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As she addressed the San Francisco assembly, her quiet speaking captivated the room, as it has so many heads of state.


Physical from Conceptual RealityAmong all the complexities that keep us from being present to things the way they are, one of the most potent is the confusion between physical reality and abstractions—creations of the mind and tongue.Language is replete with a variety of things that have no existence in time and space but seem as real to us as anything we own—justice, for instance, or aesthetics, or zero. Using these concepts, we can accomplish what we could not otherwise.They are tools that allow us to count, to learn from others, to establish guidelines for behavior.They permit us to traffic with the future and the past.It is important to keep in mind, however, that these things refer only indirectly to phenomena in the world.What they point to is not made up of matter.These abstractions are purely inventions of language.The nature of abstractions is that they have a lasting existence exempt from the contingencies of time and place.An abstraction, such as destiny, that is thought up in a moment of resistance to passing conditions has the power to narrow down our lives.Two stormy Florida vacations can easily be turned into a permanent cloud of bad karma that follows one whenever fun is in the offing, putting a damper on the brightest day.So this part of the practice of being with the way things are is to separate our conclusions about events from our description of the events themselves, until possibility opens up.Stress in their household had risen to such a level that the normally reticent young man had actually suggested therapy for himself and his parents.The father had then obtained the referral from his medical doctor.Both parents turned toward their son and waited.The boy said nothing.Now, this is such a common way of speaking that its inventive power can easily pass us by unnoticed.The father spoke about a barrier to communication that he said the boy had created, but of course it only appeared when the father called it up.By the alchemy of language, the four people in the room were instantly transfigured into four people and a wall.The more the father described it, the more the wall increased in density, and the more invisible the boy grew behind it.Taking the boy’s silence as further evidence of the barrier, the father seemed unaware that he hadn’t made any request of his son or addressed him at all.Are you willing to pretend that there is a wall between us? the father asks, and, if the boy agrees, they dismantle the wall in play, where it belongs.Perhaps the young man suggests another metaphor, that he feels invisible to his parents.Imagine that the father begins a conversation with, Son, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me, or Son, what about this whole situation makes you the most angry? or Son, I’m about to tell you something I’ve never told anyone before. The boy looks up at his father, and they have taken their first steps on a journey of possibility.Abstractions that we unwittingly treat as physical reality tend to block us from seeing the way things are, and therefore reduce our power to accomplish what we say we want.When we are our calculating selves, we struggle onward and upward like contestants in an obstacle course, riveting our attention on the barriers we see in our way.Strengthening the concept of obstacles with metaphors, we talk about walls and roadblocks, their height and prevalence, and what it will take to overcome them.This is downward spiral talk, and it is part and parcel of the effort to climb the ladder and arrive at the top.The catchphrase downward spiral talk stands for a resigned way of speaking that excludes possibility.The little old ladies who support classical music are all dying out, the conversation goes in downward spiral mode.Every industry or profession has its own version of downward spiral talk, as does every relationship.Focusing on the abstraction of scarcity, downward spiral talk creates an unassailable story about

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