What is Unspeakable?
I pondered a question recently that invited me to identify a word or two that shows up a lot in my writing and do a riff on that word. The first word to emerge was "unspeakable," which many assume conjures up something dark and dire and frightening. I must admit that I have fallen back on this adjective when I simply can't figure out how to frame or describe something, but that something isn't always horrifying and sad. It can be something ineffably beautiful and good. Looking at the dark side for a moment, I'd have to say that unspeakable includes genocide and ravaging in many countries of Africa, the rampant dishonesty of this country's politicians who are driven by greed and ignorance, the dysfunction and cruelty of our President, the long standing pattern of patriarchal abuse of women, the ravaging of our landscape by hurricanes and terrifying fires, the propensity of law enforcement to kill black people, the plight of Syrian and Rohingya refugees, child pornography and sex trafficking, abuse of those incarcerated in our overcrowded jails, mass shootings that are becoming more and more frequent .... I think I'll stop there. One of the reasons I get a headache and feel my hair is about to catch fire these days is that I watch too much news, I consume too much information that is laced with cruelty and horror, and I forget to veer toward balance and peace. It's easy, isn't it, because this culture is drenched in media output? Everywhere we turn, there is some new horror story to listen to. When Northern California was being swept by wildfires recently I remember feeling that I too was burning up, and I couldn't even find the right words to speak about my suffering. All I knew was that it was suffering.
And then I was saved by the meditation cushion and the wisdom of the Buddha. I remembered these lyrical words used in one of his teachings: "The Ten Thousand Joys and Ten Thousand Sorrows." There is beauty and sweetness and love in this life that is also unspeakable. I am thinking of the face of a young deer wandering the retreat grounds whose coal black eyes gazed out at the world with trust, the sound of a roomful of people chanting in harmony the lovingkindness sutta and filling the hall with warmth and peace, the hug of a grandson or a daughter, the exquisite blurry form of the hummingbird coming to find nectar right outside my window, the sound of a Bach variation on my piano that conjures the composer's giant loving heart and his trust in God, a painting by Matisse that dances wildly with color and his heartfelt dedication to making beauty, San Francisco's blue bay shimmering in early morning light as the beloved Golden Gate bridge stands proud, all the supposedly average citizens who open their hearts and homes to those who had to flee disaster and destruction, the thousands of dedicated souls who put their lives in danger for Doctors without Borders in terrifying situations around the world, all the journalists who are daring enough to always tell the truth no matter what the consequences, and the teachers in this world who give their hearts and minds to young students so that they may experience the joys of an open mind ... There is certainly a lot more. So, my prescription for myself and others like me who are trying to navigate in the realm of dark unspeakable things is to invite in all the acts of indescribable beauty and kindness and allow them a seat at our table.
Rumi's remarkable poem The Guest House offers this : "This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival...............Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight." Talk about unspeakable -- this poem really captures it all!
The dark and dishonorable will be showing up in this life without fail along with the stunning, peaceful, and the loving. We must continue to speak out our truth from deep inside ourselves, no matter how "unspeakable" and impossible things feel. Grope around and find our words and offer them up. They will show others who we are and what we value. And hopefully this stream of words will continue to connect us and help us reject the fear and have faith in the human spirit which carries innate kindness, goodness, love.