Recently, I participated in a discussion of cuss words, the profane and vulgar terms we use to express anger and frustration. The discussants found the usage reprehensible. They saw it as a coarsening of our culture.
I pointed out to the group that we Americans are among the few nationalities that concern ourselves with vulgarity and profanity. Other cultures I’ve lived in use such words frequently without worrying about it. Put differently, people in other nationalities refer to bodily functions and call upon the deity to condemn commonly and think nothing of it.
To me, words are just words. We use them to think, convey facts, and express emotion. They have no physical reality—they exist only in the mind. I don’t use off-color terminology and swear words in my speaking and writing only because they get in the way of others I’m trying to communicate with. These words are, in and of themselves, emotionally neutral. The passion they excite resides within people, not within the words.
As a writer, I love words. They are the tools I use to convey meaning. And I understand that most of us use words to think most of the time. I have in my head a little voice that is constantly verbalizing, most often in English, but sometimes in other languages I know. The trick, for me, is to think without words. That realm of thought produces insights and understandings not available through verbalization. Once I have pondered in the wordless mode, I can then look for the words to express the product of my thinking.
For me, thinking without words comes in two forms. The first is using systems other than language. I can think in music. I can think in numbers. I can think in visual images. The systems available for thinking are many.
The other way to think without words is to think without any system. We are so dependent on thinking in systems that we find it difficult to banish all of them from our thoughts. The way I learned to do it was through Sufi meditation. It’s not easy. It demands freeing the consciousness of all systems and symbols and letting the mind rove free.
I have learned—and recommend to others—that thinking without words offers a wealth of insight and beauty. I urge all to learn to do it.