Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash
I realize that I have almost always picked work that requires me to learn on the job. Coming from a family with a high number of teachers, grandmother, cousins, aunt, I grew up in an environment where the value of learning was infused in the air. Growing up in my farming family, my earliest school room was the freedom to play outside as long as I was home for dinner.
It is no surprise to me that one of the people who influences my learning now is David Abram, an ecologist, philosopher and an accomplished slight of hand magician. What I most want to share from his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, is his ideas about word magic and how our language affects how we participate in what we sense.
My early outdoor expeditions in the shelter belt of farms in southern Alberta (the double row of trees surrounding the house and outbuildings) were wordless ones, shared with a black Labrador dog, sometimes a sister. The smell of sticky poplar leaves on a warm spring afternoon, attaching anywhere I pressed close enough. The sound and vibration of weighted wheat stalks tossing above my head to the persistent southwest wind, framing the autumnal blue sky. These words may evoke the memory of what I sensed but it is not the same as the sense memory awakened when I smell poplar trees again or pause to listen to the swaying of a soon-to-be harvested wheat field.
The word magic he writes about is a simple sleight of tongue that hides what is right there in front of us. When we speak about touching the cat, about smelling the paperwhite blooms, about listening to the wind in the branches above the path – there is a word magic in “the”. That small word renders for us a notion that the being we sense is an object. Abram says, “To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we block our perceptual reciprocity with that being.”
Why does this matter? It is grammatically accurate – a cat is a noun; the tree is a noun. More word magic. This construct shines a light on us as the sensing being and everything else as the thing being sensed. It closes down what feels like real magic, that anything we touch, touches us back. That anything we inhale, also shares the air. That anything we hear, also feels our vibration as we walk by. Abram says, “perception always remains vulnerable to the decisive influence of language.”
Word magic can magnify suffering.
In working with clients, I notice the impact of this word magic on their lives, as part of suffering that comes with pain. Because one of the habits so many of us have learned, is to apply that objectifying language to ourselves. The leg. The neck. If one of the superpowers of the Feldenkrais Method is making finer and finer distinctions as part of learning, this tiny distinction is a root of self-domination, the place where I try to control my leg to do what I want. Without listening to my leg as a living being. This small distancing in our self-perception, keeps us apart from ourselves. There is magic in claiming relationship with all of the parts of myself. It doesn’t just change me, it changes the world I move in – how all of me can be part of all of we, living here. Rather than part of me trying to control all of it, out there. Expanded outwards, that small distinction makes all the difference. Please share this with someone you feel would enjoy it.
If this resonates with you, you might enjoy my upcoming In Touch series – starting Feb 4.
To register www.kindpower.ca/book