Words and their Meanings

Today I was listening to BBC radio, and there was a story on there in which the interviewee was talking about forgiveness. He said “in order for him to forgive – he had to think about what that meant for him.” Isn’t that the truth!

Earlier this week I was listening to NPR and the commentator was discussing the “priorities” of our government. He went on to list about 10 things – all of which were a priority. But, doesn’t the word “priority” imply a pecking order in which one thing is listed at the top?

Finally, on Sunday I was listening to a member of a group I attend discuss the word “detachment” – actually, she was talking about “detaching with love.” It’s an important phrase to know and understand, and one that ultimately leads us back to caring for ourselves instead of always putting others and their needs first. But the word “detaching” was getting to me. It didn’t somehow seem right for the sentiment of what was being discussed.

So often, we use words loosely enough that we, at times, befuddle others and ourselves. We buy into a phrase, or a system, without truly investigating the meaning behind what we’re saying or doing. And as we are all aware, there are numerous meanings for the same exact word. So, what does it mean to you to detach? Or to forgive? Or to prioritize?

For me – “detaching with love” was the most emotionally triggering phrase this week. I know the sentiment behind the phrase is about returning to self. I understand that; but somehow the phrase “detaching with love” isn’t about the self – it’s still about the other person or situation. When you detach – you are detaching from something or someone. There is another entity inherently implied by using the word. So, if detaching with love is about returning to yourself (so that you are able to no longer be as affected by someone or something else, but instead are able to greet that stimuli with love) – then isn’t it better to say something more affirming? Such as “connecting” or “returning” to self, in love? Somehow, for me, it seems to convey a better description of the true meaning of the idea, rather than using a word that has an entirely different meaning altogether.

As for “priority” – by definition, there can only be one priority. Priorities can change, based on circumstances, situations or events; but there is truly only one priority. So, when I heard the interview about the government’s “priorities” – it made me realize that I do the same thing. I have a list of priorities: family, health, work, financial stability, friends, etc. But what is my true priority? Well, today it’s health. Tomorrow it may be family. The rest of the list doesn’t go away. The rest of the list can be prioritized, but they can’t all be priorities. Can they? For me, redefining the meaning of the word, and using it authentically, I actually feel less overwhelmed. I no longer have this huge list, which is comprised of equally important things. I now have a list that is manageable – with one thing at the top, and the rest following. It’s an important realization that really helps me to keep things in perspective. And in using the word properly, I am not diminishing the importance of the other items; rather I am creating the possibility for each item to have its turn on the “front burner,” as needed. This, in turn, frees me up emotionally and physically.

Finally, there’s forgiveness. For me, forgiveness is about me. Years ago, I purchased the very first book that started me on this healing journey: “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” It was recommended to me, and I thought, “I like that title – cool.” When I bought it, I was overwhelmed by it. It was really big and impressive. There was no way I was going to read it cover to cover. Instead, I decided to ask for guidance. When I first opened the book, I asked the Universe to open it to a page that I needed to read. The first time I opened the book I read about forgiveness. And on that eye-opening day, I learned that forgiveness was not about condoning the other person, or their behavior, but about closing a chapter on something in order to allow myself to heal and move forward with grace and love, for myself. Forgiveness was about me. I had never thought of that before, but when I contemplated it, it made perfect sense. Holding a grudge (or fear/resentment) only serves to keep ME down. It does nothing to the other person. If it does, it’s because they are choosing to allow it to do so – which, again, has nothing to do with me. So, when I forgive someone, I am giving myself the opportunity to move on and reconnect with myself from a loving position. What an amazing way to look at something.

Now, back to the BBC interviewee: For him, he defined “forgiveness” as telling someone his or her behavior was “ok,” even if it wasn’t. He felt that by forgiving, he was condoning something unacceptable. Therefore, he was not able to forgive what was done to him. However, he has managed to find compassion for the person, instead. This is his definition of forgiveness. In working through his feelings, however, his compassion has taken on the role of forgiveness for the person, without actually using the word. What he can’t forgive is the behavior or action. Separating the two aspects has allowed this man to move forward with his life, with grace, love and integrity.

There are myriad ways to look at each of these three words and their daily use. How do you use them? Do you, too, have a long list of “priorities” that makes you feel overwhelmed, at times? What if you had one priority, and you listed everything else in order? Would you feel better? More focused? What about forgiveness? Are you holding onto a grudge? If so, what is that doing for you? What if you were able to let it go? Could you separate out the behavior and the person? Would that help? Or can you see it from the perspective that forgiveness is about you giving yourself an opportunity to move forward? And have you thought about detaching from someone or something that isn’t healthy for you? If it’s difficult, or the idea of it provokes anxiety, what about reconnecting with yourself, instead? How does that sound? Sometimes, by reconnecting, detachment occurs as a side effect. What about that?

All these questions are ideas and thoughts that help us move forward in our lives, by examining a place in which we might be stuck. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of them. Just thoughts, ideas and feelings, all of which are valid.

THree THings

For now, think about your words – what you’re saying, and what you mean. What changes could you make? What changes would you make?

Body – our bodies react to other people’s words. Remember the children’s rhyme: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Well, as adults (and even as kids) we know it’s simply not true. Words can hurt, and they do hurt. So, what words have hurt you lately? Could you approach the person who said them and ask them to re-phrase or re-think?

Mind – the endless chatter in our minds can be debilitating. Buddhism terms it the “monkey mind” for a reason. When there is no space for quiet, there is no space for serenity. If words (phrases/thoughts) are flying through your mind regularly, how can you acknowledge them, without giving them weight? Freeing up some space in your mind allows for possibilities to emerge.

Spirit – just as in our body and mind, our spirit can also be affected by words. Think of the book, “The Hidden Messages in Water” by Masaru Emoto. If words can transform the crystallization of water – what can words do to our essence, our spirit? What do you tell yourself as you fall asleep? As you wake up?

“Be impeccable with your word,” is one of The Four Agreements (written by Don Miguel Ruiz). Be impeccable, indeed. Treat yourself with kindness, love and gratitude. Your body, mind and spirit will appreciate it.


  • Anonymous
    August 4th, 2009 · Reply

    I often find my ind abuzz with words, but equally often with snippets of songs that won’t go away and repeat over and over and over. It usually happens when I’m stressed or worried. I find your advice on focusing on those words to be sound, but what about songs or music?

  • Martina E.F. Horwitz
    August 4th, 2009 · Reply

    Hello Anonymous, Thank you for your thoughts. I, too, have music running through my mind like a personal soundtrack (reminds me of Ally McBeal) – and some days it’s distracting, and other days it’s soothing. I think music plays a different role, though. In fact, our brains process music totally differently than speech. For instance, a stroke survivor may be able to sing perfectly, but not be able to speak. For me, having a personal soundtrack can be enlightening. Other than replaying a little ditty I may have recently heard – it also shows me what I am subconsciously responding to, or hearing; and that, in turn, can give me a window into my emotions, and perhaps something I am experiencing, but not necessarily aware of or admitting to. Example: if for no reason, I am singing “I’m a Survivor” by Destiny’s Child – I may infer that my inner wisdom is urging a ‘call to action’ on my part. Or if I’m singing “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day – I might suggest that my intuition is telling me to chill out about something. Regardless, I think it’s about perspective. If you think the songs and music are annoying and distracting-something to be overcome, then they will be. If, instead, you can see something else in them – imagine what’s possible. I, personally, think they’re a mixture of both. In the end, it’s your choice. Hope that helps. In love and light, Martina

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