This is guest post by Joan Klostermann-Ketels of Being of Sound Spirit
Say one word with your mouth shut!
~ Zen saying
This wonderful statement implores the student of Zen to convey meaning, intention and condition through simple, focused attention. The idea that a sender of communication could accomplish complete understanding on the part of the receiver by becoming the manifestation of one perfectly formed thought runs counter to our modern society, which relies more on sensory overload.
We all have noticed how a single inspirational quote can instill more meaning than other complex forms of exposition. A beautiful thought may stick in our minds for many years to good effect. Likewise, one powerful photographic image can click a switch in our brain. Such a picture can transform us. Hence, the truism, “A picture is worth 1000 words.”
The closer our proximity to enlightenment, the fewer words are required. Mark Twain, in his essay on American realist author William Dean Howells, wrote, “With a hundred words to do it with, the literary artisan could catch that airy thought and tie it down and reduce it to a concrete condition, visible, substantial, understandable and all right, like a cabbage; but the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.”
When it comes to expressing ourselves, it is essential to say as much we can with as few words as possible. It is so easy to become lost or disoriented in the forest of our thoughts. Should we become enamored with the shape of our argument or the sound of our voice, we can easily wander into unfamiliar territory. Our communication quickly can become so misdirected or diluted as to be ineffective or completely misinterpreted.
Poets, musicians and artists often achieve simple and pure expression. Nature always achieves it. Flora, fauna, and the seasons provide us with a direct, spiritual connection with life forces for which there are no accurate words. The glimpse we are offered into an understanding of the oneness of which we are a part is in the shape of trees, in the movement of eagles and in the light on the horizon. Occasionally, we grasp a sense of spirit and try to use language and material to express it. It is important that we do so, just as it is important that we are mindful of simple and direct effectiveness in all of our daily communication with business associates, friends or family members.
How successful we are is less the result of form and function learned from books and classes than it is from how pure and well-formed our original intention. The greatest clarity can result when the receiver of communication is afforded space in which to relax and infer meaning, in the same way that the listener of great symphonies benefits from the rest between notes.
As stated in the Tao Te Ching, which provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”