignore the limiting effects minor aches and pains place on our bodies, and often abuse our bodies with a daily assault of chemicals and poor dietary habits. This is indeed sad, for a body neglected or in discomfort, is one less able to find the world pleasant and rewarding.

A body tense or riddled with pain adopts a defensive posture limiting both their openness to and appreciation of experience. This has obvious repercussions in one’s ability to be intimate with themselves or their experience. Therefore, a person whose goal is to find intimacy in their life, strives to attain a relaxed body and mind.

Our experience of ourselves is only made possible through language and our body. Every experience of intimacy available to us is structured in our thoughts and sensations. Without thought and perception there would be no world for us to explore, and no person to do the exploring.

Language and perception permeate our lives, providing us with a sense of individuality and a world to live in. They are the primal tools of human experience. Our bodies and thoughts engage and participate in the world quite effortlessly, allowing us to take their functioning for granted.

Reflection is the part of us which stands back from the natural flow of experience, evaluating and assessing our life. All of our judgments (whether they be of appreciation, awe or displeasure) are a result of our need to reflect on our experience. It is through reflection that we recognize needs and find fulfillment and meaning. Reflection is the home of intimacy, for without its distance, no union is possible. Even in our most glorious moments of unity it is only our ability to step back and appreciate these feelings of closeness which make such an experience possible.

Just as quickly as we can switch from the left hand feeling the right, to the right hand feeling the left, we can step back and reflect upon an experience. Reflection need not be a huge process, but often only needs to be a moment allowing appreciation.

Without the intimate knowledge of ourselves gained through reflection we are destined to be prisoners of experience, blindly reacting to the world. Through careful reflection we are able to discern many of the choices and options life has to offer, and the patterns and prejudices restricting our fulfillment. Since our reflections are in themselves bounded by our basic thought process, our freedom is somewhat limited. Yet, it is important to remember that it is just these limitations constituting our individuality which make intimacy possible.

Since all intimacy begins and ends in human experience, it is important for us to cherish and nurture the roots of all experience, that being our body and language. Any limitations or flaws in our thoughts or bodies will restrict the quality of our lives and the fulfillment it provides. Though this may seem very obvious, if there is one thing this chapter has demonstrated, it is that the obvious is easily taken for granted or ignored.

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