How do we describe experiences that are beyond words?

This preliminary post contains some reminders, for myself primarily but for all writers about bipolar disorder, that trying to put into words the experience of mental illness and any wisdom gained by the experience is essentially ineffable. The task before me is by its nature impossible.

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary or fruitful.

1. That which matters most cannot be put into words. 

“My friend Heinrich Zimmer of years ago used to say, ‘The best things can’t be told.’ Because they transcend thought.

The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, you know. And one gets stuck with the thoughts.

The third best are what we talk about, you see. And myth is that field of reference, metaphors referring to what is absolutely transcendent.

– Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — Ep. 2: ‘The Message of the Myth

At the Flower sermon, Buddha’s followers gathered in a small circle to hear him talk. Rather than deliver verbal teachings, however, on this occasion Buddha simply held up a flower and did not speak. Those in attendance were confused by this unusual act, except for the disciple Mahākāśyapa who smiled in acknowledgement of Buddha’s silent transmission of wisdom and instructions to gain enlightenment.

– “Buddha’s Smile.” National Gallery of Victoria.

 

2. It is not about me. And what do I know, anyway?

“Ah! how little knowledge does a man acquire in his life.
He gathers it up like water, but like water it runs between his fingers,
and yet, if his hands be but wet as though with dew,
behold a generation of fools call out, ‘See, he is a wise man!’
Is it not so?”

― H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.”

Ecclesiastes 1

 

3. In 50 years these words will return to dust and shadow.

OK, technically they may live on at archive.org. 

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.for
— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

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