Humans are a pretty creative bunch, when it comes to making up words. Necessity was obviously the mother of invention, when you think about the first few sounds that came to be associated with some meaning; but basic needs in a primal culture could probably be expressed with a handful of rudimentary utterances. Somehow we got from there to here, in a culture where people like you and me speak a language that reportedly contains over a million words. Most of us might only know a small fraction of them; but all those others still exist regardless of how little they are used or understood.
The funny thing is, even all those words just aren’t enough. We are thinking beings, true; and much of what we talk about is stuff you and I can both objectively see and agree on. But what about all those feelings that come with being human? Words don’t seem to do them justice, in the same way they do when it comes to expressing so many other thoughts.
Maybe some people would define themselves as a collection of ideas, floating around in a body; I wouldn’t, though. I’d say I’m more a bunch of feelings, all layered over each other and happening all at once. My thoughts seem to arise from my feelings more than the other way around, and I’m willing to bet most people see themselves in much the same way. Yet somehow we just don’t have common definitions for the most important part of who we are.
Ask a hundred different people to define love, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. I’ve said that plenty of times before, and I’m not anywhere near the first person to say it; but this applies to a whole bunch of other concepts as well. Things like freedom, happiness, peace, loyalty, security and passion all mean something different to each of us; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
These aren’t little things, either. No one is going to argue that they’re not the most important subjects in the world, for virtually all of us; still somehow we each refer to something different when we make these particular sounds. All the most important aspects of the human experience are highly personal to each of us, and none of us really gets what anyone but us means when we start talking about these concepts.
Lots of people are sad, for reasons that belong uniquely to them. We have no way to know if sad feels the same way for me as it does for you, but we can definitely see that different people have widely varied reactions to experiencing sadness. Some of us think that sad comes and goes, with a natural ebb and flow all its own; others see it as a constant presence, lurking at the corners of every moment or defining every experience in some way. The first kind of person can’t understand the second, and the second will never really get the first; but they both use the same word to describe aspects of their lives that are really not very similar at all.
So, let’s talk about love. Poems and songs keep getting written, but no one has really ever done a great job of defining it; even if they have, that definition is uniquely their own. We can assume happiness and love go hand in hand, in most cases; but both ideas present a real challenge when it comes to capturing them in a net of words. Different kinds of love exist, of course; as do different versions of happiness. Some would even say you can’t find love until you discover your own happiness, while others would say you can’t get to a place of happiness without love.
The problem is, we have no way of measuring or quantifying feelings. Plenty of miserable people will say they’re perfectly happy, even if it does’t show on the outside; and lots of folks who act happy are just putting on a show. Even if we could all be completely honest about our feelings, the only experiences we have to gauge them by are internal and very personal to each of us. We can talk about sharing our feelings, but that’s really just a figure of speech.
No bridge has ever been built between your inner emotional state and mine. We each have our own wiring, and we truly have no way of knowing whether life inside anyone else’s body bears any similarity at all to our own. Maybe those inner circuits are all set up exactly the same, in each of us; but they’re probably not. Assuming they are, the pathways that current takes in each of us is noticeably different even from the outside. You can’t tell me any two people in human history have had the exact same emotional life, and I honestly can’t tell you they haven’t. We have no way of knowing, unless some technology comes along that enables us to transfer our feelings to each other.
Not to keep hitting the same note, but even then we won’t know if those feelings are transferring completely or accurately. The only way we can judge them is by our own experience. Maybe it will feel different than anything we ever felt, when we use that device or app; but we will never know if it is actually allowing you to fully immerse yourself in everything I can feel.
According to psychologists and philosophers alike, the vast majority of humanity never gets the opportunity to experience the full possible range of fulfillment. Most people are stuck at the first few levels, according to them; and certain inner and outer freedoms lie beyond reach throughout more lifetimes than not. Entire worlds of emotion may exist beyond those ordinary boundaries, and we haven’t even come up with a satisfactory way to understand each other’s feelings at the basic levels most of us are living at.
Maybe that’s why so few people reach a place in their lives where they would be considered self-realized, or maybe even self-actualized. The concepts needed to get from one place to the other may be in place, and well examined; but it’s hard to draw a map for your feelings to follow, and what what we feel may be more of what we are than we think.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,