Lost in Translation: The Spirit of the Misunderstood

As mentioned in a lot of my social media posts – the spiritual journey is wrought with paradox, misunderstanding and in a lot of ways straight up delusion. It’s often quite hard to speak frankly about spiritual terms without falling into the whirlpool of conditioning that holds us to the idea of what we believe ‘spirituality’ to be.

Finding truth amongst this fog is made even harder when, through centuries of societal interpretation, many phrases, words and practices have all seemingly been chopped, changed and in many cases so grossly misrepresented. We lost the true meaning of words to the context in which they are presented, and cannot help but to unconsciously inject our own meaning into these utterances. I have never seen such a more explicit misunderstanding and representation of this than in the Christian tradition.

I am well aware of the paradoxical nature of this newsletter, so in attempt to underpin its essence, I reference the following zen adage: One should never mistake the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself.

Sin is perhaps one of the more misunderstood terms in the modern spiritual lexicon.


Word Play.

As mentioned, Christianity is perhaps the best example of a spiritual tradition in which the true meaning of its terms and practices have been lost and so grossly misrepresented. Words that once portrayed profound beauty and insight and guidance into spiritual progression are now seen almost as punishments and practices that do nothing more than leave a bitter mouth in the taste of all who utter them. Let’s take a look at some of the more misunderstood terms in the tradition. Prayer – I find that although we still somewhat resemble the true meaning of the word prayer today (as a sort of line of communication between ourselves and God), the misrepresentation of prayer lies in its utility. Christian traditions of centering prayer or even or even the Orthodox the Orthodox hesychasm practice closely resemble deep forms of meditation practices – in the case of centering prayer, transcendental meditation is recalled, where Hesychasm closely resembles many heart focused meditation. True prayer occurs in the places where we may encounter the presence of ‘God’. In that deep space where our ego sense of self is subsided or at least greatly demoted to the background, true communion occurs as we merge with what is in silence. This is true prayer. Sin – literally means to miss the mark. This is perhaps the most misunderstood term in the entire spiritual lexicon (in my humble opinion). If we think about it for a second or two – what comes to mind when we hear the word sin? Often I find the answer lies somewhere between making God or the church or some authoritative figure unhappy by performing an act or saying a word that is heavily frowned upon – or that will put us straight into hell. How far we have actually missed the mark on the true meaning of this word. We are not all naughty boys and girls for sinning against the creator. To miss the mark is to misunderstand, to come from a wrong frame of heart or mind. We need to go inside, re-calibrate and aim again. This leads nicely onto the next word – repentance. Repentance – coming from the Greek metanoia which you can read about here; the true meaning of repentance means to go inward and have a true change of mind or heart. It is to take the backward step, turn around and transform ourselves from a deep place of contemplation and being. Again, if I were to ask us to think about what comes to mind when I say the word repent, I always hear answers along the lines of throwing ourselves to the floor, violently prostrating before our God and begging for forgiveness for having said a swear word or thinking of a naked woman. Religion – from the latin religare - meaning to bind or relink. Much like the Sanskrit yoga meaning union, religion is the practice by which we relink or marry our union between our humanity and divinity. This is the true meaning of the word, and though not practiced this way today, shines a light just how far we have come from meaning and truth.


Words at best act as symbols for that which they attempt to represent.


I will leave this newsletter with a reminder not to get caught up in the words themselves, to rather realsie them for what they are: glorified symbols of the indescribable. A notion that is best put by a quote from the incredible film Waking Life:

“...words are inert. They're just symbols. They're dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It's unspeakable."

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