Recently I became acutely aware that I have been dwelling on some words that have been spoken to me. Words that seemed to cut like a knife. But they only hurt because I have been letting them hurt. There they were wrapped up in the constant stream of my autonomous thought patterns. They kept popping up every now and again like an echo, often at unwanted and inappropriate times. This affected my mood. I started getting angry with myself for not getting this under control. I noticed this strange and uncomfortable feeling in my solar plexus, making my heart pound. I noticed my attitude towards the words and myself for feeling as I did. And I suddenly I realised that underneath it all, the self-critic was there in force, reprimanding me and telling me that I am not good enough. It was only then that I recognised the need to use my mindfulness practice to be mindful of the power of words.
The power of the word
“Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble”.Yehuda Berg
Having had the rare luxury of time over the festive period, I read a wonderful new book cover to cover. This time also provided me with the opportunity to examine the power of words. My curiosity and trait of wanting things to be right, was itching to know. The book was a welcome contrast to the vast number of academic books I had been reading over the last 3 years for the MSc Studies in Mindfulness. The book contained beautiful descriptive words about nature which made me feel a warmth and joy in my heart. I noticed I was smiling as I read them. Conversely, the author described his dark moods and difficult situations which surfaced as a result of a bi-polar condition. These words triggered feelings of concern and yet, compassion. Here my body and face tightened. I was aware of not liking reading these sections and favouring the nature sections. Preference was there in force.
As I reflected on this subject, more and more I became acutely aware of the enormity of how we are affected by words on a daily basis. Kristine’s weekly wonder words lead us into beautifully written and mindful poetry, which conjure images, feelings and appreciation. A novel can completely absorb us as we suspend disbelief and tread the journeys of the characters in the story.
We are under constant bombardment by words. We seek them out to inform us and others come to us without invitation. They appear in texts, phone calls, books and the media. We hear them directly from people, then often loaded with emotion and expression.
Sometimes we hear just too many words. Sometimes not enough. From the words we hear and read we create our own stories. Whilst words can have a very positive effect, at worst they can trigger fear and feed a deep unworthiness within us.
We hear words which are loving and kind. We also hear unkind words. Often, we hear words which we just don’t want to hear. Things we feel we just don’t want to know. These are the words we remember and ruminate on. I recognised that this was exactly what was happening to me. These words were triggering a pain, which ultimately fed my self-critic which in turn proudly informed me that I wasn’t good enough. Then I realised that maybe we do need to hear the difficult words in order to inquire as to why they hurt. Eventually we need to be able to accept them and allow them to pass through, with no impact.
I decided that the RAIN practice was most appropriate to help me move through this difficulty. I used the practice based on the Mindfulness Association’s teachings and Rumi’s poem, The Guest House:
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond”.
Here we imagine our mind being like a guesthouse with the “guests that come and go being like the different thoughts, emotions and mind states that move through us” (Choden & Regan-Addis, 2018, p.138). We pause to ‘recognise’ how we are feeling and ‘allow’ emotions, thoughts and sensations to arise, so that we can ‘intimately inquire’ into them. Finally, we reach the ‘non identification’ stage, which helps us to evaluate the issue with a healthy attitude. We allow it to pass through.
I sat for a while after the practice – doing nothing. Insights suddenly arose like wisps of mist. I realised that words I hear are just sounds that happen to reach my ears. Words I see are just ink on paper. It is my mind which gives them meaning and creates a story. I asked myself how it would feel to not react to words in the same way. To pause and be brave enough to go within to find out why they are affecting me. To allow the feelings to pass through, like guests passing through my guesthouse. Most important of all, I realised that I need to be mindful of the power of the words I speak to others. Moreover, I need to be mindful of the words I express to myself, and choose kindness instead of criticism.
This week’s challenge is to take a moment to be mindful of the power of words and how they affect you in so many different ways. Check the words we are using to others and also to ourselves. Are the words you say to yourself kind?
How are you affected by the power of words? I would love to hear your experiences, so please respond to this post or email me at email@example.com.
Choden & Regan-Addis. H., (2018). Mindfulness Based Living Course. O-books.