What we can’t think about: Language and consciousness are essentially outgrowths from self-reflective anxiety.
Humans have such capacity in action. We have gone from huddling around fires to protect themselves from the big predator cats and canine pack hunters to eradicating, in many areas, creatures that will not yield to domestication. Not even the birds–which come and go like random thoughts–can escape the silver-meshed net of our minds or the dark blanket of our mindlessness. Only the prolific and polymorphic insects and the cunning arachnids have a strong chance of surviving our era.
Equally amazing is our ability to not act externally, to introspect and reflect on ourselves and our condition. We gained this moment of pause through the evolution of empathy: feeling into and imagining what our peers were experiencing in the hunt or in competition for a lover. In that moment of pause (many really, but easily represented by a single moment) so much happens, or at least the seeds of so much are engendered: helplessness, worship, guilt, desperation and fear. To extend this analogy, it’s as though we carry forward from that moment between actions such variegated seeds in a bag made of tightly woven anxieties. We plant these seeds latter, but at each planting we either choose a seed at random, or if we are more mature, we pick with foresight the seed that will grow into the most useful thing in our future, a winter harvest for winter’s need. Each time we want to plant a seed, we have to pry open the cord that seals the anxiety sack we carry around our necks like the ancient mariners talisman. That cord is the ego and ego-consciousness, the opening is our capacity for conscious awareness of our anxieties and fears and aspirations, and of the broader world. [The Sanskrit root underlying Indo-European words like ‘anxiety’ meant ‘to choke’ or ‘to strangle,’ the feeling that something closing in on us and our possibilities, causing us doubt the next breath.] The catch 22 is that if we abandon the bag to escape anxiety, the seminal possibilities it holds are also unavailable to us. We have no life without ego-consciousness. It is both cornucopia and Pandora’s Box. The ego is the vocal cord of anxiety, and finds its voice in the bubbling fountain of possibility itself–language. The headwaters of chosen words and others left behind. The paragraphs, pages deleted and lost. The wrong word, the gesture that mangles the meaning.
So much of human experience and being is ineffable; so much so that to speak at all is to have guilt. This is why the biblical gift of tongues was so much a miracle, not that each man heard the proclamations and praises in their own language, but that those who were themselves sub-merged with the power of the Holy Ghost knew not what they spoke and expressed the full fervent desires of their hearts with assurance that their words were in God’s ear. Their ecstatic expression was a fluent overflowing, a guiltless circumvention of ego consciousness. Recent neuroimagery studies suggest that worship in glossolalia is neither language in the normal sense, nor is it neurologically the same as singing. The frontal lobes are less involved than in communicative language and the parietal lobes that construct our sense of self within the flow of perception are in high gear. Glossolalia is perhaps the opposite of meditation, in which frontal activity predominates and the parietal self becomes a mere whisper in the background. Meditation is facilitated by the repetition of a single word or phrase, and connects one to the One. It is for those who would die to the ego. Glossolalia dismantles the ego-self and reforms it in the context of the cosmic. In the Christian context it is an experience and expression of the self-in-God/God-in-self. Glossolalia is an abundance of semantics, deep-structures, clangs, rhythms and rimes–all heavenly clothes of sensory perception– the resurrected body, the New Self–. Glossolalia, and experiences like it such as ecstatic prophesy, are for those born again to the ego-in-God.
Is this part of the mystery of גַּן עֵדֶן, Gan ʿEdhen and of the reason for our expulsion from the Garden? Was the fruit that Satan bid Eve to eat the idea that the Lord’s words could be taken in a different way? That the Lord and his words were not one? That the Lord is himself divided against himself, meaning, against meaning, because he allowed the existence of a snake that walks on legs–the cunning human intellect? Or was the forbidden fruit the idea that the Lord’s words had only one meaning, the one that Satan (easily parodied by William Blake as Newton’s cold, constricted view of reason) could articulate perfectly? Was our sin giving away the gift of tongues and divine meditation to affirm the body’s guilty reality?
Shame and guilt are implicit in the punishment God gives the newlyweds. They are banished under conditions that will require that they are looking down all the time: Adam, the agriculturist (red clay, the root meaning of his name) must till the field that will either sustain or starve them, and which they will eventually become (human: creature that is buried in the earth, humus ). Eve (still a Paleolithic gatherer of fruit, nuts, roots, and small rodents) must forage in the high grass in trepidation of the Snake writhing to bruise her heel—her ever-present awareness of a painful and malevolent death. So guilt and shame anticipate a punishment. For post-Theists, and those with a loving God, where is the punishment to come from but from within?