Like us all, I am trying to find the ways I can best navigate these times. What has helped in the past doesn't always help in the present. But I have always found a way through with the help of words.
Whether I am listening to someone else speak, talking to myself or allowing words to fall onto the page, somehow this process leaves me feeling calmer and more grounded. I need these experiences more than ever now, so I decided to pick up my practice of journalling again. I signed up to an online course to give me some structure and motivation (because what I am missing a great deal is the structure that working with others brought to my day).
I am only on day three and already I am breathing out in gratitude. I am noticing that the conversations I have with myself are more expansive and make more sense because the words have more space when I lay them down on the page before picking them back up when I read.
I've come to learn that sometimes words need this space. We can become over-familiar with words. They glide off our tongue, flow into our ears and we think we know them. We think that we know what they mean and how to understand them for ourselves. But I've found that by looking at words as if we don't know them, we can discover their meaning for us, in this moment.
I love using etymology to help me do this. The study of the origin and roots of words fascinates me. Take "potential". We know what they means, right? Something might have legs, it might become something? But when we understand that potent comes from the latin word for POWER, we notice something else. An idea, a person, an object has latent power that has not yet been realised. Doesn't that change how you think about it? Now when I think about my ideas have potential, I begin to think about the power, the essence of them and what can allow that power to be released.
Another topical word is "endure". We are all enduring in one way or another at the moment. I was interested in what it meant for me to endure lockdown. The root 'dur' means hard in latin so, in effect, to endure is to harden. There is a reference to hardening the heart in early texts and I guess there might be an element of having to harden the heart to some of what is happening so that we are not overwhelmed with the sorrow of it all. There is also an Old English word 'dern' which means to be firm, solid and steadfast. So in enduring these times, we need to find our solidity, out steadfastness and maybe our resolve to keep going. It is hard. That is why we are enduring.
These explorations are helpful to me as I try to process what is happening in the world. Perhaps it links to the idea of being able to articulate something verbally helping to regulate our emotional responses. As Dan Siegel's saying goes, "name it to tame it".
Maybe it is a mindfulness of sorts, a paying of attention to what I am swimming in. The words all around us can become meaningless and yet the power of language is that it is meaningful. This process of stepping back and looking differently at words reminds me of the way I use my camera to see the world anew. The Romantic poets called it "defamiliarisation" - taking the familiar and introducing it to us so that we see landscape as it for the first time.
We humans seek novelty and are motivated by curiosity, finding new things. In evolutionary terms it helps us survive as we need new hunting grounds, new partners, new watering holes. So the joy I get from re-understanding some of the words I hear day in, day out is understandable. This process keeps me going, and it is about more than words.
It is about how I give meaning to my life.