Often people say "God is beyond words."
No argument from me there, for several reasons. First, if God doesn't exist (the most likely scenario), then naturally God is beyond words, since no word describes nonexistence.
Second, everything is beyond words. It simply isn't possible to capture all of the characteristics of something in words, numbers, concepts, images, or any other means.
Even a single cell in our body defies description.
A recent article in The New Yorker made that clear. Every cell is completely filled with complex entities, all engaged in constant motion, and so far scientists have been unable to create a living cell from the raw materials that make them up.
Even more so, then, when it comes to describing ourselves.
I got to thinking about this after having an initial counseling session yesterday with a Salem Health social worker, Wayne. I wrote about this on my HinesSight blog.
Like most people -- which might really be all people -- I have some habitual ways of describing myself and my life.
Meaning, I've concocted a story of who I am and how I came to be that way which I retrieve from my memory and use when the occasion demands. Naturally that story is both extremely brief compared to the 73 years I've lived, and also extremely selective, since it focuses on only certain aspects of my life.
There's no other option, of course. Neither for us, nor for reality as a whole.
Questions asked of us determine how we describe ourselves. The same is true of any other entity. As noted above, there's no way to fully communicate the nature of a single cell. All that can be done is point to certain characteristics that come to light via certain means of investigation.
Wayne asked me about my childhood. That wasn't his central focus, but like most counselors, he wanted to get a feel for my early years.
In part, I said something like, "I was raised by my divorced mother, an intellectual who happened to be an alcoholic, which made my high school years difficult. She desperately wanted to learn the secrets of the universe, yet died without having succeeded. I've written a blog post about the 0ne hour I spent with my father. Not the best or worst hour. The only hour. He also was highly intelligent, along with being a jerk."
OK, better than saying nothing.
However, this doesn't begin to capture the full nature of how I see my mother and father, leaving aside the fact that what I know about them is just a tiny fraction of their life, and even that small part is necessarily viewed through the lens of my personal perspective, which is biased in many respects.
What I liked most about my 50 minutes or so with Wayne was the insights he got from talking with me in his office. It wasn't so much what I said, but how I was saying it. Indeed, each of us has certain ways of talking (and writing) that reflect our usual way of relating to the world.
Wayne correctly noted that I tend toward reason, rationality, thinking, and such. Yet I told him that frequently I'm also emotional and intuitive. For example, I never plan out what I'm going to say in a blog post, other than to have a very general idea of the topic.
I start writing, and then the post writes itself. That's the way I've always written.
I told Wayne that in college I sat down to write a 50 page paper, and in a flash the conceptual framework of the paper appeared in my mind. Then it was just a matter of typing what essentially was an already-written term paper.
Still, my ability to write is just a minute part of who I am, and I don't really know how my thoughts become words which become sentences which become something I share with the world.
Even less do I know how my emotions work. I didn't make an appointment to see Wayne because I was dissatisfied with my thoughts. I wanted to get some counseling because a few health problems are making me anxious, and I want to learn how to reduce that anxiety, if possible.
It's really difficult to know ourselves, and even more difficult to know other people.
It's enjoyable to try, though. That's why we meditate, contemplate, walk in nature, become intimate with loved ones, talk with friends, read, write, create art, and so much else that bridges the gap between our consciousness and that of others.
That gap is never completely closed, though. Each of us is both an island unto ourselves, and a well-populated continent inhabited by everyone we have ever come in contact with -- for they have left countless marks on us that have helped us become who we are now.
Which can never be completely described. Nor even felt.
The mystery of us is inseparable from the mystery of the cosmos. We struggle to find words that cast light upon those mysteries, yet what they illuminate is so much less than what remains hidden.