In the Beginning…

…was the Word

One of the insights gathered from studying and attending to the nature of language is to see how close to the body and physical senses everyday language and speech is. The word language itself is derived from the latin “lingua,” or tongue.

When speaking of our native tongue, we might say that we have two tongues; the one in our mouth and the language we speak with. Here, perhaps, is the basis of metaphor and points to the idea that it is our use of language with its ability to both ground us in descriptions of sense and the physical nature of experience, and also to move us beyond that grounding, to an understanding that we also have ideas about the world. Here we see and think beyond the physical factual world into what lies under, over and beyond it to what might be called, primal knowledge.

The spacial quality of the metaphor intentionally expands our notions of ourselves and the world into dimensionality because life itself is multi-dimensional.

Magnum Chaos – Lorenzo Lotto, Giovan Francesco Capoferri – From a book

I am no scholar, or linguist, but experiencing the beauty of how language opens the world up to us and has itself a creative element, fascinates me. It’s important then, I think, to not think of language only as a device for reporting. The reporting style of speech, which likes to stick to the facts and get to the point, is one among many styles of speech, but perhaps has come to dominate our western culture today, permeating every corner of our lives from the family circle, to educational curriculums, to business speech. To get along in this world, yes, one must be able to understand this style of language, but that need not exclude us from appreciating and using other styles of speech.

Any style of speech will color how we see and experience the world. So, perhaps, the more styles available to us, the bigger the palette. Language also shapes the stories we tell ourselves and others. The answers we give when replying to everyday questions explaining what happened, why, where and how, are shaped by the language we use. Most of us, most of the time, like to think we speak out of necessity, and are telling the truth, a value deeply embedded within our culture. But this expectation forces our hand, demanding an expertise and honesty on a level that’s not always as easy and available as we may assume.

Language, which is of the body, is susceptible to habits, and behaves similarly to a virus. How much of our experience of life is driven by the assumptions embedded in the way we use language depends on how well we hear the implications of what we say and how aware we are of the ideas available to us. We don’t, it seems, have a choice to experience life without language.

The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.” William Rice Burroughs

But, the virus isn’t necessarily a sickness or a parasite is it? Beyond any notions of taming, eliminating or dampening the capacity for language, what else is there? Is the day-to-day practicality of informing and staying informed the only game in town? Could our relationship to language have rather a symbiotic quality?

Language, when seen as a way to bridge a variety of levels of experience, may lead us out of speaking for the sake of practical reporting and into a place where we see all things anew.

God the Creator: In this Christian interpretation of the Kabbalah, God is shown setting out the laws that govern the universe. The shape of the Creator’s throne mirrors that of the macrocosm: the throne cover is a model of the heavens, the back a representation of the planetary spheres.

Language that aims for endings, conclusions and summaries of what we believe and think of as the truth, may reflect something deep inside us that refuses the challenge of living in a world between order and chaos. How safe do you want to be, the world may be asking us, and at what cost? One of the costs of truth is exclusion. By making a selection as to what the truth is, we are also making a valuation which excludes other meanings and possibilities deeming them as “not truth.” This is tricky, because we will make choices, perhaps because of the recognition of the exclusive nature of our choosing. To refuse choice and meaning, and to not live within the givens of our environment and culture, would be putting ourselves at the far end of the spectrum where order disappears and chaos reins.

Chaos though, in many mythologies, is both primal and necessary, understood as the source of the world. From Hesiod, 7th or 8th century B.C.:

“Verily at the first Khaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Gaia (Earth), the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus . . . From Khaos came forth Erebos and black Nyx (Night).”

Or as one among several original elements. From Aristophenes:

“At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros (Desire) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated [or fertilised] in deep Tartaros (Hell-Pit) with dark Khaos (Air), winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race [the birds], which was the first to see the light.”

From Ovid’s Metamorphosis:

“Ere land and sea and the all-covering sky were made, in the whole world the countenance of nature was the same, all one, well named Chaos, a raw and undivided mass, naught but a lifeless bulk, with warring seeds of ill-joined elements compressed together.”

And finally, from Genesis, which presents creation as coming into being from what is formless and void through separation:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.”

Order and chaos may be seen then as two poles necessary for life, for aliveness. Too much of either eliminates the possibility of any life – order stifles movement, chaos refuses the containment necessary for the discrete recognizable entities that we, and each “thing,” is. It may be that the source of the world is unified or chaotic by nature, but identity, with its inherent job of separation, knows of others by being a self. This, I believe is our predicament, and not something to be overcome, but seen through as if we are walking between the two extremes, aware of both the desire for order and the need for renewal through a bit of chaos.

Ironically, to see through may come from a softening of vision, double vision, or second sight. It’s the hard and fast rule and desire for orderliness that sees sharp edges, well-defined boundaries, divisions of truth and lies, black and white, dead and alive. Double vision loses these distinctions by blurring the edges, seeing likeness and similarity in things habitually seen as different. Habit is how we are ordered, poesis, or soul-making is how we are disordered, broken by chaos for the sake of the new. This opening is an exchange with the gods and may be painful as we give up something cherished, protective, habitual, but may also be freeing. Freeing, as we not only disidentify with ownership of an idea or belief, but freeing as expansive in the boundaries of what is “me” and “not me.”

As John the Baptist says, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” This does not have to be understood in a Christian sense only, but as a way to express a willingness towards states of immersion. As we immerse ourselves in conversation with others, ideas and the invisibles, we disappear for the sake of the other. Other meaning, what presents itself to us as the veil is lifted, the walls come tumbling down and the bridge between order and chaos opens up where we may then experience the liminal, non-ordinary at any given moment.

In conclusion, well, sort of, we might see beginnings in every moment, life perpetually coming out of the void, where the void is the source of life itself. We might see beginnings as not something that happen once, or even twice as in rebirth, but beyond historical happenings into that which is happening perpetually; chaos forming into order, refining into structures that eventually fall apart from too much structure, back into chaos where they mix and mingle, formless and once again ready to be ordered anew.

“Paradise
Is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much, much better.” Laurie Anderson

22 thoughts on “In the Beginning…

  1. Debra my friend, you continue to make the Ptero Card one of the “must stops” in my travels through WP. Another rich, informative post!
    Thank you for sharing your keen insight into the space between forms.

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  2. Hi Debra,
    I’m posting from my half-alive phone and need to save what little batt is left. This part spoke the most to me, regarding language, communication, speech, conclusion, definiteness…and the cultural expectation? (I’d have to scroll back up but can’t or I may lose this text altogether)… “language that aims at conclusions… that paragraph was also very pertinent in my opinion…

    “But this expectation forces our hand, demanding an expertise and honesty on a level that’s not always as easy and available as we may assume.”

    Roles and language, a forced hand in building the world choice after choice…

    Great post, forgive my poor organization and grammar,

    best,
    Ka

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a great post! I like the idea of speaking beyond fact, and language as a palette, which makes us able to see the world differently. I’ve been reading ‘The spell of the sensuous’ by David Abram, and he speaks of text as the break between people and the natural world. Interestingly, he explains that the hebrew text, without vowels at first, was not as limited as Greek language, because the vowels, which bring breath, were missing.

    It’s so interesting, the way that we see the world, the stories we tell, and the spaces we deny or reveal, and how language opens up or closes these options.

    Thank you for such a lovely post!

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    • Hi Nicci, the Abrams book sounds good. I like the idea of the vowels bringing breath as if they bring life to language.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your insightful comment.
      Debra

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  4. A great post, Debra. I think the awareness of the tension between order and chaos is insightful to keep in mind, that we may recognize the most ordered states possible are frozen, no longer changing, no longer living; and the the most chaotic states are meaningless, unable to communicate in any way, nonsensical. Existence lies in the middle, and with that understanding we can recognize that the order we seek can never be realized to the extent we might desire. If it be a place we can abide, it must admit for a healthy dose of chaos…

    What’s amazing to me is that the two are so essential to one another. Pure order and pure chaos are so extreme they are identical, perhaps. The Alpha and Omega. Everything and Nothing cannot be differentiated from one another for they are somehow identical, and here is where the predicament of a self arises, for in order to take up residence in the fertile intersection of order and chaos, the Everything and Nothing have to set up oppositions within themselves: plus and minus, here and there, now and then.

    The miracle of the predicament of self, is that not only can we come to know others by being a self, we are enabled to probe the depths of all that exists in Everything and Nothing. We are able to glimpse what cannot be glimpsed all at once, what must be teased out into the open, and we can do this, even as we come to know each individual expression as an outpouring of all that resides within the Alpha and Omega. An individuated personification of all that is…

    Michael

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    • Dear Michael,

      “What’s amazing to me is that the two are so essential to one another.”

      This speaks to the heart of the insight I am having. Although we have these two words, chaos and order, to describe what might be seen as opposite ends of one spectrum, they are always in relationship, or are qualities of the same environment. I suppose we can see that the entire earthling experience is one of living in the balance between chaos and order. How perfect is our world that we can even exist? It is perhaps easy to take for granted.

      It’s an amazing view of self/other, dark/light/, hot/cold, being/nonbeing, all tuned precisely in a way that provides a microcosmic view of a macrocosmic world.

      Understood this, we forego infinity to be at the level of bodily being, which can only be finite.

      Thanks for reading and as always for leaving your insightful comments.

      Debra

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  5. ‘Any style of speech will colour how we see and experience the world.’

    What a complete and utter load of rubbish!

    Quod erat demonstrandum. It’s quite extraordinary how language, and the way we use it, transforms our physical experience through co-nascent responses. We look at some pixels on a screen that constitute a comment upon an article . . . ‘oh, it’s that Hariod from England, I wonder what . . . (reads quote – neutral feeling – reads next line) . . . good grief! (rush of adrenalin floods nervous system) . . . what on earth is Hariod getting at? (reads on, nervous system stabilizes) . . . oh, I see, just demonstrating a point – QED.’ 😉

    ‘How safe do you want to be, the world may be asking us, and at what cost?’ It seems then Debra, that even when language isn’t overtly in use, there’s still some narrative formed from it and at play within. We hold a narrative construct about (amongst other things), the way we’re perceived by others and the way we perceive ourselves; and this is all encoded in the symbols of language, crafted and manipulated to protect us from our imagined fears. The world asks us what price we are prepared to pay for this illusory security; and yet perhaps in most cases our response is to ignore the question. We make a selection as to what we want our imagined ‘truth’ to be – your point about the need for a relativistic vision is of critical import.

    It’s only appropriate that you have the last word here Debra:

    ‘It may be that the source of the world is unified or chaotic by nature, but identity, with its inherent job of separation, knows of others by being a self. This, I believe is our predicament, and not something to be overcome, but seen through. . . ‘

    Thank you for this deeply perceptive and eloquent article.

    Hariod. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Hariod,
      Lol, yes, you got me, for a brief second anyway.

      Thanks my dear for shaking my tree a little, with a quick segue into the speech of the “Hariod” I have so far, come to know.

      It has always fascinated me how different people can more or less tolerate different amounts of dissonance or tonal incongruity in their relationship. Although I like to think that I can go deep with others traveling into unknown territory, listening for the new that appears in their speech, presentation still plays a part in how approachable others feel.

      I am happy you enjoy reading here and especially for your playful insights.
      xoxo
      Debra

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  6. So much to think about and digest here, thank you Debra! I was struck by the idea that the “word” is but a boat in the ocean of vocal meaning… Timbre, pitch, intonation carry the word and set a destination. We deliver the words we know so well, grasping onto some element of control through language, largely unaware of the tune and tone. This is what speaks volumes. These tunes transcend language. Anguish, as an example, can be felt and heard whether in English, Armenian or Zulu! Are we nothing more than instruments with the capacity to deliver something bigger than us, songs and haunting echoes of lived experiences dwelling in the collective unconscious?!

    Perhaps it’s in realizing we are but one instrument that we begin to open ourselves to the rest of the orchestra. We develop an ear for the cacophony of competing forces and find order in the chaos. Just a few insights that struck me. Keep well x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Jay,
      Love your orchestra analogy. Just as I sat down to read your note, the tea kettle began singing and I was struck by the sound that this kettle has. My cats are afraid of it as it has a variable whistling that could be mistaken for an animal in distress!

      I think you make a great point that the sounds of speech themselves are reverberating throughout the world and as they are literally vibrations, perhaps they are an outward manifestation of some deeper vibration that could be the song of the universe, with all of our voices contributing, moment by moment.

      Wow! Thanks for sharing that wonderful insight here.
      xoxo
      Debra

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  7. Debra, I am amazed as just before seeing your post I wrote a message to my dearest friend about “Love in the Void.” This is beautiful:
    “Habit is how we are ordered, poesis, or soul-making is how we are disordered, broken by chaos for the sake of the new. This opening is an exchange with the gods and may be painful as we give up something cherished, protective, habitual, but may also be freeing. Freeing, as we not only disidentify with ownership of an idea or belief, but freeing as expansive in the boundaries of what is “me” and “not me.”

    I love your awareness of how through language or communication we can both exclude when defining our truth as well as listen and immerse ourselves into mystery and liminal states, rebirthing anew in the moment. I have also been thinking a lot about chaos and order, and to me they seem as part of the greater whole, however you want to think of that- like some say the Source, some say the One . . .

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    • Dear Gray,

      I love that these coincidences happen! There is some sense to it, but that never keeps me from smiling when they happen.

      I think this is for me a new insight, that as you say, chaos and order are part of a whole. It’s most helpful for me in accepting a certain amount of chaos knowing that it’s part of creation, and as well, it helps to remember that too much order leads to a constrictiveness that slows the train down.

      I’ll admit that I like order and am very focused on order and patterns, both at my job as a data base manager, where I am constantly challenged to mine the data, format it and display in a way that is useful for people who make decisions based on data research and statistics, and the way I am most comfortable in my surroundings. I dislike discordant sounds and environments with too much stimuli, such as very loud movies. 🙂

      I flirt with chaos and feel very attuned to digging into some unknown place to receive words, ideas and other gifts in moments that I would describe as liminal. I worry that people may sometimes shortchange both language and themselves by not necessarily realizing that ideas and language are gifts from the void.

      Ha! thanks so much for your inpiring comments!
      Debra

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  8. Beautiful writing in this post, Debra.
    I have always thought of silence as language turned inward. I believe in the language of silence and I know that silence also speaks, like everything else. As Walter Benjamin wrote, “Language takes precedence. Not only before meaning. Also before the self.“ I know this sounds radical but I am more and more convinced of this.

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    • Thank you Monika! I was thinking quite a bit about the Hesse quote you posted when writing this one.

      It’s so true, as you say, “silence also speaks.”

      It’s as if language is the bridge between what we call spirit and matter.

      I remember awhile back talking here with you about Jung’s idea of psychoid. I sense that we are close to that idea in language and speech.
      D

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  9. In conclusion, well, sort of, we might see beginnings in every moment, life perpetually coming out of the void, where the void is the source of life itself. We might see beginnings as not something that happen once, or even twice as in rebirth, but beyond historical happenings into that which is happening perpetually; chaos forming into order, refining into structures that eventually fall apart from too much structure, back into chaos where they mix and mingle, formless and once again ready to be ordered anew.

    I really like this quote of yours. There are potential openings always. Just came from a class on parallel lives and quantum entanglement and quantum jumping was also discussed. The idea of every choice splitting off into another life is incredibly fascinating. While I let it all marinate, I want to also add that as a therapist, listening is more important than speaking and when I listen, I do so on multiple levels, I listen for feelings, secrets, questions, symbolism, loaded phases, etc… One of the reasons I emphasize the right brain hemisphere so much is that it does not function logically. The creative, non linear, symbolic aspects reside in the non-verbal. I think that great writers use words to help lift the reader to the imaginary realms.

    Wow, I am rambling…

    Great post dear.

    xx Linda

    Like

    • Dear Linda,

      The class sounds really fun! I love the crazy quantum stuff, although cannot claim to completely understand it. I guess that is the point though, from what I do understand 🙂

      A listening ear, especially in therapy, can be so important. As one who sepnt some time working with a therapist, the listening that I received was crucial to my feeling of being understood.

      I love how you describe the multiple levels too. It’s sort of a soul sleuthing. 🙂

      Glad you rambled…I did too! After publishing the post I realized it was over 1,500 words, yikes!!!

      Love,
      Debra

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Order out of chaos as they say. Language is key to that saying. No order without language. But the classifications of it….many of them, and ”in the beginning was the word, and the word was with god…” thus the sacred vocabulary was in the beginning, and that one was full of wovels like the eeeeeee or aaaaa of a crying infant just being born. And in the beginning there was a symbolic language, within caves, a primordial language, etc. etc. I guess that every human form has its own language it uses, homo politicus its own, homo religious also its own…. To every man its own word. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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