Meaning What We Say

Living in discovery is a journey in being mindful. In Birthdays of the Soul, I describe the time I spent in quiet contemplation after experiencing major upheavals in the life I had always known. As I emerged from that period of silence, one of the initial changes I made involved my use of language. I could see how the words I choose provide powerful information for my life. They are the early links in the chain of events that become my destiny.

Because a birthday of the soul is about gaining self-knowledge, it was important that I be willing to be a beginner again and to carefully examine my own language patterns. First I explored my inner space, my self-talk, and my thoughts. Then I reflected on my outer space, the language I expressed in speech and writing.

A starting place that wasn’t too threatening or scary involved listening to my stock phrases, the words I used frequently and without thinking—my verbal habits. What did I say when I liked something or wanted to express happiness or affirm to others what was good or positive? Did I say, “Awesome!” as my first quick response? If so, what did awesome really mean for me? I found that I didn’t want to use words out of habit without really meaning them. I wanted my responses to be more authentic to let people to know I’m giving some thought to what they’re actually saying.

These days I’m more likely to pause briefly before responding. This allows me time to discern how I feel and then find precise words to express it. Maybe I’ll say what the moment reminds me of or what the scene before me looks like. If someone asks how I am, I might say “happy to be here” in place of the automatic “fine.” Rather than letting my inner Judge decide whether a situation is good or bad, terrific or terrible, I’ll describe it simply as “interesting” because I don’t yet know what will emerge from it.

Each generation has its own set of chosen words for expressing pleasure and endorsement as a way to feel a kinship with one another. Over time these serve as nothing more than idle filler. Being willing to examine our use of words and to choose words with awareness and purpose is a big part of living with intention. We soon notice that the words we’re speaking describe more accurately what we’re feeling.

My colleague Kate recently heard herself exclaiming “Awesome!” when a friend described the upcoming wedding she was planning. To correct herself, Kate added specifics, saying, “I’m so impressed with you and your creative vision. It’s really admirable.” Instead of reacting reflexively, she gave a response that was thoughtful, descriptive, and supportive.

Do I still use a common word like awesome to express wonder or pleasure? Of course I do, but much less often than I used to. These days I really mean that word when I say it. Recently I was so struck by the beauty around me that I uttered a version of my former response, saying, “This is just AWE-FULL!” The friend I was with got what I meant and laughed knowingly: the moment was full of awe!

As we shift the language we speak out loud, we can also begin to shift the language of our inner space . . .