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Words vs. Experience

Language inhibits our experience, a strong claim that I gleaned from a terrific Radiolab piece—’Unravelling Bolero’—about how Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, with its incessant repetitive theme, was a signpost of the beginning of a disease that over the next six years robbed the composer of his ability to speak, to recognize objects reliably, and other memory losses.

“Ravel’s illness—primary progressive aphasia and frontotemporal dementia—may have begun, subclinically, around the time ‘Boléro’ was composed, when his handwriting began to deteriorate. Overt declines, at first limited to spelling errors in musical scores and letters, were indisputable by 1931. Symptoms progressed relentlessly thereafter. Speech and language declined, with halting and frustrated output but relatively preserved comprehension for both language and music. Ravel died due to complications of an attempted neurosurgical treatment in 1937.”

Liberating Our Experience
Neuroscience—which as yet has limited understanding about art and probably less about meditation—can look at diseased brains to gain insight into healthy brains. A biologist/painter with Ravel’s same illness has been tracked as her mind deteriorates.

“Neuroimaging analyses revealed that, despite severe degeneration of left inferior frontal-insular, temporal and striatal regions, AA showed increased grey matter volume and hyperperfusion in right posterior neocortical areas implicated in heteromodal and polysensory integration. The findings suggest that structural and functional enhancements in non-dominant posterior neocortex may give rise to specific forms of visual creativity that can be liberated by dominant inferior frontal cortex injury.”

The key word here is ‘liberated.’ Where I come to with this is that decreasing language disinhibits the self. It gives opportunity for other aspects of self to emerge.

ArabesqueWaves of Wonder
In my youth, I gravitated toward time and activities without verbal language. Verbal language, the currency of culture, seemed oppressive. To speak, to express, to argue and convince, to win fights and seduce, robbed words of exploration and delight. If language was claustrophobic and treacherous, dance, painting, and music allowed escape. Especially dance, since it had no notation and disappeared into thin air. Dance was sensorial. Dance had a few words here and there and it had organization, both aspects of our language centers, but much of it operated in other realms of self and experience. Once I experienced Sufi moving meditation, I entered a world of validated, intentional wordless-ness, thoughtless-ness. Meditation was fully liberating, opening a world of Beauty and Pleasure. Waves of wonder.

Blizzard of Words
We live in language, much of it blizzards of pointlessness. We’ve assigned words a moral superiority, yet words are servants of intention. Ceaseless words—clever and maniacal words—bludgeon and mute non-word experiences. My path has always turned away from words, but as it has unfolded I’ve been surprised at how central and crucial wordless-ness is. What seemed at first an ease filled side dish has become a core process. Intuition cannot flow and present-ness cannot be when choked out by the language we have learned, by the language that has created us, by the language that holds our personality and reality in place.

To not be made of words and scripts, we have to relax away from words. Move. Move without words. In my teaching, I say nothing. This is important. It is not lacking or less-than—it is good. We stop the addiction to understanding. We become aware. We feel our secret life.


Body to body, mine to yours. Trust this.
Body to Cosmos, yours to It. Trust this.
Welcome impatience.
Welcome boredom.
Welcome the ants of discomfort that march through and depart.
Then comes a world of wonders.



Dancemeditation_LOGO_B&WThanks for reading and for sharing this with friends.

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    1. Elizabeth #

      This one is particularly special to me. When first we met at Kripalu, you didn’t speak to me nor I to you, yet here we are…true connection.

      May 30, 2013
    2. David Hammond #

      And yet, you are so good with words.

      May 30, 2013
    3. “Addiction to understanding”–how perfectly put. Thanks especially for this post. It gives heft to my wordless moments in front of a class and empowers me to let them reach for it within themselves.

      May 30, 2013
    4. Mary, I remember a moment last summer when you were speaking about the tongue on the roof of the mouth and you just stopped for a few moments before continuing on. It was sublime. I remember feeling expanded, letting the words sink in during the silence.

      David, thank you. I have had to learn…It is a pleasure to work with words, to play with words. But it is not my native language. Movement is my primary language…

      Liz, I remember too. And, yes, a true connection.

      May 30, 2013
    5. Space is the final frontier. Or spaciousness. Not having to explain meaning, but trusting.
      Wow. Dunya this is such a valuable teaching, which you embody. My right brain got it right away; the left brain thanks you for putting it in words.

      May 31, 2013
    6. karleen #

      How beautifully and deeply you write….with words….about wordlessness… interesting…..movement meditation has brought me so much…..and it can’t be truly spoken……

      May 31, 2013

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