The Limitations of Language and Thought

If you use a trap to catch fish, once you succeed you can forget the trap. And if you use language to find meaning, once you find it you can forget the language.
-Bodhidharma, “The Snaggletoothed Barbarian””

I don’t know if my experience is a universal experience, likely not.  I seem to move in and out of different ways of being and there are challenges in the expression of that. Whenever I use language in expressing these experiences there seems to be an ephemeral satisfaction with the completed effort. I also notice that whenever I attempt another expression in writing of the same topic at a later point it seems to take a different form all together.

There is a place in my experience that is not dependent on language for knowing the truth of that experience and for the truth of existence. I often refer to it as a subjective place because there is no way that we can find right words to express our authentic and immediate perception of life. It always seems to end up so limited and fragmented. There are some people and some ways of expression that seem to be better able to capture the timeless nature of existence. That perception for me seems to be influenced by something more fundamental and beyond conventional and formal use of  words and concepts. That experience is not a place that I could have without an individual body, at least it seems not to be possible.

I am aware in my meditative experience of a place that is beyond even this or for the sake of not having the proper words, a place within, where there is no apparent reliance on perception, that is a place that is without boundaries and that seems to be a place of familiarity, extreme contentment and vast and authentic in its essence and influence on being. In some way this is at the core of my experience as a human and is a fundamental part of and influence in all other states of consciousness that I experience.

A problem seems to arise in that the more evolved subject-object consciousness that is a more refined and selective and the normative way of experiencing existence in our modern times tends to forget about these more fundamental aspects of my being. And although the subject-object consciousness is a gift in the way of seeing it is at the same time, if left on its own, separate from these others ways, a creator of catastrophe of a sort. In its refined perception it has the propensity to isolate and separate and to not include other aspects of being and its fragmented and selective way has had disastrous consequences for myself and collectively for the greater world in general.

Contemplation and meditation have helped me to re connect with and more include these fundamental aspects of my being.There is an intuitive sense that it is a more complete, encompassing and content and authentic way. Although I use them both as there could be no other way in this reality that we have created, I am aware of the limitation of my words and of my thinking in the negotiation of life and the realisation of truth each day.

I am not a supporter of what Bodhidharma suggests, that to throw away language is the answer to our problems, and I am not sure if in the end he would believe this himself. I think that it is in the realisation of the limitations in our thinking and use of language that we experience a liberation of a sort.

Should I Refine My Boundaries

A few days ago I went to a ATM machine in Halle Germany, where I live, to withdraw some cash for an upcoming trip to Canada. The bank was located in a less affluent part of the city known for affordable, high-rise housing, where refugees, newly arrived foreigners and less fortunate individuals and families find themselves living. It is an obvious low-income residence area created by the East German government prior to the Wall coming down, very bleak and grey, the result of an amazing presence of cement. Throughout my life I have always found myself more at home in less affluent areas as opposed to more affluent parts of town. This day that I went to Neu Stadt in Halle I withdrew 1500.00 Euros from the ATM and then stopped in at a dollar store to purchase some things. I then walked to my car and as I entered the car I noticed that my wallet was missing.

I have been quite crushed by this experience. It has been a struggle for me at my age to adjust to a new country especially considering the  differences in intimacy in German culture as opposed to most other places that I have lived. Meeting new people and establishing new relationships is difficult anyway and the barrier that exists  because of not being efficient in the language hasn’t helped. Over the past few days since this incident I have  been increasingly submerged in feelings of being so very vulnerable. And in my vulnerability I return to past patterns of wondering who it is that I should trust or not and how is it that I should feel more safe and connected here. At the same time it causes me to ask, if I am adequate in my ability to live in another country and make the changes that are required to do so at my age. Should I return to live in a country that is more comfortable for me, which would involve abandoning the thing that I love the most in life, my wife. Or is this just  a part of what just happens in life with the human individual and the collective consciousness as it is. It is obviously the reality,  but is it an inevitable reality: is it a reality that human consciousness has played a big hand in distorting and creating? Where do I fit into this all?

I have tried not to get to caught up  in thoughts and conclusions and to focus on opening to the feelings and the experience that is arising for me without interpretation. There are definitely aspects of feeling violated and of having a limited sense of substance and somehow there is a sense of being betrayed. As well I feel it less easy to be intimate with others. I do what is possible for me to do and at this time I will attempt to be more intimate with myself. I am returning to Canada in a few days and I can in my anticipation already sense that normalcy and familiarity will return.

But as well there is something from within that ignites contemplation at times like this if I can come to let go of the judgement and the conditioning from its habitual hold. There is something that causes me to wonder if it is also a time that I can open even more deeply to myself and encounter directly and explore the doubt that exists and to experience and enter into the  feeling of being betrayed, violated and having lost the sense of a familiar self. To go into the alienation  and feeling of being  detached from all others and the grief in the loss of faith in others.

Already, prior to this incident I have not been so  optimistic about the state of the world. It seems that in general self  and individual need, and with those who have their needs met, self fixation,  generally seems to dominate all concerns. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect that it should be any other way. But there is an increasing awareness for me that we have lost touch with one another and with the truth that we are not as inseparable from one another that we might think. And it makes sense that this lack of sense of connectedness has created such differentiated needs and such a focus that individuals feel it necessary to do whatever it is they must to ensure their own survival and existence. Something in all this suggests that in general collectively and individualy we have lost our sense of compassion and love for one another and ultimately for our self and for life.

I hope more than anything at this time that I can move through this and emerge with a more open heart and that I might be able to connect with a more compassionate and caring understanding and way of relating to others.


I think that this is a question that is very much worth discussing these days. Art related programs are being cut back in academic programming,  one of the reasons being that in this day and age more rationalistic and reductionist processes, explanations and understanding is more valued than artistic expression. The amount of funding for these various programs reflects this. Is there a  different benefit in the different forms of expression that we use to capture our understanding and experience? A more conventional explanation would be that there is an advancement and/or growth that is realised in the human way of intellectual engagements. It is not so clear for the public the benefits of programs that are art based.

My own experience is that the state of consciousness of the one who is expressing is more of a fundamental consideration in the expression than anything else, and at times, more and more, I am aware of the limitations that arise from this not being a consideration in academic forums.    My sense is that the final product of expression is always an abstraction regardless of how much effort is involved in refining and somehow ensuring that it is provable, replicable, authentic and represents the cognition that has formulated it. We make the distinction between more scientific, rationalistic observation and expression and more artistic ways of seeing.

My experience is more that in many ways artistic expression is by its nature more able to reflect and express a truth of life than these other forms of expression. It can go beyond limited and rigidly defined ways of perceiving. Some might say that the artistic expressions are less a result of intellectual effort and development than the others, but maybe it is more that it is a different kind of process but there is still cognitive processes involved in this. Artistic perception involves a more hole, expansive and essential way of seeing going beyond conditioning and the more refined and valued ways that we have come to see to be the fundamentals of human functioning.

My sense in the end is that expression is not the truth of the experience. An expression is ultimately static and that does not reflect the direct experience as the world and universe is dynamic and evolving and into what we have no way of knowing. I myself find it to be helpful to express in an artistic way and in writing especially when it involves inner experiences that I can not always so easily capture in a  knowable way. Life is this unknowable mystery for me contrary to what the more conventional ways may express. So that  any way of expression that attempts to reflect that must in some way address this. Most often in my art as well as my writing there is an ongoing process of refinement. If piece is finished it is dead.  to me. This makes sense in that my experience is constantly changing and in some ways expanding. My perception is never static although the mediums I use for expression seem to be. I can say that I am constantly on the watch for new mediums and ways to express myself.

In the end I am not sure why I look to express myself , why i am interested in others expression and I am not sure that if it is helpful for me except in fulfilling the constant urge that I have to do so and to express to the world that here is something of me that is of the heart and desires to exist in an authentic way. There is discovery involved in that; a looking to discover what it is that I truly am, beyond all that I have been told and all that I have conditioned to believe.

I am more open than ever to hear and share with others what it is that compels them to express themselves and to formulate a conceptual or form oriented understanding. I have to say that I am more drawn to truly creative efforts to grasp and express their experiences in life  that go beyond a more conventional and structured way; something that can go beyond this. To me there is something more authentic and hole in this way. That applies to literature and art. Sometimes when we remain within the human created boundaries of what is normative and appropriate we limit our expression by these norms and this structure and it as well makes it more unlikely that we will be in a place to perceive or include that which is beyond the boundaries.