The Language of Ideas

The more I observe my mind and how it works the more I find language to be a filter for the ideas that I hold. An imperfect filter because it forces ideas to conform to its limitations and boundaries. An idea may be in colors and sounds but difficult to share if it cannot be made to fit into sentences and words.

Language is transformational – its formality conveys prestige and elegance – ideas that are meaningful but not by their definition but on the power, access, or status they imply. Language may be casual or coarse. It conveys personality, emotion, and region. We learn so much from another person when we listen to the way language drips from their tongues. 

Which is an interesting concept when we consider the ways in which we add an additional filter when we learn a new language. With new languages we learn different rules. We open up new ways of expressing ideas. Our first language may have been a less perfect tool for us to communicate. Like finally being able to describe the weather in an Inuit language that holds 50 different words for, “snow.” Or the specificity that one gains from colloquialisms based on what another culture values most. How we might relate better to one another if only our language filters were adjusted to provide even more transparency?

It also begs the question, if we need a language to share how might we be able to utilize our magnificent minds to communicate in the abstract? Through art? Movement and dance? Touch? Words are like scaffolding for dreams – without them we are unable to share our visions our dreams of what might be or what is possible now. We use them to give structure to the ideas we generate. Even those ideas not in a verbal framework but in an imagined dream. Ideas generated in colors, sounds. The small theaters of our minds forever workshopping strategies, plans, imagined scenarios, and makeshift streams of events. Strategizing how we become the version of ourselves that we imagine.

How phenomenal that we have utilized sound in this way, our bodies in this way, to communicate, to share, and to grow our influence in a world where we are all actors in a shared hallucination. This same idea that reality is a thing even though it does not appear the same to all of us. Even though we have a vast array of philosophies, values, and understandings. We long to share our thoughts and use language to communicate the desires of our minds, bodies, hearts. It’s simply phenomenal.

Confirmation Letter

I recently wrote a confirmation letter to my cousin on a transformative rite of passage. These words were intended to lift her up, bring her through a difficult time, and embrace herself and her own path. I hoped to welcome the transformations that life was bringing to her. I wanted these words to land gently and hoped that they might inspire her to listen to herself and find her own way. It is with that same hope I offer them to you. I hope they fill your cup and serve as a confirmation letter of what you already know to be true.

Congratulations, I am so proud of you! I know you are ready. Choosing to become an adult carries great responsibility. You are deciding to take ownership to care for yourself and for others. You are choosing to listen to your heart and follow where it leads. 

Listening to the small voice inside yourself is difficult – it can be especially hard when that voice is shouted over by social media, friends, and entertainment. To listen to your inner wisdom takes courage and quiet. Finding that quiet place of power within yourself so that you can follow your inner longing is what will lead you on your journey. You have done so much work to get to this place and I know that you are prepared to take this next step. I am sure that the universe will lead you to exactly where you are meant to be in the world and in life. Look at how far you’ve come already!

Being a teenager is a tricky time in every young person’s life. You’re learning to be the woman you will become and are beginning to carry the little girl you were in your heart. Protect that little girl. She worked hard to get you to exactly where you are right now. She braved tough times and has made you the person you are today. A lot of times we think negatively about ourselves in the past. We feel embarrassed or ashamed of our mistakes and choices. Sometimes we think we could or should have done things differently. It’s important to remember that all of those rough patches and challenges made you who you are today. They will give you the strength and wisdom to get you to where you’re going tomorrow. 

Never let anyone treat you in anyway that you would not want for that little girl. As an adult your job will be to take care of your inner child, protect her, nurture and nourish her, and let her play. Having fun only sometimes is not an option. I want you to be joyful, happy, and to laugh every day! I want you to feel the rain like magic, and I want your heart to sing. There is so much joy I wish for you. 

Where you are right now is temporary and as we go through life I think that is one of the most important things to remember. When things are hard – it’s temporary, you’ll get through it. And when they’re really good – it’s temporary so savor and enjoy it. Don’t let anything or anyone keep you from celebrating and living life as your fullest and most authentic self. 

I love the brave, bold, sparkling, and imaginative young woman you already are – I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of that little girl who always fought fiercely for herself and others. That radiant person who knew what she needed and went for it bravely. It has been my honor to watch you grow and develop into the person you are today. While we haven’t always spent as much time together as we might have liked it always fills my heart to hear you are thriving and to know that no matter what difficulties you may face you meet them with courage, consistency, and kindness. 

Being a kiddo is tough work – you’re doing all of the same things adults are doing, you’re just doing it all for the first time and with a lot less experience to rely on. It is not easy to learn everything. That’s why childhood takes so long – there’s a lot to figure out. And while lots of kiddos aspire to be grown up – I’ll hope you’ll cherish these moments because they are fleeting like a sunset and temporary too.

This moment is holy and so are you. Pay attention to where your inner wisdom is guiding you. I know that your curiosity and excitement will serve you well in life. I hope that some of what I have said helps and serves you on your journey. Please know how deeply loved you are and how grateful I am that you are mine.

This is kind-of a graduation, now isn’t it? A new beginning. I want you to know that even though you will now be an adult I am always here to listen and help you in any way I can. I’m so proud of you. Congratulations! I cannot wait to see where this next step takes you. I know this is not the last graduation, rite, or incredible blossoming I will celebrate for you. But it feels like a beautiful gift and honor to share these thoughts with you now. I am holding you in my heart today and always. 

Be Careful of your Character

Last month we began breaking down the fascinating writings of Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power). He wrote:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Last week we unpacked, “Be careful of your habits,” which you can read here.

Using what we talked about over the last month as a foundation today, I want to delve more deeply into character as a virtue. Being of good character includes the habitual choices we make, which in turn impact the way our lives progress. The paths we take, the people we associate ourselves with, the activities we engage in, all of these small and seemingly inconsequential decisions work together to create our destiny.

When we are careless or inattentive to these daily or in some cases momentary decision points we can quickly and easily loose ourselves. It is in these moments that we are not present and being on autopilot can quickly derail our mastery of self. Failing to pay attention to where we invest our time and energy results in time spent poorly. American author, and Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, writes “The trouble is you think you have time.” And I do this too. I scroll to delay completing an unpleasant task. I know I need to exercise but I fill the time with something else because I don’t feel like it. These aren’t moral choices in the moment but over time and with accumulation it is those small choices that will determine my health, wellbeing, my quality of life. I am sacrificing long term health and wellbeing for momentary or immediate gratification. 

Yet, with this Taoist teaching I am not asked to be perfect. I am not called to know all of the answers or to be fixed. We are only asked to watch, to pay attention, to gradually and slowly improve. We are invited to notice so that our momentary leanings do not become a way of life. We’re opening ourselves to the possibility to make a different choice this time or next. 

Becoming our most authentic selves is not something we do overnight. There is no remedy or medicine or solution that works. Developing our character is the work of a lifetime made up of minuscule choices. We do not have to be perfect. We do not have to have all of the answers. We only need to pay attention to be sure that the path we are walking, the people we travel with, and the destinations we visit help us to grow. Because it is through these choices that we will set our own destiny.

Be Careful of Your Habits

Earlier this month we began breaking down the fascinating writings of  Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power), published in the 3rd century, who wrote:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits.

Watch your habits, they become your character.

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Last week we unpacked, “Be careful of your actions,” which you can read here.

This one is trickier for me. Starting with my understanding of character. There is, “to be a character,” which typically refers to someone eccentric or interesting. There is also your characteristics – the unchangeable features of who you are designed by biology, culture, and community. And then there is the concept of having good character or being someone worth knowing. I imagine we’re discussing the third of these – having character similar to something a Jane Austen heroine might seek.

Collins English Dictionary interprets character as someone with the ability to deal effectively with difficult, unpleasant, or dangerous situations.

Merriam-Webster – Moral excellence or firmness.

To be honest I don’t think either of these is what Lau Tzu is talking about. Our habits make up our daily routines and our lives to a certain extent. In watching our habits we’re making sure that we are showing up in the world as our best selves. When someone asks how we are doing do we answer honestly? Do we scroll through our phones while people are talking? Are we cutting people off in traffic?These aren’t major moments in our days, possibly only a few seconds. A quick snap decision we make to respond on autopilot, half listen, or put our wants before someone else’s safety can become habitual. And even if it is just a quick moment or time grab on our part to, “get something done real quick.” We’re choosing to put ourselves first at a cost to someone else.

I often write about the importance of putting yourself first and investing in meeting your own needs before taking on anyone else’s. But here we are facing the opposite of that inclination – when someone chooses to put themselves first at the risk of harm or hurt to someone else. Even a gesture as small as scrolling instead of listening to the person we are with can be hurtful. Beyond that the quick choice to cut someone else off in traffic could result in an accident that potentially puts many people, including ourselves, in harms way. 

Therefore the character that Lay Tzu is describing is who we are when we think no one will be hurt. Who we choose to be when we think no one is paying attention or will know it was us. How do we behave when given the opportunity. Do we rise to the occasion or do we take what we can get? All of us fall somewhere on a wide spectrum of character and our positions are constantly shifting with every decision we make. Character is not a fixed or defined absolute, we are constantly shifting and changing, growing and learning. Being watchful of our smaller habits helps us all bring the best of ourselves to the table and to the world.