Monday, December 20, 2004

A Way With Words

A Way With Words

"Don't get stuck on the level of words. A word is no more than a means to an end. It's an abstraction. Not unlike a signpost, it points beyond itself", writes acclaimed spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now.

Whenever we need to communicate our thoughts, we have to use words. Some people express themselves better than others; but no matter how good your communication skills are, the words that come out from your mouth or pen are ultimately imperfect representations of what you seek to convey in first place.

What you think and feel inside can never be fully expressed with words. A lot of arguments arise between people because they do not see words as being imperfect representations of the original thought or idea. Sometimes people read too much into words and veer way off-course as a result. At other times, they selectively emphasize certain nuances of words and sentences based on their personally biases.

The word "flower" for instance, would trigger very different images in my mind and yours. My understanding of "flower" is the result of my own personal experiences--perhaps the image of a hibuscus which grew in abundance in the garden of my childhood home springs to mind. No two person sees the word "flower" the same way.

Poets understand the limitation and potential inherent in words. So they seek to experiment with fresh combinations of words and sounds to trigger the desired effect in the reader's mind. Poetry helps to extend the possibilities of our language.

But people always complain that they can't understand poetry. The real joy of reading poetry is not in understanding, but in feeling. To me, poetry--like music--is not to be "understood"; understanding comes much later, sometimes years after you have read them.

Words are signposts. The signpost is not the actual destination, it merely points the way. By following these signposts, one can get closer to the destination, but never reaching it.

No comments: