Chandira Hensey | Language and Consciousness
While many things have been written about the role of language in our living, conscious process, not much has really been written about its effects on our deeper spiritual life.by Chandira Hensey
While many things have been written about the role of language in our living, conscious process, not much has really been written about its effects on our deeper spiritual life. Perhaps it’s because most spiritual paths advocate a quiet mind. If it’s possible to transcend the mind, though, why would you want to quiet it altogether? Is not the quiet mind really just an excuse, a kind of distraction? You can’t wait for the quiet mind, when the simple realization of a greater reality—a more tangible experience of our prior unity—is entirely possible even with the mind racing away. We are not our thoughts, even though they may shape us. Think of it as spiritual multi-tasking.
Language has always been an absolute fascination of mine, ever since I suddenly learned to read, in one afternoon, aged 5. It was all there, as it was—words, sentences, phrases, ideas, knowledge, a stream of intelligence and awareness I suddenly saw a way to tap into. I didn’t have to fit any pieces together; I didn’t really have to learn to read in progressive stages. When I told my teacher how it happened, she didn’t believe me. It was just all suddenly “there,” my brain awash with direct understanding and excited verbal epiphany. I am a very verbal person by nature and tendency. Before that moment, I remember living in a world where my head was open. In this world I moved on feeling, rather than thought, and energy was free-flowing. Still, this new tool of language was like a gift from Prometheus himself.
I think things like this affect us more deeply than we know. Learning to read was perhaps one of the most formative and happy moments of my entire life. It was also the saddest and most frustrating when my teacher didn’t believe me. Evidently, my way of coming to language didn’t fit the prevailing program of childhood education, which seemed to be force-feeding facts into one end in the hope that they’d come out of the other in some kind of useful fashion, like sausages, neatly wrapped, linked, and orderly. My thoughts never looked much like sausages.
My dad was always very insistent on language being used properly, as in his eyes, it was the key to everything in life. I had to pronounce all my T’s and H’s, and not lapse into the heavy local working class Bristolian accent—which, frankly, makes the speaker sound a little bit “thick.” For him it meant me getting on in life—a better job, a better husband, better doors opening—but in my terms, it meant self-understanding, too. “I think, therefore I am” translates a lot better into consciousness if you have a broader vocabulary with which to think. Vocabulary expands the barriers of self, to some degree. It’s well known that, rightly or wrongly, language creates assumed barriers of class, culture, intelligence, and so on, and therefore, barriers in self-perception and cultural self-identity. I was raised in a “mixed-class” home: a working class mother, and an upper middle class father. So I guess it’s natural that it was my dad who insisted on the importance of language; he’d seen more of what that could mean for me.