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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

War of the Words

I must admit that I rarely watch TV or listen to the radio.  I scan the headlines most days, but I rarely go deeply into the news.  Still, on occasion I find myself listening to a newscast, reading an article or watching a television news program.  What I find most striking, on these occasions, is the acrimony and belligerence that is so much a part of our public discourse.  Much of what is said is downright mean-spirited.  It is as if we are making war with words.



I am convinced that we won't solve the problems we face by continuing to debate them, by using words.  Why?  Because we've reached the limits of what we can do with words.  Let's look at the issues we face today to see what I mean.  One of the issues getting a lot of attention is the right of workers to unionize.  In Wisconsin, newly elected officials are trying to take these rights away, sparking angry protests from the same people who elected them.  Tempers are flaring, but are there any new arguments being made?  No.  This issue of labor unions has been discussed, debated and fought over for more than 50 years.  All the points on both sides of the debate have been made many times before, and the issue remains intransigent, unsolved.  Yet we continue to make war with words.



What about other issues?  Let's look at the issue of abortion.  We could fill a stack of books as high as the mountains in Colorado with all of the ideas that have been used to argue against abortion rights, and an equally high stack of ideas in favor of these rights.  We've been arguing this issue for sixty years.  Have we resolved anything with our arguments?  No.



We can see the same dynamic in all of the never-ending issues our culture is faced with.  The environment, economics,  property rights, gun control, animal rights, foreign policy - all of these issues are like pendulums, with our approach swinging from one side of the argument to the other, and no real resolution in sight.

The difficulty is with words themselves.  Words, ideas, language, all of these are tools of thought.


The gift of thought is a very powerful one - and a limited one.  Let me illustrate.  When I use the word "chair", for example, most of us can conceive a thought-image of a chair.  If we were in the same room together, and I pointed to an object and said "chair", you would easily understand my meaning.  This is the power of thought, of language.  When I use the word "chair," I am actually describing two things: what is included in the word, and what is excluded.  The table and the floor, for example, are not included in the thought-word "chair." With my word, I describe an object and a set of limits.  Ancient wisdom and modern physics both tell us that there are no real separations between objects.  It is the word-thought that puts the limits in place.  This is a useful process. If I wish to sit down, it is useful to perceive the limits of the chair.  It is also helpful to remain aware that the limits are created by my thoughts.



Thought creates limits.  The gift of thought is useful, powerful, and limiting.  Words, ideas, paradigms, arguments - all of these are tools of thought, and therefore subject to the same limits as the gift of thought.



To understand the limits of thought better, I often refer to the work of Dr. David Hawkins, a spiritual teacher and author of the book Power vs. Force In his studies and teachings, Dr. Hawkins has created what he calls the Map of Consciousness.  The map is a continuum, from 0 to 1,000, representing the scope and range of human awareness.  (Note that the numbers themselves are not very important.  The scale was chosen for it's ease of use.)   Dr. Hawkins asserts that the human intellect, which I call the gift of thought, calibrates on the scale to a maximum of 499.  This, he says, is the limit of thought.


I have done my own studies using the tools and techniques Dr. Hawkins describes, and I've come to agree with him on this key point.  Thought is limited.  So, if the only tool we have is words (which are thoughts), and the power of our thinking maxes at 499 (using Dr. Hawkins' scale), and the issue we are dealing with requires an solution of higher awareness, say 600, are we going to find a solution through argument and debate?  No.


So, maybe the war of words hasn't helped us resolve the issues we face, because it can't.  Words are too limited.


We face another challenge in the use of our thoughts.  Our survival instincts, which come to us with the gift of life, cause us to think about things as threatening or non-threatening.  Even ideas can be threatening.  When we hear an idea we disagree with, we have a natural reaction to see it as threatening.  This reaction is automatic, and normal.  Observing nature, however, we see what happens when an individual organism perceives a threat.  Often, the individual will lash out violently and destroy that which it perceives as threatening.  In our society, where weapons of violence are easily available, is it any surprise that the war of words often degenerates into horrible actions?


So, what do we do when the war of the words is failing us (as it so often does)?  What do we do if the answer to our questions lies in a consciousness beyond the limits of thought?  We need to transcend the limits of thought.  We need to grow in awareness beyond the limits of thought.  We need to evolve to a point where the gift of thought becomes a tool for awareness, and we know a truth that cannot be understood with thought alone.  


Dr. Hawkins is not the only one to tell us this.  Every competent spiritual teacher throughout history has told us that our human awareness expands beyond the limits of thought, and all of the great religions teach us that the answers lie in transcending these limits.  This is the perennial teaching: we need to transcend the limits of thought.


Every spiritual tradition has it's own language to describe the process of transcending. My favorite word is awakening.  Awakening implies that we've been asleep; we've been in a thought-induced trance, a stupor wherein we believe our own thoughts above all else.  When we awaken, we experience the gift of awareness, beyond the limits of thought.  We awaken to the awareness that all limits, all boundaries, all borders exist in our thoughts only.  We awaken to the knowing of wholeness and oneness: wholeness within ourselves, oneness with each other, oneness with all of life, oneness with the divine.  We awaken to the gift of divine grace, and our hearts fill with love and joy.


When we awaken, we still use the gift of thought.  We continue to think, to use language, share ideas, words.  The gift of thought becomes a tool for awareness, and like any tool, we recognize its usefulness and limitations.  We find new ways to solve problems, and many issues simply disappear, or become unimportant.  This is not passive, or complacency.  When awakened, we are actively engaged in life, and life in us.  We are simply more aware.


There is a global evolutionary shift in awareness happening, right now, and the number of awakened individuals is growing at an accelerating rate.  Humanity must move forward.  To grow, we need to transcend the limits of thought.  We need to end the war of the words.  And why not? It isn't really serving us anymore, any way.
So let's stop the war of the words, and move forward together in grace.


Namaste
Joe

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