Subject to interpretation

I am rarely at a loss for words.  They come easily to me, probably too easily.  But last week, I experienced something curious while writing my daily stream of consciousness in my journal.  I couldn’t find words to write.  At first, I thought I had writer’s block.  Then, I realized that my stream of consciousness was flowing just fine—but in images, not words.  I was thinking in color, pictures, emotion, and whole blocks of thought, none of which could I adequately express with words. 


How often have I ever had a thought or feeling that I didn’t attempt to interpret?  To say “rarely” would understate my habit of trying to make sense of absolutely everything:  my feelings; other people’s feelings; every nuance of every relationship; everything I see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think.  And the moment I begin to interpret, I back myself into a corner of some very black and white thinking.  Everything becomes good or bad, warm or cold, happy or sad, up or down.  My rich, complex, miraculous thinking is reduced to binary code, a boring dance zeros and ones.


By the time we talk about what we see, hear, taste, think, or feel, our clever brains have already translated the experience over and over.  Imagine eating your favorite dessert.  Imagine your taste buds registering the sweet, intense flavor.  Imagine savoring every delicious bite.  Imagine the satisfaction and pleasure you experience while eating it.  Now describe this experience.  After dozens of complex sensory and emotional interpretations, our analytic brains mundanely translate the entire experience as, “That was [really] good.” 


Like a game of telephone, as the interpretations and translations progress, we have an ever-increasing chance of incorrectly relaying the message.  At best, we have only a partial picture.  And this is only dessert.  Imagine what we lose in translation when we try to explain and interpret joy, excitement, sorrow, grief, frustration, gratitude, or love—or the events that can encompass them all. 


The very things that we can’t program computers to interpret are the very things that defy our own analytic explanations.  How can we feel both joy and grief at the same time?  How can we be excited and scared by the same thing?  The answer of course is that we simply can. 


My loss for words last week showed me the tremendous value in choosing not to interpret everything I feel, think, and experience. For me, this breakthrough gives new flavor to living in the present, which I can easily lose in translation.  Having said that, I acknowledge the irony of attempting to put this bit of insight into words.  But I now recognize that why I’m feeling the way I do isn’t as important as that I’m feeling, growing, and fully living.  

6 thoughts on “Subject to interpretation”

  1. Some time ago, when I was attempting to see if I could write, I stumbled upon this very same realization. It has stuck with me ever since, that what I end up doing in my art is most often a translation of a translation from my senses to the artistic medium. Sometimes I work hard at trying to reduce the distortion as much as I can manage and sometimes I am content with however the piece turns out. But since that moment of initial realization neither I nor my work has been the same.

  2. Very interesting blog Carolyn. It struck a chord in me because I have to work w/o words when I paint. It also sounds like a peek at a different way of being and I remembered reading a description of a breakthrough from Eckhart Tolle:. “…. everything was alive and new and fresh as if I had never seen it before. And I walked around and picked up things and looked at them. I was amazed at everything. There was no understanding of it. I was not even trying to understand anything. It was just so beautiful. ”



  3. Thoughtful, zen oriented reflections. I wonder if we can ever just feel or experience without some analysis, interpreting, slanting going on. It might take more “getting into the present” than the western mind and imagination are capable of. It’s worth a try though.

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