Words have magical powers over our imagination. Words give us the power to communicate our experience to other human beings. Words are the tools we use to share our imagination. Words are symbols we use to create meaning in our imagination, inside our minds. The old Hebrews assigned tremendous power not only to words, they assigned magical powers to letters as well. The letters we use to “spell” words become magic when we combine the right way. For Example, “We yearn for freedom from the smoking habit,” awakens all kinds of strong emotions that motivate us to take action to achieve freedom from the habit. We can literally feel the words as we think and speak them. Words are so powerful that the words we think have the power to shape our reality. Words are as close to magic as we can get. By “spelling” words we can lift ourselves up or put ourselves down. The old Hindu sages knew the power of mantras, the words we repeat fill up our subconscious with the message we want, or oftentimes the message we don’t want to. Words shape the reality of the monkey, the monkey understands words only literally. The monkey cannot understand symbolic meaning. There is no difference between the word snake and an actual living snake for the monkey. The monkey cannot read between the lines, because reading between the lines requires imagination. The monkey has no imagination, it only has the present and the memory of the past, only humans have imagination. Only the human can rise above the symbols and create meaning.
“I should quit smoking”. The word “should” is hard to explain, even for the oxford dictionary which states, “Should is used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions”. We use the word “should” to criticize ourselves based on what we imagine to be correctness. The word “should” implies an obligation to feel shame, or guilt, or both. It also cancels out any word that comes after it as we can see in this example, “I should quit smoking” which becomes “I obligation smoking” or “I’m obliged to smoke”. The word should removes the next word “quit” and replaces it with the obligation to feel guilt, or shame, or both. So, although the sentence is grammatically correct, the meaning we construct in our imagination is paradoxical, “I guilt trip myself about my smoking habit”. We aim to quit smoking and our thoughts only manage to generate painful emotions and anchor them to the cigarette. Building on our previous experience with the word should we can move to the next symbolic level of meaning: “I should not smoke,” which becomes “I shame and guilt myself and then smoke”. “I should exercise more,” turns into “I guilt myself using my lack of exercise. Where did I put the lighter?” We can replace the word “should” with the word “must” or even worse the phrase “have to” and get similar results. Those words trigger shame and we do the action we wanted to stop to alleviate the shame we just generated. This sounds a lot like monkey business. Do we as adults really need to be shamed into doing the right thing? Is that what God intended for us? To shame ourselves into behaving correctly? Can’t we just behave ourselves without the threat of negative consequences? Do we brush our teeth to avoid cavities and pain, or do we brush our teeth to have healthy, strong teeth?
“I must” is even more ambiguous than “I should” and is basically “I should” with emphasis on obligation, the emphasis might as well be on generating guilt, or shame, or both. The phrase “have to” has a deep meaning that escapes the mind at first glance, it actually means “I have no choice.” This is not a dictionary based definition, it’s a symbolic definition. Having no choice is unbearable for human beings. When faced with no choice, we fight with our own thoughts. “I have to brush my teeth” turns into a prolonged mental battle followed by, “Oops, I forgot to brush my teeth, but I made choice. A choice I didn’t want to make.”
We need to cleanse our thoughts of those words and rid our minds of ambiguity. “I should”, “I must” and “I have to,” need to become “I need,” “I want to” and “I will”. “I will brush my teeth”, “I need to eat”, “and I want to be free from the smoking habit”, or even better “I want to be free”. When we meditate on those words, “must, should, have to” we find that we really don’t “have to” do anything. We “must” not anything, and we most definitely “should” not anything. We are just trying to guilt and shame ourselves for behaviors we deem to be incorrect. We are shaming ourselves into behaving, like we might shame an Afghan dog for peeing on a Persian rug. What if smoking is not shameful? We no longer need to feel shame and guilt about smoking. We shame ourselves for not complying with our own internalized standards of correctness. We consider smoking to be incorrect and so we judge, shame and mentally punish ourselves and then we smoke to ease the pain we just generated for ourselves. The addiction cycle is complete. We live life where we are the villains of our own movie. We haven’t decided this, it just turned out that way. The monkey is in control. Do we really “have to” brush our teeth so we don’t get toothache? “Should” we brush our teeth to avoid going to the dentist? “Must” we brush our teeth if want to be able to chew without pain? Or, do we want to have healthy teeth and therefore choose to willingly brush our teeth?