Ian McEwan, the British novelist who confounds many expectations, was recently interviewed by Mick Brown for the Telegraph. (Brown too knows something about words, having written six books himself.) McEwan expects to take some heat for his new novel, Solar, which is about global warming. Citing the classifications made by Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame), McEwan sees four types of people, sorted by their attitude toward global warming. Some of them will not be pleased with this book. As a fiction writer, McEwan tends not to put his foot down firmly enough to satisfy readers and critics. He has a way of seeing more than one side. He tells the interviewer,
The novel is an act of imaginative empathy, ‘showing the possibility of what it is like to be someone else.’
McEwan sees empathy as the building block of morality, and as such, it can’t be extended only to a chosen few. Extremists such as hijackers and torturers lack empathy, which is why they are able to do what they do. Cruelty, he feels, is hard to summon if you let yourself enter the victim’s mind.
McEwan feels that many current problems stem from the flaws in the way we conduct the conversation about them. He demonstrates this in his stories, which are, on one level, conversations between characters who represent conflicting views. Possibly the best example is Black Dogs, where the conflict is between rationalist/materialist husband and his spiritually-oriented wife.
In exploring the invisible world, the experience we seek is beyond words, but words sometime take us there. So many approaches to increased health depend on words to a very great extent. Words make up a large part of our rituals and ceremonies. We hear and absorb myths and affirmations. We learn from certain enlightening forms of dialogue.
In his book The Four Insights, Alberto Villoldo talks about the vital congruence between “who you say you are (to yourself and others) and who you really are.” An old-fashioned term for this is integrity, which means something is whole, undivided, and entire. The inside is one with the outside, the words are one with the deeds, and so on — you get the picture. “What you see is what you get” should be our motto. Shamans, Villoldo reminds us, know that we dream the world into existence, and once the dream takes hold, putting it into words gives it even more power.
Villaldo is also one of the contributing authors of Awakening to the Spirit World, where he recommends transparency. This means allowing yourself to be seen by others for who you are, with nothing to hide. In the best-case scenario, you even stop hiding from yourself the aspects of you that you’re less than pleased with. He points out the fallacy in hiding parts of ourselves from other people: those are probably the parts they can see best. And when it comes to hiding from ourselves — well, there’s an old saying: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time — but you can’t fool yourself.”
Elsewhere in Awakening to the Spirit World, whose principal authors are Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman, we find these words:
Making art and working consciously with imagery and words have been used by shamans worldwide… We suggest that you use craft to bring spirit and power into your house, your community, and into society at large.
In Shamanic Meditations, Sandra reflects on the Navajo injunction to only use words that create positive reverberations in others’ lives. This is what they mean by saying, “May you walk in beauty.” It’s so important because the speaking of words leads to the manifestation of many things, so they need to be good things. “Words are seeds,” she emphasizes. Here is a concrete, doable practice:
Work consciously with weaving blessings into the words you use throughout the day.
You might be used to calling them affirmations, which is fine too, and — whatever you call them — blessings are great! This book includes many blessings that Sandra had formulated for us. Not surprisingly, the healthy attitude does not only pertain to what we say out loud to other people. What we say silently to ourselves is very crucial. It’s called self-talk, and if we pay attention to it, we can change our lives. Words, Sandra reminds us, have the power to change our experience and, oh yes, incidentally, change the world.
The pep talks (or the tongue-lashings) that we give ourselves make a huge difference to the outcomes of our projects. I knew a man who revealed the secret of his unflappability in the face of crisis. He said, “This is not a problem, because it will be over. It will come to an end. So, no problem.” The most fascinating example of self-talk discovered recently is from the novel Hunga Dunga: Confessions of an Unapologetic Hippie. One of the characters, no matter what upsetting or irritating thing happened, would affirm to himself and anyone else who would listen, “This is better. This is much better.”
Source: “Ian McEwan interview: warming to the topic of climate change,” Telegraph, 03/11/10
Source: “Awakening to the Spirit World,” Amazon.com
Source: “Shamanic Meditations,” Amazon.com
Source: “Curious?,” Hunga Dunga blog
Image by Robbert van der Steeg, used under its Creative Commons license.