It’s not all about the words

We went to an interesting workshop the other day where the emphasis was on exploring empathy. The children were asked to listen to a piece of music with their eyes closed and then they were asked what they felt and what they saw. Stories of angry giants, battle, phoenixes swooping through the sky, lush green grass flowed, and of course there was an element of taking an idea already expressed and developing it, even though the moment of listening to the music was now long since past. When I looked to my own experience I couldn’t conjure up any images, all I found was some feelings, and none of them I could really name. In the end I found the words ‘triumphant’ and ‘jubilant’ and ‘rich’. 

I wasn’t sure if my daughter had really enjoyed it because ‘what she saw’ came out as a story of a phoenix catching a fish and giving it to her and I wasn’t convinced that was really the truth of ‘what she saw’,

Later that day as she was lying in her sleeping bag (she’s decided to sleep in our room for a bit) she was talking to her dad and telling him about her day. I was lying in our bed with her sister, not yet singing about speckled frogs and swimming ducks, so I listened too. 

“Dad? I don’t know why but the thing I enjoyed the most today was when we were told to go and lie down somewhere and be comfortable, and then listen to the music, and I found somewhere really snuggly. I don’t know why but it was my favourite part of the day.”

Inside I yelped YES!!! That’s the truth of her experience! It wasn’t some story she told us after the fact, it was something real, alive, in the moment, that had no name, no labels, no structure. That felt so true to me and I was so happy she had felt she could share it without it sounding ‘like a thing’.

It seems to me we spend so much time getting our children to name things, to label them, to explain them. We want to understand what they’re seeing, what they’re learning. We want to know what’s going on in their heads and how they’re developing their view of the world. Sometimes we want to know that they’re developing ‘correctly’. I remembered when Vanessa was little we used to go for walks in the local parks and I would deliberately stay quiet and just be a witness to her experience. We would look at things, touch leaves, run our hands through the grass, smell flowers – and all the while I wouldn’t say anything. I remember how content I felt, and how she seemed completely happy too.

Now I’ve become very aware of how much I will provide a ‘label narrative’ to my children as we go about our lives. Some of that is appropriate of course; language and a shared consensus of what it means is incredibly useful. I love accuracy of pointing! But sometimes the emphasis on the label is stronger than that on the experience itself.

We all experience life, and then our brains make up stories to explain it – it’s never more evident than when you have small children! But if we concentrate too much on the story we miss the experience that created it. We miss the richness in the experience. We miss the subtlety.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”If we concentrate too much on the story we miss the experience that created it.” quote=”If we concentrate too much on the story we miss the experience that created it.”]

Labels can be pretty heavy handed. They define just enough for someone else to know what you’re talking about, but the subtlety and nuance of the actual experience can be so much more, well, delicate. And so you don’t really get the whole picture if all you’re listening for is the words.

So what is an experience before you label it?

What is a feeling before you give it a name?

What are you experiencing right now before you try and explain it?

That – that right there, that is what life is all about. In that listening, in that feeling, in that sensing YOU are creating an experience. And that experience is perfect and beautiful and, dare I say it, sacred, exactly as it is. Without the labels there’s nothing wrong. Without the labels there’s nothing that needs to change. Without the labels there is only an experience, and within that experience there is an is-ness.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Without labels there’s nothing wrong. Without labels there’s nothing that needs to change. Without labels there is only an experience.” quote=”Without labels there’s nothing wrong. Without labels there’s nothing that needs to change. Without labels there is only an experience.”]

Spend time with that is-ness, before the move to define it. Let the labels float on by. Keep listening to, feeling into and sensing that is-ness. In that quietness, much peace can be found, much okayness. Keep listening to it and let the urge to label it do what it does in the background.

And it’s the same for our children. When you ask a question and your child answers, or your child just wants to express something – listen, feel, sense for the experience that they’re trying to express. Tuning into the feeling behind the words will communicate so much more, because life is not all about the words.

One Response

  • Love this description of experience as is-ness May Ling! And I think putting the story above the experience is what I feel is so wrong about the obsession for selfies on instagram and the like. The focus is totally on the story.

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