“That which makes the tongue speak but cannot be spoken by the tongue, know that as the Self. This Self is not someone other than you.” ~Kena Upanishad
This idea is echoed in the Tao:
That Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Simply put – the Self can not be described or put into words
In Yoga we have this tradition of words falling short, being inferior, and even in the way of, connecting to the Self. However, we need language not only to communicate as human beings, but to communicate this practice. Words and language are unavoidable.
Not only are they unavoidable, but they shape what we consider the reality, or truth of our experience.
In the sutras, it says that an experience (which we describe in words) is made up of perceiving through the senses, the perceptions are transmitted to the mind, the mind draws on past experiences to categorize and understand the perceptions, and then we decide on an experience.
It might go something like this:
You wake up in the morning and look out the window.
Perception: see a rainy day
Mind categorizes based on: past rainy days, images of rainy days, plans made for the day that will be canceled/modified, how it’s felt in the past to cancel/modify plans in general and specifically for rain, expectations you had for a sunny day, etc.
Mind decides on a worded description of the experience: “This sucks.” “Cozy day, awesome!”
Action: Follows based on the worded description of the experience.
Generally, we are unaware of this process and arrive at the words, and possibly even the action, totally unconsciously.
It is the mind’s reaction, put into words, that we understand as our experience. And it is upon this understanding that we take action. It is therefore of utmost importance that we are active participants in this process of framing perception with words.
Michael Stone says that often, when we are suffering, and believing the world to be a place that is “wrong” in some way, it is actually our description that is wrong. We have the power to decide on our description of the world. The opportunity to reorient or create a shift is always open to us.
This does not mean that we put a happy face on things, and just think positively. It is much more challenging than that. To own our experiences, words, and in the end, world, we must connect to the perceptions, be active in the mind’s processing, and carefully choose the words we use to describe both the perception and the processing. This means that when we perceive that It’s a rainy day. we stay right there with the perception and then watch the mind move. We then select the description, and consciously act accordingly.
This empowers not only our own lives, but the lives others as well. The words we choose to speak, become perceptions themselves to other people. When we speak the truth, we mutually create, with others, a whole world of truth. Anna Lappé, in her recent book launch of Diet for a Hot Planet, spoke about the work being done on the negative environmental effect of factory farming. As a general rule, there is a disproportionate amount of animals for the size of land they are being kept on. Which means there is a disproportionate amount of fecal matter for the land. People in the factory farming industry refer to those areas of the land in which the feces pools, as “manure lagoons.” Anna and her compatriots have chosen to rename them “manure cesspits.” This evocative wording is much closer to the truth, and will create perceptions within others that bring us closer to the truth of the situation than the word “lagoons” ever will. When we speak more accurately, the mind processes the accurate information, and can therefore act, or not act accordingly. The ability to change the world is founded on the way we turn perceptions into words and share, or disguise, the truth with others. Of course as this works on the macro-cosmic scale, it will absolutely apply to the microcosmic ~ our personal relationships.
In the end the Kena Upanishad is a description of the Self. And when we get to the heart of perception, and immerse ourselves in that practice, there is eventually a dropping away of the languaging of separation between self and Self. In other words, we move from “I feel pain” to the more accurate “My body feels pain” to the even more accurate “perception of pain” to “pain” to the perception without words at all. It is when we distill language to its essence, without the attachment of pronouns of I (asmita), we break through words to the Self.
In yoga, we cultivate practices that allow us to slow this process, to focus the mind so that the ability to be an active participant in how we decide on our experience is possible. These are the timeless tools of breath, bandhas, dristhi, and intention that are the foundation of yoga asana practice.