Like most human beings, I learned to think in words when I learned to talk. My mind’s ear hears a constant running commentary inside my brain translating experience into verbal expression. This morning as I awoke, my brain was saying, “What time is it? It’s light out. Must be time to get up. Do I want to try to go back to sleep?”
But early in life, I learned to think in a different mode: music. From early childhood on, music enchanted me. From 78 rpm recordings, I made the acquaintance with the standard masterpieces—Bach, Beethoven, and especially Mozart who awed me. I taught myself how to read music and play the piano and the guitar. I learned to think without words—in music.
Later, I made it my business to think in other ways. When I became entranced with the graphic arts, my mind began to think in images. When I took care of AIDS patients, I learned to think with my emotions. But through it all, that little voice in my brain kept trying to express what was happening from moment to moment in words.
Then I took up Sufi meditation. That required learning to clear the mind of all thinking to allow the soul to open to the inflow of the divine. When I was able to achieve the meditative state, my brain was stilled and attentive. I discovered ecstasy.
My calling as a writer demands that I find ways to express these experiences. I do the best I can, but I know the result is inadequate. Nonverbal thinking is literally inexpressible in words. The best one can do is to refer the reader to his own experiences.
But my business is words. And while I haven’t been able to translate thinking without words into English, my understanding of the nonverbal mental state has greatly enriched my writing. I couldn’t be more grateful.