A traditional indigenous arrowmaker lived with starkness and functionality, as though living was chipped as deliberately as the arrows that he crafted… conditioned with an understanding of only using what is necessary… appeared to guide his life. When he took up an arrow and straightened it in his teeth, as it was right for him to do and drew it to the bow…he re-enacted centuries old traditions and habits, in just a few flowing movements. Simple and austere, portraying the dignity of ordinary work, the minimalism becomes its own truth. I'm reminded of a forgotten time when stories were related in person, around a fire, with family and community; when the motivations for the story were honest and honorable, when profit motive was not part of the jargon, when silence was comfortable and words were chosen with care. Language made powerful by the intent of the speaker, not by excess of brilliant words, but through willful and earnest volition - is missing from the mainstream epilogue.
It is an understatement to say that language is underestimated in our day to day lives. It is misunderstood, taken for granted and regularly unapplauded in its finest moments. How often do we regret what we said, only too late, to value the truth of silence? Language aids and abets the lowly grocery list, as well as in monumental documents, such as "Martin Luther King's "I have a Dream" speech. The uses and abuses of language can be witnessed from graffiti laden concrete walls to a physician's scrawl on a pharmaceutical prescription. Yet in spite of its seemingly anonymous presence, it stands in good company; the company of other underestimated powers, such as breathing and touching. Like these subtle powers that contain the force and expression of life, language is essential to creative human survival. First we breath, then we scream… eventually the screaming gives way to a remarkable number of variations in tone, rhythm and energy. We started collecting the data necessary to learn language while in the womb and will likely continue to collect until we die.
We are part of a collection of human capital known as consumers. We eat, drink, buy and sell, wear fashionable clothes and speak the current doublespeak… Because we want to be cool, be hip, be trendy; We want to be beautiful, sharp and charming; We must be well informed, up to date and politically correct; Because we want acceptance, we sell a little bit of our self each day. We listen to the radio drone on maliciously, as we unconsciously try to shut it out, so that we can't hear our own thoughts or the honking traffic sounds or the toddler strapped in the back seat. We enter our home, the television is already on, someone is on the computer, the dog is on his treadmill and the neighbor is mowing his yard. The potentially beautiful sounds are getting lost in the wall of noise. When a child has a bruise, it becomes just another abrasive claim in an already stretched thin nervous system. Under such circumstances, language has been seen to degenerate to short tense barks and commands; to reactionary word letting, to being used as carelessly as a too rusty sword.....
The fast pace of modern living often finds respite in television viewing. It's a quick and easy distraction and usually provides a variety of entertainment. It also provides a perfect venue for corporations to hawk their wares to a consuming public. But the masses are jaded and require bigger, better, faster. They want trendier trends, wittier buzz phrases; they want to be entertained. Language is the ultimate tool in wooing an anticipating public. Tell them what they want to hear, distort truth to meet baser goals; and sell to them what they didn't know they needed. ....
I seek silence in ten day silent vipassana meditation retreats and have observed in myself an increased awareness and appreciation for the subtlety of language. As if by fasting, one may gain an enhanced appreciation of the delicate tastes and flavor of food, the nonuse of language may bring about a renewed perspective of mindful human communication.
The abuses of language has resulted in a imbalance and misunderstanding concerning the importance of language - the importance of choosing words well. Perhaps we can learn from the silence and respect our words as sacred. Then, like the arrow maker, the understanding of only using what is necessary will guide our history.
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