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Can a Word Change Your Life?

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I met a woman who had a stroke and lost her ability to speak. She had only one word left, and that word was "love." I liked to watch her say it. She would roll that word around in her mouth like a raspberry, eyes lit with pleasure, and say it slowly, as though tasting every letter.

So much loss for her: to lose language, to have her thoughts trapped inside with no way out. And yet, even though she was doing speech therapy to regain what words she could, she seemed strangely satisfied with the word that had not abandoned her, as though she would be fine if this were all she ever got.

As I spent time with her, I came to see that she had earned that word. I could tell by the way she said it -- and by the way she listened. When I spoke to her, she had no reason to plan how she would answer me. I had her full attention, and I could see the comprehension in her intelligent eyes, but no matter what I said, her response was always the same: "Love."

A monogamous relationship with one word -- and she got to have "love."

I couldn't help theorize: Did she get that word because it was the one she had said the most -- because it was the baseline of her communication and of her stance in the world? I suspected this was the case and wondered about myself. If I were to lose all but one word, which one would stay with me?

This question has haunted me for years now -- given me the incentive to watch my thoughts and communications closely, to keep track of what word would best describe the essence of what I just said to myself or another. It helps me stay alert: I don't want to have all words fall away and be left with only "fear."

In the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, each aspect of the fully awakened mind has its meditational deity, and each deity is said to arise from a specific sound. They call this sound the "seed syllable" -- a vibrational seed out of which a particular kind of awakened energy arises and takes form. A similar notion exists in Christianity: "In the beginning was the word. And the word was made flesh."

Words become flesh -- they create something real and tangible in the material world. The habitual words we use serve as seeds for what we embody now and in the future, individually and collectively. We become what we intend, consciously or unconsciously, and language is the vehicle of our intention. Why not use this power by choosing our seed syllable -- choosing the word we want to make flesh?

With this one word, we make the world -- not just for ourselves, but for everyone. Thanks to the woman who married "love," I've become vigilant: What word will I be tethered to when all else drops away?

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