Tag Archives: Word meditation

Rejection

It has been a while since I’ve done a word meditation. For a variety of reasons, the word I’m focusing on today is “rejection”

Rejection” combines “Reject” with “-ion“: the latter is a standard suffix used in English to make verb, adjectives and past participles into nouns, specifically to show action or condition.

“Reject” is the key though. “Reject” comes to us from Latin and is formed with the Latin prefix “Re” added to “ject”.

“Re” is a heavy-lifting prefix in English. Even though it comes from Latin originally, it’s well ensconced in English such that it may as well be considered a native (kind of like me and the Pacific Northwest). “Re” conveys a sense of “return” or doing again.

“ject” comes to us from the Latin past participle “iactus”. In classical Latin, there was no “j”: an initial “i” before a vowel was pronounced like a “y” in “yes”. By the middle ages, the convention of indicating that “y” sound by adding a tail to the “i” created our letter “j”. Over time the “j” transformed from a “y” sound to the “j” (as in “jack”) sound we’re familiar with today and so what was once pronounced “yact” became “ject”. Frankly, I’m not sure about the transformation of the “a” to an “e”, but it is a consistent transformation.

In Latin, “iactus” is a particle of the verb “iacio” which means to throw. That verb is used in one of my favorite classical Latin sayings: “Alea iacta est”, which means “the die is cast” and was uttered by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon and irrevocably set in motion the Civil War. Iacio as a verb conveys a sense of throwing and hurling and the many words in English that have “ject” in them convey that sense of propulsion (project, deject, inject). So motion and propulsion are important elements in any word that is constructed with “ject”.

Bringing this back to “reject”, then, we have a word that has a very clear sense of “throwing back” and that’s key to this word’s power. When you reject something, you are throwing back something that was given to you. You show that it’s not wanted in your act of throwing it back. Rejection adds in the “-ion” suffix to describe that act as a state.

Rejection is a very powerful, negative action and emotion because it almost always inherently points to an imbalance between the giver and the receiver. The giver wants to give. But the receiver doesn’t want receive. In its most powerful and painful uses, “rejection” is a word associated with love and emotion and describes what goes on within unrequited love. Perhaps the most powerful visual illustration of rejection is this short scene from The Simpsons where Bart experiences the rejection of unrequited love and in a dream sequence shows what he feels is is happening.

In some ways, “rejection” is one of the most painful and horrible things to experience. When you are in a state of rejection, you’re not wanted, thrown back, thrown away. What you have to offer is refused (sometimes very cruelly). The imbalance inherent in rejection also has an inherent vulnerability on the part of the giver and a hurting on the part of the reluctant receiver. Rejection is such a painful experience that the fear of it is codified in our language as a stock phrase: “fear of rejection”.

Sadly, rejection is something I’ve known a lot of. I’ve talked about abandonment issues and rejection is buried in there as part of that. For myself, the greatest rejection was my father who I never saw in person after age six and never spoke with after age 12. He made no efforts to see me and so I felt that a very deep, thorough rejection. It made me believe that there was something wrong with me because why else would he want nothing to do with me. Rejection poured over me like acid, burning and scaring me on the outside, and seeping in and destroying and corroding my stability and structure on the inside.

There have been other rejections in my life and one reason I’m writing this is I’m processing another one (as is someone very close to me even more so). No matter how familiar you are with rejection, it still hurts. It’s one of those things that it seems no amount of exposure or experience will dull or lessen.

And yet, if we would give, if we would love, if we would do anything other than sit behind our walls and be safe, we have to risk rejection. We have to go out there, put ourselves out there, open ourselves up….and get the living shit beat out of us on a regular basis for doing so.

What else can we do if we would truly live? For just as we experience rejection there is also acceptance. And so perhaps one of those paradoxical things about being alive is that to be alive, we have to accept rejection rather than reject rejection. In a way, this acceptance strikes me as inline with some of what Buddhism talks about in regards to the role of suffering in life. Specifically, that suffering is inherent and just part of the price you pay for being alive. Part of the Buddhist path is accepting that reality rather than rejecting it.

Paresthesia

Today’s word meditation is on “paresthesia”.

This is a word you’ve needed but likely never knew you did. It’s the medical term for something we all feel at times. Specifically, it’s the term for that “pins and needles” feeling we get in our hands and feet when they’ve been numb and feeling begins to return to them.

The root of it is ancient Greek. It’s a combination of “para” which here means “abnormal” (much like we see in our term “paranormal” in fact) and “esthesia” which means feeling or sensation. Esthesia  is familiar to most of us in “anesthesia” which is means to induce “an” (no) “esthesia” (feeling).

I find this word has use not just to describe a physical phenomenon, but is also useful for a psychological one.

We are coming out of winter and starting to feel the beginnings of spring. The weather now is a battle between winter and spring. I saw this this week with the morning snow covering new shoots of grass and flowers.

And like the weather, my moods now are a battle between the depressive, lethargic, hibernating energy of winter, and the manic, exuberant, expansive energy of spring. And during this time, I find there’s a psychological paresthesia going on. Parts of me are waking up and coming out of numbness, they’re feeling again. But they’ve been cold for long enough that the initial feeling hurts. It really is a psychological pins and needles. All the more so given research that shows that some of us at least really do physically feel emotions.

Just like with the classic pins and needles, all I can do with this is wait for it to pass. For the warm-up process to finish and everything return to normal feeling.

But damn it hurts.

Hubris (ὕβρις)

Today’s word meditation is on hubris. Often translated as “pride” hubris has a slightly different sense to it than pride as we understand the term through Judeo-Christian colorings.

Hubris is a critical concept behind ancient Greek myths and tragedy. It is best known, and most clearly seen, in the myth of Icarus, who took his gift of flight and ignored warnings not to go too close to the sun and so fell to earth.

There is this sense of overreach, of failing to respect the natural order of the world, and, typically, a sense of humans attempting to play god.

You can see how modern humans are increasingly suffering from hubris in today’s news. At one and the same time we have word of a species of rhino that is currently alive, and threatened with extinction by humans and a story about a species of plant that has been extinct for 30,000 years that scientists are reviving.

Humans reshaping the earth to suit their needs by killing things that live and reviving things that are dead.

Of course, that may be nothing compared to the new human-made “super flu” that we’re hearing about.

THAT my friends is hubris. Real hubris.

Or put another way, you can recognize hubris after the fact when you say “just because you could doesn’t mean you should have”.

Not even the gods will help us with this I fear.

Fear: A Meditation

In my continuing word meditation series, the word today is: fear.

Such a small word. Even its etymology is short and simple.

No complex conceptual evolution. No transitions or transformations across time and cultures.

It’s just fear.

Perhaps this word is simple because the thing itself is so simple. Perhaps it is unchanged because it doesn’t need to change: fear is now as it was and shall always be.

I don’t have to describe it to you, you know it well. And you recognize it in others easily, even beyond humans. Fear is the most recognizable emotion most broadly among living creatures.

Fear is one of the most important things in keeping us alive. Fear is one of the things that most hampers our ability to thrive.

We would die without fear, but we cannot live with too much fear. They say a real hero isn’t one who feels no fear; a hero is one who feels fear and still acts. And so we spend all our lives learning how to manage it, how to face it, how to accept its lifetime companionship.

In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to rally a terrified nation against fear and accurately described its effects: So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ) asserted his overcoming of fear and the fear of death especially by having written as his epigraph: Δεν ελπίζω τίποτε. Δεν φοβούμαι τίποτε. Είμαι λεύτερος (I don’t fear anything, I do not hope for anything, I am free).

The Buddha also spoke about the role of fear in one’s life: The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.

Frank Herbert in his novel Dune coined his famous Litany Against Fear. Even if it was for a work of fiction, it has true power and usefulness:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Roshi Joan Halifax in Being with Dying quotes Rainer Maria Rilke saying “Love and Death are the great gifts that are given to us; mostly they are passed on unopened.” Why are they mostly passed on unopened? I think it’s because of fear: we’re afraid to open them. And that is a shame.

If I’ve learned one thing as I’ve gotten older and learned how to make my relationship with fear more a true partnership, it’s that the more I feel brave enough to open those presents, the more rich, fulfilled and previously unimaginably wonderful my life has become.

It’s not a perfect relationship: fear and I still have rough patches like any lifetime partnership does. But we’re not fighting like we used to. Fear keeps me alive so that I can then do what I need to thrive.

So, to my fear, I say: thank you. I look forward to many more years of working with you.

Crucible

Welcome to another posting in my word meditation series.

What’s most interesting is I’ve been using the word “crucible” to describe this period of massive, wholesale transformation these past three or so years. And I’ve been doing these word meditation postings. But, I’ve never done a word meditation posting on the term crucible.

What’s perhaps most inexcusable about this is the fact that I have training as a technical writer and I know that you should always define your terms on first use. To be fair, I did make an allusion to what a crucible is in the first post to mention it, “Who are you? What do you want?“. And in that post, I did link to the wikipedia page for crucible.

So as I do a proper word meditation posting, let’s use that as our starting point. A crucible is an object that can withstand high temperatures and is used in making metal and glass in particular.

A crucible is noteworthy for the fact that it’s able to hold and withstand the necessary destructive forces that operate within it to ultimately create something new. A crucible is thus a place where truly creative destruction occurs. And the forces within it are forces that typically can’t otherwise be controlled or contained. For instance, the temperatures involved in a crucible for making steel are thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. This is important because crucibles are used to create things that otherwise wouldn’t exist by combining elements together that don’t naturally combine. The incredible forces of destruction contained within are necessary to break down the components sufficiently so that they can become something wholly new.

This is part of the idea behind Arthur Miller’s use of the term as the title of his play about Salem Witch Trials.

This is why I picked this term, because I felt that this period of my life has taken elements of my old life and melted them down, combining them to create something wholly new. Ultimately this is a good and wonderful thing. But the process is violent, messy and, yes, destructive.

Beyond this, though, there’s other reasons for my choosing this term. One more grounded in my history.

You have to understand, as a boy, I grew up in steel and coal country. When I was a kid, the biggest employer was the local steel mill. Everyone worked there. This was before the bottom fell out from the US steel market in the 1980’s recession. I grew up in what is now known as the Rust Belt. But back then it wasn’t rusting, it was making steel.

Interestingly, the nickname for the city that the steel mill was in was “crucible”. So for me, growing up, that’s a term I heard often and in the context of classic blue collar life. Indeed, if you want to understand what it was for me growing up listen to Bruce Springsteen’s Youngstown (one hour or so from where I grew up):

as well as his song The River which describes the lives of so many people around me growing up and the life I managed to escape:

Interestingly, it was leaving that world that taught me the first painful lesson about how growth sometimes requires loss. My mother and I did succeed in getting out of the Rust Belt, and none too soon. A few months after we left, the steel mill had it’s first massive layoff, the start of a cycle that continues to this day. Last time I checked, the town I grew up in has lost about 1/2 it’s population since I was there. I knew I didn’t belong there and wanted to get out. So did my mother. But getting out came at a price for me: I couldn’t bring my dog with us because the apartment wouldn’t allow dogs. My mother found her a good home with a friend on a farm. So, she was happier I believe than she would’ve been cooped up in an apartment. But when you’re 12 and your dog is your best friend and companion it’s a steep price to pay. To this day, I keep a toy of hers with me. I think about her often. And yes, in a way, I regret that I had to lose her like that. In a way, that was my first crucible.

τέλοϛ (telos)

Today I return to my word meditation series with a bit of a twist. Our word for today isn’t an English word. It comes from ancient Greek and is word that was once hugely important and influential in shaping classical Greek and Roman philosophy. Sadly, though, it has lost its potency with the rise of Christianity and modern science. It is, though, I think, a word and concept that we need to really look at and try to bring back.

Our word for today is τέλοϛ (telos). Telos means “end” and it forms the foundation of the philosophical idea of teleology.

“End” in English has a much simpler, and less rich meaning than telos does. This makes it hard to really get a sense of what telos is as an idea. At it’s simplest, telos is the idea that the end of something gives that thing its full purpose. And, it’s important to understand, that the telos has an influence: in Greek philosophy, the telos is one of the four causes that govern change.

This way of looking at ends is very different than we’re used to. In fact, it’s completely antithetical to our modern scientific view of cause and effect, because it runs counter to the flow of time. This is one reason why the idea of telos has been lost. And, in fact, poor thinking around causation is sometimes dismissed for being teleological.

Why is this idea of telos important? Because it gives an idea of directionality and purpose as we move through life. We humans, being story telling creatures, function best when we understand our life as a story. This is reflected in the oft-asked (to the point of cliche) question of “What’s the meaning of life”?

The psychologist James Hillman argued eloquently for the psychological need for telos in his book The Soul’s Code. In it he makes a powerful argument that this idea of telos gives people the focus and meaning that they need and helps them to better navigate life. Even if teleology may not be “true” in the scientific sense, he shows that it has utility and can fulfill a real purpose. To try and make clear what this really means, for me, when I read Hillman’s book, I realized that the teleological reason why my mother died and I found out that my father had died was because to be who I am now, I had to be made an orphan at 33. I know that need to be an orphan at 33 didn’t reach back in time and cause my mother to die of lung cancer and my father of suicide. But that framing of the events makes it easier for me to heal, cope, and make sense of it all.

One day, I was telling a friend about how I was watching the end of Kundun.

She remarked how I seem to like to watch the endings of movies. It’s an accurate obervation: I do. She didn’t ask explicitly why that is, but the observation set me to thinking on that question.

What I’ve figured out is that I like is not necessarily the endings of the films per se. Rather I like to see the telos. Especially teloi (Greek plural) that show people rising to heights that demonstrate the best things humans are capable of.

Whether it’s the flight of the Dalai Lama to India

the self-sacrifice of Batman to save Gotham City in The Dark Knight

a father’s sacrifice to save his son in Tron: Legacy

or the desperate charge of the Rohirrim before the gates of Minas Tirith into certain death to save the city in Return of the King

what moves me, gives me this curious expansive, tingly feeling is that sense that I’m witnessing a true, ennobling telos.

As I write this, I realize that part of what I’ve been going through with the Crucible has been a loss of my old sense of my telos. The telos that I thought I was moving towards is gone; it turns out my sense of what I thought it was was wrong. And that part of what I’m doing in posts like this and yesterday’s post Dream a big dream: Time to die is figure out what my true telos is. Granted, one doesn’t truly know until they reach their telos. But one can have a stronger or weaker sense of it. And humans fare better when they have a stronger sense of their telos, it gives them purpose. You can see how a strong sense of telos gives purpose in this scene from Babylon 5, when Jeffrey Sinclair reassures Delenn and explains how he is now like an arrow, sure of his purpose.

I don’t have that certitude yet myself. But every day is a step closer.  In a way, that simple observation that my friend made has prompted this post, and that has brought more clarity and me another step closer.

That last certainly underscores one thing I know about my purpose: it isn’t one that is found or done in isolation. When I thought about paths when I was younger, I was afraid that some paths, like Buddhism, would require me to be alone and that kept me from exploring those paths. I’ve lost the fear of exploring those paths now.

Like I say: we shall see.

In the meantime, if you want a bonus clip of another moving telos for me, check out the actions of Captain Hiroshi of the EAS Churchill(love the name!) in the Babylon episode Severed Dreams.

Dishearten

I find myself thinking much on the word dishearten today.

The etymology is actually very straightforward. You have to love English words that way. This is a good, old fashioned English word that goes back to solid Anglo-Saxon roots. Indeed the word itself is very germanic insofar it’s a compound word and very English in that it’s a compound that mixes Latin and German:

dis heart en

The heart of dishearten (pun intended) is obviously “heart”. This word had deep German roots. Heart here is less anatomical and more poetic, having more to do with the association of the heart as the center of personality and vigor. Heart is bracketed by a Latin prefix, dis-, and a Germanic suffix -en.

The suffix is an interesting one, it basically “verbifies” a noun by giving a meaning of “to make” with the noun. You see this with words like “fast-en”, “sweet-en” “haste-en”. So heart-en has a sense of to make heart, or to instill with “hearty-ness”.

Dis- is a Latin prefix that has a negation quality. Unlike other negation prfixes like “un-” or “a-” though “dis-” has a residue of an earlier meaning centered on separating which is what gives “dishearten” its power.

For me, “dishearten” has a very visceral force. It conveys a sense of being physically stricken and having that fighting spirit that one used to have taken away. One part of the power of “dishearten” is the sense of contrast of what now is with what once was. It conveys a sense of wounding and loss that may well be permanent. It makes me think of the myth of the Fisher King, who is wounded, impotent, disheartened and, yes, dispirited. This idea too forms the background for T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land which conveys a disheartening picture of a sterile, barren society.

Another important resonance with dishearten is an implied agency. There is a sense in the word that one is disheartened not by accident or happenstance. Some one or some thing happens to cause it. You cannot dishearten yourself, another does it to you. And that conveys a sense again of battle and loss. It also brings to mind another word on my mind a lot and one I’ll likely write about some other time: overwhelmed.

Presence

My natural inclination for balance leaves me feeling that a positive focused posting is in order to balance out the hard emotions found in Repudiate.

I think the logical candidate to balance this is the word that gave me the idea for these word meditation postings: presence.

As a preface to this posting, then, let me give a little background to how this all came about.

I really noticed the word presence after I watched the Martin Scorsese film Kundun. If you’re not familiar with Kundun, it follows the life of the 14th Dalai Lama from when he was found by party searching for his reincarnation through his escape to India in 1959.

That film has been very important for me of late in my ruminations on things. I find it very moving in many ways. And I especially find the closing scene to be a very powerful mixture of spirituality and art. It also highlights and affirms a human nobility that speaks to me. It shows how one can be strong and gentle. That speaks to me because that is how I am, how I strive to be.

The title “Kundun” is a Tibetan word (སྐུ་མདུན) that is translated in English as “presence”. “Kundun” is the title by which the Dalai Lama is addressed by Tibetans. I found that a fascinating word to use as a title for the political and religious leader of a people who is reckoned a reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion (known as Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་) in Tibetan and Kuan Yin (觀音) in Chinese).

That fact started me ruminating on the English word “presence”. And that ruminating led in turn to the idea of “word meditation postings”.

Presence has a very interesting etymology. It is formed from the root word “present” and the suffix “-ence“.

“Present” ultimately comes from a Latin verb, “Praesum“. Praesum combines the preposition “prae” with the Latin verb “sum“. “Prae” means “before” and is the root of the commonly used prefix “pre” (ironic that “prefix” has “pre” in it). “Sum” is the Latin verb “to be”. Combined, they have meaning of “being before” that has a very strong, almost tangible sense of being here now in both time and space.

(If you’re wondering how we get to “present” from “praesum” it’s because the Latin verb “to be” changes in its present (again, irony) infinitive form. “To be before” in Latin is “praeesse”. And in Latin, the present participle comes from the infinitive, so “being before” is “praesens”.)

“-ence” as a suffix comes from “-ent” which is related to the Latin suffix “-entia”.  As a suffix “-entia” typically denotes a sense of the quality of the root word. For instance in “sapientia“, the “-entia” “quality-izes” “sapiens“,  “thinking”.

So, present-ence becomes presence and as a word encapsulates this idea of the quality of being here now. It’s a very powerful word that connotes a very powerful concept. It is one of those words whose rich depth of meaning and its power is lost in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Think on it though: the quality of being here now. That’s a central Buddhist concept. So much of Buddhist mindfulness practice is centered on simply cultivating the quality of being here now, cultivating presence.

It makes sense and is fitting that this is the Dalai Lama’s title. Through his practice he comes closest of any human being to most fully embodying the quality of being here now, of presence. But too, he is a presence because as the reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva is there within him, as a part of him, in front of us, present.

Being mindful, being present: these are important things that I am working on. And I find that a good place to start in this practice is to be mindful and present in the face of language. We forget that words have power. Speaking aloud of our experiences is hard but liberating sometimes. Those of us who have stood in silence out of fear for so long can speak to how scary and liberating it is to finally speak. And speaking and communicating is how we really make our presence known to others.

Repudiate

This is the first in the word meditation series I mentioned in Words.

The word for today is repudiate.

Repudiate for me has nuances that “reject” lacks. The definition lists “disavow”, “renounce” and “condemn” as synonyms. I don’t agree that those are synonyms. I view them as components of the word. For “repudiate” for me has a very strong meaning and power, in part because for me it has all those elements.

Repudiate relates in meaning and feel to me to “apostate”. Repudiation is a very conscious rejection of ties that once bound you. The etymology notes that its Latin roots relate it to the term for “divorce” or “casting off”. That’s an important part of the sense of this for me.

Repudiate is important in my mind right now because I am realizing that I want to repudiate my history in growing up. As part of the work I’m doing on myself, I find that my history in growing up has left me with a very painful legacy that I’m struggling to mend and repair. I have come to view my history growing up as a psychological gangrenous limb: a thing that is itself rotten and useless and threatens further harm to otherwise healthy parts of the body. I feel this need to chop that limb off to save the rest of me.

And so the idea of repudiation has become very strong in my thoughts of late. In part, too, repudiate is the right word because it represents an assertion of myself against those in my past. It is me standing tall, looking them square in the eye and repudiating them to their face. Because a lot of the issues I’m experiencing from that past relate to fear and powerlessness, that act of repudiation is the ultimate, perfect tonic.

To my family and those in my past who have given me this legacy of abandonment, rejection, fear, a sense of worthlessness, unworthiness and self-hatred: I repudiate you, all you stand for, and all you did to me.

Because now that I have repudiated you all, I am on the road to being free of your malign, poisonous influence.

Words

I’m a word person. I’m a writer and communications professional so I’d better be, eh?

But seriously, I have always loved words and language. I love the history of language, the etymology of words, the way words sound, the way meaning develops, the way sound and meaning intersect and interplay.

There’s a reason I call myself a “word sculptor” after all: I love to play with words, with emphasis on the word play. Even my sense of humor is very grounded in words and language. James Joyce (another word sculptor who loved to play with words) called the pun the highest form of humor and I’d be inclined to agree with him.

Lately, I’ve been ruminating on a number of words, thinking  about how we fail to appreciate the deeper meanings of these words. They’re words that have in some way become very important for me as I’ve been going through the crucible. I feel this desire to start doing some posts here that are expository meditations on these words as part of that process.

So, watch this space for some word fun!