Don’t Mouth Empty Words
“The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.”
― Terence McKenna
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
“Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth.”
– Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
Sometimes Ayahuasca uses your mouth to say things to yourself. And I mean that in the literal sense, without any precognition your mouth opens and words roll out. Words that, more often than not, make plenty of sense. In one ceremony a collection of related ideas that had been simmering in my subconsciousness for some time tied tentacles and were borne as: “Don’t mouth empty words”. I’m gonna unpack what these words mean to me, because they are true in the transcendent sense – at all times, under all circumstances. I hope you find some benefit to them too.
When you are born your ability to acquire new language is at its peak, while your actual vault of acquired words is at nil. Then, as you age you trade the potential for the actual – your reservoir of words increase as your ability to acquire new ones decrease. During this transformative process you learn to experience things not as they are in the phenomenological sense, but as the word you have assigned to them. Objects are not unique and isolated, but belong to a linguistic collection embedded in bigger collections embedded in even bigger ones ad infinitum. So the world as you experience it is no longer as it “truly is” as the Buddhist like to say, but rather a combination of how it truly is and the meaning you project onto it. And this meaning is mediated by language, symbolic representatives of distinct ideas and meanings. In this way we are all guilty in some sense of not merely mistaking the map for the territory, but indeed plastering it all over the territory.
At first glance this seems tragic, and in some sense it is. But it is also not without any evolutionary value. If everything you ever encountered was always novel and in need of immediate interpretation and understanding nobody would get very far in their lifetime. Thus using symbolic representatives to homogenize familiar streams of data allows us the space and freedom to explore and engage in that which is truly novel and intriguing. This symbolic layer that we have nestled between us and the immediacy of the material world has allowed Homo sapiens to be the king of this sandcastle. It is our abstraction, our ability to wield language as an operating system for reality, that has enabled us to achieve all we have thus far. Humans exist in a language-bound world, it is the very fabric with which we have woven existence into being, and we are so embedded within it we are unable to fully even understand this. You cannot see the label when you are inside the jar.
In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore the bard of V for Vendetta, From Hell, and Watchmen shares his view that language is, quite literally, magic. And not the bunny-out-of-the-hat kind, but rather the kind defined by the famous British occultist Aleister Crowley as “the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will”. Moore shares that the earliest definitions of magic is simply to be “the art”. The art as in music, sculpture, paintings, poetry, and writing, for what are all these things other than, according to Moore, “ the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness.” You want to have a certain effect on an individual’s consciousness and so you produce a piece of art which does so – change in conformity of the will.
Words, whether spoken or written, whether read or heard, are able to transform a person’s view of reality, they are able to incite nations to overthrow dictators, to mobilize armies and inspire individuals to sacrifice their lives. All for an idea. All for words. Words as ideas can outlast their originators and change the minds and emotions of other individuals thousands of years after they were first uttered. Words can break, heal, elate, distraught. Words are used to imagine what may be, words are used to remember what was. Words are the currency of human life, the notes with which the magical symphony of reality expresses itself. And because language is magic, because words are the ultimate power, you have to be very, very careful with what you say. When you open your mouth and noises come out you are wielding immense power, the power to enrich life for everyone, or the power to bring somebody’s life to ruins. Even when your utterances are not of such importance the way in which you wield your tongue will influence the effect it can have in the future.
When you say things that you know not to be true you are diluting the power your words have. When you say something deceitful, or even if for example you make a commitment to a friend that you do not follow up on, you are misaligning your words with reality. The words coming out of your mouth, representing your inner view of reality, do not reflect things as they truly are. As a consequence you devalue your inner view and spoken representation thereof, to others when you are found out, and to yourself at all times. Devaluing your words in your own mind does terrible damage to your ability to speak and act with conviction in the future, when you say something there is a split, a misalignment, where one part of you believes what you’re saying and another harbours some doubt – if I lied in the past, whose not to say I am not lying now?
The clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson shares a curious phenomenon that occurred to him during his twenties. One day he realized that a schism had formed in his psyche. One part was what he considered to be the “old” him, the part that talked a lot and that took pride in being recognized for saying smart things. It liked ideas, it loved to argue, and it loved even more to win those arguments. It said things with the sole intent of impressing people, and sometimes it said things it knew to be untrue simply to win arguments.
But then there was also this new part. It was as if a new impartial observer had spawned in his psyche, a witness that provided running commentary on everything he said. It would witness the opinions and incessant utterances from the “old” him and, in an equanimous voice, would say things like: that’s not true and you know it, that’s somebody else’s idea, you are just saying that to impress them and so on. It was neutrally judging everything he was saying as if holding him to a new set of superior moral standards.
So then he realized he was in a weird position – which part was really “him”? Was it the part that was speaking? Or the part that was listening and judging? So he decided that he would just assume that this new voice, the critic, was the real him. He then made the commitment to stop allowing the first part to speak, to stop saying things that, in his words were “making him weak”.
What shocked him was that after this commitment he had to abstain from saying about 95% of the things he intended to. He realized that he was “mostly dead wood”, but that it was better to burn that off and start with what was left as the foundation of his word and being. Though that commitment was made many decades ago that new part has never gone away, till this day whenever he speaks there is a part of him that observes every word and underlying motivation like a hawk, assessing whether or not his speech is bringing him into alignment, or making him come part.
“We don’t know where thoughts come from. We don’t know how far down into your substructure thoughts emerge from, we don’t know what processes of physiological alignment are necessary for you to speak from the core of your being. We cannot conceptualize it, but we can feel it.”
– Jordan Peterson