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I read Emmanuel Levinas today. He suggested we experience phenomena in sensual immediacy. There is no recapturing the full essence in words. Humans are blessed with words which transform what we experience into something less or something other than its essence.

I attended a meeting the other night and another person commented when we name something it creates a permanency and assumes characteristics according to categories. In a way, the experience become inert.

Dana Gioia points out words’ shortcomings. This is not positive or negative, but is about awareness. When entering into each moment, it is important to fully experience that very moment which is indescribable. The world is filled with wonder and is thus wonderful. We recall that nature, living and non-living, needs no verbal praise. Our relationships and living in the world we co-inhabit are praise the praise. We need not summon airy words, but can sink into the living world’s sensuality. Sabbath provides opportunities for silence, deeper exploring, and the praise we offer without words.

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other—
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper—
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always—
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.


About ivonprefontaine

In keeping with bell hooks and Noam Chomsky, I consider myself a public and dissident intellectual. Part of my work is to move beyond (transcend) institutional dogmas that bind me to defend freedom, raising my voice to be heard on behalf of those who seek equity and justice in all their forms. I completed my PhD in Philosophy of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA. My dissertation and research was how teachers experience becoming teachers and their role as leaders. I focus on leading, communicating, and innovating in organizations. This includes mindfuful servant-leadership, World Cafe events, Appreciative Inquiry, and expressing one's self through creativity. I offer retreats, workshops, and presentations that can be tailored to your organzations specific needs. I published peer reviewed articles about schools as learning organizations, currere as an ethical pursuit, and hope as an essential element of adult eductaion. I published three poems and am currently preparing my poetry to publish as an anthology of poetry. I present on mindful leadership, servant leadership, schools as learning organizations, how teachers experience becoming teachers, assessement, and critical thinking. I facilitate mindfulness, hospitality retreats. and World Cafe Events using Appreciative Inquiry. I am writing and researching about various forms of leadership, how teachers inform and form their identity as a particular teacher, schools as learning organizations, hope and its anticipatory relationship with the future, and hope as an essential element in learning.

30 responses »

  1. ….the merely labeled world

  2. In the Stillness of Willow Hill

    We are SO on the same page today. I’ve touched back on Silence of the Mind by Ilie Ciora this week because of an awareness I gained while watching the leaves flutter beautifully at the tops of my white birch trees. I noted that just a fraction of a moment after Awe and Wonder hit my soul…..I then start putting words to it. Silent words, yes…but still…they are words. And so I wondered how to more frequently stop myself in that spark of a moment before the thought hits my brain space. Here’s a quote that’s going in my next post…

    “Can thinking be silent, such as a flower, completely open, letting the beneficial rays of the Sun envelop her and still, when some form of communication is needed, to respond in a natural way with a wholeness of being?

    Ciora totally gets it!

  3. I think the world does need words because “Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot name them”

  4. Loved this Ivon, thanks.

  5. I will return to this post often Ivon, thank you.

  6. What the heart perceives, no words can express.
    I love this Ivon. Thank you for capturing the illusive!Or should that be illusion …

  7. Wow, amazing,

    Let me add my two cents. Words, are located in the cognitive hemisphere or left side of the mind/brain.

    The right hemisphere, where we head when we meditate, focus on the breath has no words, dialogue, right or wrong, good or bad or any judgment.

    Nature seems to come closest to experiencing phenomena without words.
    It is like wonderment, when a child sees something for the first time, there is a moment where the cognitive side is silent, not knowing where to file or categorize what it sees, it is those a sense or feeling of awe has taken over for a second.

    Suzusuki calls it beginners mind.

    • Beginner and Zen mind are great places to be taking us away from our expert mind where we typically view the world in a predetermined, linear way.

      Thank you for a wonderful (wonder filled) comment Marty.

  8. When we see nature with our eyes we are experiencing it as it truly is. When experienced by words of explanation without our eyes we visualize it without truly seeing it. The words used to describe anything are viewed by the reader based on past recalled visualizations and not always just the meaning of the words written. This is why I believe it is so important to choose our words wisely which I don’t always do. Humans so often interprete what they read or hear based on what our mind perceives was stated even if what was perceived was not what was meant. Only with open eyes, ears and mind can we totally give the words a chance.

    Another Great post! Thanks!

  9. Love the poem. Never quite thought about it this way, but it’s perfect.

  10. hmm–it seems to me the penultimate stanza contradicts the theme…?

    thoughts: the theme itself is contradictory because both are true. To observe without naming (categorizing) is a more aware observation (it takes the frame of speech–the camera snap–out of perception) while categorizing facilitates memorization/specifics and differentiation

    ….what a lot to think about–I think my brain hurts a little right now….

    • It is the paradox of words. If we leave them unspoken, we cannot communicate. Naming means we can share what is real in life. Yet, naming begins a process of putting boundaries on phenomena in ways that limit entry. You are right. This does make the brain hurt.

  11. A beautiful and very heartfelt poem!

  12. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

    This makes perfect sense to me. Lovely post.

  13. Thanks for visiting my blog. Enjoyed yours very much. Dana Gioia’s poem was new to me. So lovely. So true. I’ll be back. Judy

  14. Of course the secret lies not only in naming them but how we name them–with what attention and originality. Someone once told me I had taught them to look at things more closely—to appreciate the details they were prone to overlook. Perhaps this is part of the power of words.

    • I think we need the help of others to see what we are prone to overlook. It is not always easy work and causes pain, but working with someone else makes what is to be seen more visible.


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