By Lorenzo Roberto Ramos, Winter 2011
It's easy to see the efforts made here at CSPP toward exploring novel trends in the field. For example, seminars and colloquia on third wave cognitive therapy or spirituality abound. Shauna Shapiro's Art and Science of Mindfulness is available to anyone instantly as an ebook through the library, and the Huston Smith Center is rocking all of our boats with elegant presentations that deserve much more than an hour of didactic limelight. And then there's DBT, in itself. Need I say more?
CSPP's knack for innovative and relevant research inspires a reflection on the common ground at the forefront of our field: language. It's no longer the territory of anthropology geeks or your typical library Noam, and as influenced by speech as therapy tends to be, the latest developments in psychology make language seem like the 'g' in 'breakthrough.' The elephant in the living room. Links between speech and mental health are intriguing enough for books to be written about them (right, Steven Hayes?) but for now, an article will suffice. Further research really is up to you.
Consider the ancient science of Mantra. The literal definition of the word comes from Sanskrit 'Manas' and 'Trayati,' which roughly translate to 'mind' and 'expand.' Mantras are the most shameless utilization of the linguistic paradigm in existence today. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, for example, the linguistic knots that people establish through verbal contract are seen as a primary cause for the entanglement of the consciousness. How? Think, for example, of a white bear. See, he's already there, inherent in all his hoary fuzziness within the very linguistic construct in which we have placed him. The bear is an image, an assertion, and in a strikingly similar way, someone telling themselves not to be anxious over and over again--a common task in agoraphobia--is a literal incantation for the presence of that acrid toxin to well-being: anxiety. On a brighter note, the ancients broke through the association of mental imagery with language and were able to discover states of being that corresponded to certain verbal configurations. Some of these were personified into Gods and Goddesses to engross the consciousness visually as well as verbally during spiritual practice, and in such a sense, visualizing the Elephant-headed God Ganesha became a part of chanting 'Om Gung Ganapataye Namaha,' with the words literally being taken as the energetic presence of the Deity. Whoa, dude. Totally.
For all the skeptics in the room, take your typical OCD client with a grain of enlightened Swami, and see them as two adepts of the same practice. Such is the power of speech. The science of Mantra.
Indeed, verbal content has always been recognized as a seat of power. It's the meaning of the 'Word' in Judeo- Christian religion as well. God, named 'El' in the Hebrew Bible until Moses' debut, is referred to as 'YHWH' from then on. This name, too sacred to be uttered by the profligate 99%, is another veneration of language in its own power. The language of Israel, free of vowels, allowed this collaboration of consonants to be uttered as either 'Yahoveh' or 'Yehovah,' both of which are merely the five vowels strung together at once in the phoenetic paradigm of the language...iiieeeooouuuaaa...iiiaaaooouuueee. So it makes sense that language and third wave cognitive therapy are coming into the spotlight right in tune with spirituality. There's something cooking, right?
It might make you think twice about what you say to yourself. I am simply overwhelmed by my dissertation--well yeah, maybe if you keep talking like that. Put simply, if you consider language to be how humans translate their inner content into a concrete form that enables interpersonal contact, one sees how essential language really is to the average person. It is a transitional medium of the psyche that truly does make or break our experience, both to ourselves and to the world around us. Allowing language to inundate us constantly, especially with the way we are somewhat forced to live life, can truly drive us over the edge. It can likewise enlighten us.
It would be truly groundbreaking to observe how much self-talk you engage in throughout the typical day; every reflection, every introspective thought and circumstance, is a verbal assertion of something that is occurring. Language has become a distinctly human filter for perceiving the world. Mindful awareness of how it is that you entertain this capacity could serve as quite beneficial to your experience in the future, especially if you're trying to attain things like inner-peace, happiness, cohesiveness, and equanimity. But that's for hippies--NEXT.
To finish things off nicely, it would make sense to consider the fish. These very words you read right now are merely a string of funny-looking symbols from which you have learned to derive meaning. And this learning can be somewhat ridiculous in its weak spots. But that's where light shines in, says the poet. Take the word 'cough', where the 'gh' is actually the sound of 'f.' Likewise, the 'o' in 'women' is rather like an 'i,' and the first 'ti' in 'initiative' sounds smack like a 'sh.' This is the precise reason this article is named "Ghoti and Chips," because it undermines the framework of language by its very tone, as well as my culinary preferences. I thereby assert that 'Ghoti' and 'Fish' are arguably identical in terms of pronunciation. And if this doesn't make your mind tick, try Googling: 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.' It's a valid English sentence, not to mention slightly horrifying.
There's a whole 90% of a killer iceberg hidden in the context of this article, and if it has piqued your interest at all it may serve you well to go and explore the mental shake-n-bake that language is when looked at the right way. This might be why psychology is giving such language-related topics attention these days, and that's perfectly fine.