What are we when we lose our ability to speak, my friend Henny asked me in an email a few weeks ago. Henny was spending some time in Japan and found out that he’s Japanese wasn’t enough to have serious conversations, although he has studied it for quit some years.
I congratulated him with his next steps on the path of yoga. He meditates for some years and tried out a few of my yoga classes. Wondering what of who we are, is the next step up, I joked; maybe it’s not about who of what we are, maybe we just have to be. And without communication we just are.
I still love to do a silent retreat of a Vipasana meditation for a whole week. Just being silent, meditate and nothing else. Henny had his wife to speak to when he was in Japan, but nobody else. So he just walked up the mountain behind the house of his mother in law early every morning, greeted the people he meet on his way in Japanese and went on to the top: with his own thoughts, all by himself.
The question he asked him, is the question I’m asking myself now. What are we when we lose our ability to speak. Here I am in Nicaragua – a man who is able to speak three languages – and still I can’t communicate with most people around me. German is not very helpful, certainly Dutch isn’t and English – my faithful travel companion – doesn’t help me this time as well. Almost everybody solely speaks Spanish and that’s a language I still don’t speak.
I’m a writer, I’m a lecturer, a yoga teacher, a man of words, but words don’t help me now. Sure I’m picking up some Spanish, I come by day to day, but suddenly I feel very small, very helpless. I need people who do speak English to translate, I need people who only speak Spanish to say their sentences over and over again, slowly, in different words, so I can pick out the few I do understand and guess what they are talking about.
My ability to communicate in words have been taken away from me. So what’s left of me? Am I as smart as I am or did I become less smart because I can’t communicate? Am I still independent or did I become helpless? Am I still who I am/was or did I become another person, now I’m without speech? What are we actually when we lose our ability to speak?