While not quite sleeping last night a big thought occured to me. It offered me a link between Buddhism, post-modernism, alcoholism, meditation, the Bible, psycho-babble-pseudo-neurology.
I thought, as I often do, in long strings of sentences, each one leading away to another, until I found myself in a place far from conventional wisdom. In this distant thought, which I reached along the linking track of words after words, I came to understand that language is an addiction to the human brain. We crave it. We need it. When we first learned “mama” we were loved. We want love. We are addicted. When we try to get away from it, we will suffer the result of any other addiction. DTs.
There, on the desk before me is a coffee mug. Get one for yourself. Place it on the desk in front of you. Now, consider this mug. But, do not allow yourself to use the word mug or cup, coffee or tea. Do not think of the word round, or handle or red (or your color). Do not think in or out loud; handle, hard, ceramic, container, weight, water, wash or break. Consider this. What’s left?
On the run I will listen to music, enjoy the songs, specifically the lyrics. Or I will speak a dialogue to myself about how slow or fast I am going, am I hot or cold, is the sun bright or mired behind clouds? What should I eat when I get home? How is my heartrate? Why do I still miss talking with that girl I liked so much in high school? It’s an endless string of babble. A steady drip of morphine.
But last night I was carried to the end of that road, to a place where I could sit, for a few moments in barrenness and contemplate without language. Buddhists say the central tenet of life is suffering, and that only by acknowledging suffering can we get beyond it. The post-modernists say language is insufficient and diminishes the thing we are naming. AA says you must first admit you have a problem. The Bible tells us that God tasked us with naming each thing. In the beginning there was the word.
As a child, my mother taught me to name catfish, and frogs, no, toads, no, turtles. We learned the difference between flurries and flakes, snow and a dusting, lake-effect and powder. It’s a game, language. The central tenet of life is addiction. We have a problem. We have been tasked with staying strung out. And it has served us.
What separates me from my three puppies is my ability to name things, to separate and label them. As air breathes in and out of my lungs, as consciousness allows me to speak, I can tell you there is a car coming, or that my wife will be home soon, because I can see each number on the clock on the stove in the kitchen. And we have thrived because of it. Stories became poems became songs became scrolls became books became pictures became electronics became movies.
But the next step needs us to go beyond language. Our next evolution needs us to not diminish the thing by naming it. We will not solve our next steps with more language, finer detail, greater vocabulary. We have a problem. We are powerless against it. So I try, each night, before and after I sleep to lie there and contemplate. Blank slate. Thought, though no verbal thought, sans language. And I shake. And in the morning, take a deep breath and take a hit, and speak. It may not be me. He’s too lyrical, too rhythmic, too trapped in the love of rhyme and play. But we will get past it soon (or someday). Words. You’ll be the end of me.