Semantics matter

Published 16. July 2016.

Word choice is important. Most words you can choose have a long life before you plucked them from your mind for use this time around. Within that word's liftetime it has picked up connotations and assumptions about what it's telling the reader or listener when it's used.

This may seem trivial, but it's so simple to pick a word without consideration for the potential assumptions it carries with it. You don't want to end up violating someone's assumptions because of the word choice (of course if you're doing it intentionally, then by all means, proceed!)...or creating a dichotomy when there isn't a need for one.

I'm thinking in particular about how we relate to our being, and the use of the phrase "the unconscious mind."

By referring to our minds as split between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind—as a means of describing and labelling brain function— we may be inadvertently creating a disconnect.

Labeling the part of our mind that acts outside of our awareness as the unconscious conveys the sense that we have little control over it, and possibly that it isn't really even us. I have been quite busy with Alan Watt's books lately, along with others focusing on Eastern philosophy (I highly recommend Trying Not To Try), and a major theme is shifting from a worldview of separateness, of I and the world as separate entities towards one where you and the world are the same; where there is no separation between the you and it.

That same separateness is cultivated in our relationship to our being by distinguishing between the conscious and the unconscious, between our mind and our body. Consider this excerpt from Become What You Are:

Popularly it is believed that psychoanalysis teaches that man has an unconscious mind; this is not strictly true, for the unconscious is not to be understood as an entity or mental organism having definite location and identity. There is no actual division between the unconscious and the rest of the human organism, for it bears somewhat the same relation to the mind as the glands, liver, kidneys, etc. bear to the body: they are integral parts of the body, but we are not ordinarily conscious of them. The only difference is that the unconscious has no specific boundaries. It consists rather of the condition of being unaware of certain desires, impulses, tendencies, reactions, and fantasies in our mental and emotional makeup. It has its physical parallel in the condition of being unaware of various bodily organs and processes.

And if the unconscious is just a condition then it's not "a sort of individual with secret, dark designs, and an unfortunate habit of wanting and thinking in direct opposition to the conscious. For the unconscious is not an individual; it is simply that about himself which man does not know. As such it is a purely relative term, because some people know more about themselves than others."

Yet we do talk about both the body and mind as if they do have dark designs that we must wage war against. I'm know that I'm still prone to creating that false battle or separation—though I'm slowly excising that language from my speach and thinking— with phrases like "my body is demanding ice cream right now," or "my mind wants me to run, but I'm fighting the urge." That feeling that you're battling parts that aren't entirely you makes for an adversarial relationship with your being.

The alternative to battle isn't surrender though, but rather more of a listening to the urges, thoughts and feelings as they arise. When you're tuned into your whole being it becomes easier to sense when a thought or feeling needs to be acted upon, or if it can just be observed, acknowledged, and then allowed to pass through.

Take the feeling of fear as an example: if I'm looking across at a new jump, or often times when revisiting an old one, I feel fear. The fear often sounds like "Wait! I don't think we can do this, it's dangerous" or "you're tired, didn't sleep enough, aren't warmed up enough." Dismissing or pushing those thoughts aside doesn't make them go away, and sometimes too that fear is actually right. Maintaining a dialogue with the fear allows you to grow; to ignore it risks either pushing too far beyond your edge or staying too deep within your comfort zone. In this process you're experiencing and listening to your whole being, and acting from an informed position, rather than a reactive one.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." —Viktor E. Frankl

The journey from fighting your thoughts and feelings to establishing a healthy dialogue within yourself is a lengthy one, perhaps life long, but one can start by simply changing how you express, through language, what's going on inside you.