Our experience in life, even in the womb, is one of sensation. All our physical sense channels, collectively referred to as ‘the sensorium,’ make up the body of our experience, which is then represented with language. In other words, we can share our experiences because of representational language, because of words and pictures. It makes sense then, that a lot of our mental health is contained in language because all of our experience of which we have identified, codified, is contained in language.
Sensation is just sensation. It is raw experience. Sensation can be described, with language, in terms of intensity, duration, frequency, temperature, weight, pressure color, hue, shade, sound, rate, rhythm, bitter, sweet, pungent, aromatic. Lots of words available to help codify and represent raw sensational experience. Sensation itself is without words,without description, without meaning, other than what we give to it, with language.
We use language every day all day, both with others, and internally in what is referred to as internal dialogue, or ‘self-talk.’ Self talk is the undercurrent of chatter, using language, to make statements about situations; those statements, valid or erroneous, become the platform then for our sense of personal self, our sense of others, the experience we recognize as our reality. A lot of that reality is ‘shared reality’ in large part because of the same language. Language is a kind of encoding, and decoding, system. We use words, spoken and printed, to convey experience, ideas, concepts, information. We also use visual images to convey the same. Visual symbols carry a lot of power. Even language is composed of visual symbols, the letters, which make up printed, and spoken, words, associated with sounds, and sights, and feelings.
We typically refer to physical gestures we make, which are visual images, both obvious and subtle, as body language or non-verbal behavior. The term non-verbal behavior is non-descriptive. It is like saying the sky is not green. But, what it is it? The sky is blue; non verbal behavior, or gestures, is visual communication. It is sight. Words, images, behaviors are all used in communication. Behaviors, from slumped in a chair with depression to ecstatic acting out in mania, is communication. We communicate with others, and within ourselves, using language, primarily composed of words and pictures. Words and pictures makes up the bulk of our thinking. Thinking is using words and pictures to define and give meaning to our sensory experience.
The sensorium, the collection of different senses, is composed of the 5 channels we are all familiar with: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The content of our sensorium, our raw sensory experience, through these basic 5 channels, is the material we use to build our reality, through codification, with language. One of our more sensational channels in the sensorium is touch, and body feelings, technically referred to as ‘kinaesthetics.’ Our kinaesthetic experiences are preverbal. We feel sensation before we describe it. A child of 1 year feels a lot, and has no auditory or visual representations for it, yet. We codify our kinaesthetic feelings with words, and pictures. In some cases, those feelings are so intense, or so sublime, they cannot adequately be codified by language; they cannot be expressed; they are ineffable, inexpressible.
Mental health is a poorly understood term; but then, so is health, and so is mental. We typically think of health as the absence of disease when in fact it is so much more than that. To say a person has gone mental is to suggest they have lost their mind, when in fact it could mean they have gained insight, understanding or have had a transformational breakthrough, what is sometimes called ‘metanoia,’ which is kind of like a ‘new mind.’ We use the term mind a lot, not really knowing what it does, how it works. Learning a bit about how we use language within ourselves, and with others, can help us understand the relationship between mind and body, mental and physical, because the language we use on ourselves, and with others, does influence state of mind, which does have influence over state of body, just as state of body has influence over state of mind. The language we use on ourselves can generate hormones in the blood, just as seeing somebody bleeding generates self talk.
We use words a lot, perhaps too much; that undercurrent of self-talk chatter is actively interpreting and evaluating and commenting upon sensory experience of sights, sounds, feelings, smells, tastes, situations, contexts. Kinaesthetic sensations, ie,, the sense of touch and body feelings, as one of the sensorium channels, is often overshadowed by sight and sound but may at times be more valid than conclusions arrived at through the more visual and auditory processes. There is a lot of ‘body intelligence’ that communicates through kinaesthetic sensations. How does one talk about kinaesthetic sensations, ie, feelings, in, and on, the body, using language? How do we incorporate kinaesthetics into our self talk, and into our thinking, more consciously? How do we invite feeling into thinking?
Mental health is contained in language; it is about how language organizes the content of the sensorium in a way that is coherent, comprehensive and wholistic, or not so, in which case, dis-ease and dis-comfort would be expected. The sensorium is somewhat like a complex woven tapestry of many threads in many colors with shifting scenes, sights and sounds and smells and tastes, and feeling, like a living garment, woven day by day, hour by hour, by our own thinking and use of language; a web, if you will, in which we are entangled, by thought and language, trying to get out, to understand, to know. In a crazy world in which we drive on parkways and park on driveways, language can have us parking in the street,or driving in the park, just as it can also have us drive well on the highway and park comfortably at home.