Nourishing Language

An article by on November 10, 2017

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The language of emotion, and mindfully using our words.

One thing that I can know for certain is that what I feel is undeniably true. You might feel something different, but the feeling that each of us have is what it is – true. Right? You might agree that even if your feelings change, what you feel in that moment is a very real, experienced truth of that moment. Well, a certain branch of field of Psychology, psychological constructionists [language as symbol], who ascribe to Conceptual Act Theory suggest otherwise.

The premise of Conceptual Act Theory is that for anything to hold meaning, one must ascribe a concept, and in turn, a concept shapes the very meaning of that thing. That is, the language ascribed to it shapes what I might understand about emotion. Language is a symbol that points to meaning. Meaning, then, develops and is shaped by the symbols I use to denote or describe that emotion.

Of course, when I feel something – especially if it is a very strong emotion – my brain does not process all of the words I might use to describe what I feel. At the same time, how I experience that emotion is closely tied to the language that I use associated with that feeling. You have heard it said, “every obstacle is an opportunity . . .” yet does that notion actually change the felt reaction you have toward that “opportunity?”

There is evidence that supports, for instance, when hotel housekeeping staff change the way they describe their work from naming it “labor,” to instead call it “exercise,” statistically significant physical and psychological changes occur (weight loss, lowered blood pressure, increased sense of well-being) all without changing their actual daily activity.

And even when I might mindfully consider how I describe a situation, it is exceptionally easy to continue using that word or phrase mindlessly and fall prey to circumstance, once again. “Every obstacle is an opportunity” looses its power (if it ever had any) if you are not the one crediting it as an opportunity. Words are only symbols. But the kinds of words we use convey far greater sway than we usually recognize. How does my word choice influence my perception of a situation or relationship? How do my words influence yours? Do they drag you or me down; deplete the energy so needed to meet an obstacle? Or do they bolster, nourish us to face the opportunity?

It is a mindfulness practice to reflect on a situation or issue.

So, today – and this week – let us consider. First, take a few moments to notice your breathing. Settle into your space and begin to draw in a breath. 2, 3, 4; hold, 2, out, 2, 3, 4. Again, breathe in the spirit of peace 2, 3, 4, hold, 2, out anxious thoughts, 2, 3, 4. Breathe in the spirit of the Word, God with us. Breathe out the sense of being out of control.

Now notice. Consider the thoughts that have just before now raising your blood pressure, causing you anxiety or fear or ill will toward someone. . . . What is the circumstance from which these thoughts and the words you use to describe the feeling about them, comes?

Hold that word or phrase like a ball of light in front of you.

Let the light illuminate why you might feel the way you do toward that situation, or person, or condition.

Shift the ball around and see it from a different position. Is your response as intensely felt? What is changing?

Is there a different word or phrase that comes to mind to describe it? allow God’s wisdom to speak to it.

Sense how the ball is now lighter.

Allow the Light to carry it now.

With this new word or phrase, consider how you might refocus on that situation and the day ahead. Offer it to God with thanksgiving and be grateful.

I would love to hear – as I am sure others in the community would – what word or phrase you swapped for what you earlier ascribed to your situation. Please share on the Eirenicole facebook page or at my website (where you can also find resources and a transcript for this podcast).

And, today, may you walk at the pace of grace.

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About Nicole

Nicole Oliver Snyder’s expertise lies in the areas of leadership, gender issues, and mindfulness practice as it affects both. Leadership, particularly in an urban setting, requires community-relations skills, and an ability to clearly convey justice issues as they relate to felt, spiritual ones. Dr. Snyder is author of Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone, and specializes in teaching mindfulness leadership development, formative spirituality, counseling, and Old Testament theology (emphasis on justice issues). She has a diverse background in international community-relations work combined with volunteer work in multi-ethnic communities, and with local institutions. She is an ordained Clergy; holds a BS in Human Development and Family Studies, w/Education Certificate, an MA-Counseling, MDiv Equiv., holds a Doctor of Ministry and Advanced Certification in Formative Spiritual Direction, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (MI).

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