Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Conjunctive Mood

Recently my son was having trouble with his laptop; it was processing slower than he wanted it to, so I showed him how to defragment the hard drive.  While looking at the defrag screen together, he was confused, and asked how it works.  I said I wasn't entirely sure, but that it's a way of moving files together so there's no wasted space.

The analogy I used was that of a bookshelf, on which the books are disorganized and randomly placed, some standing, some in piles, with unused space in-between.  Defragmenting is like taking all the books and standing them up together to create more usable space.  It's a way of organizing.

I've been reading Eckhart Tolle's miraculous book, The Power of Now, and later that day I came across a passage that made me go deeper into the defragmentation analogy.  He says that the inability to feel connected to Being (a word he uses in place of "God") causes you to "perceive yourself consciously or unconsciously as an isolated fragment."  And I thought, when we feel this way we are like a book askew and alone on the shelf, unread, undusted, just taking up space.

Or we are like an instrument in the orchestra when the musicians are tuning up and there's no harmony.  Each instrument makes a sound with no connection to any other, and the result is discord, cacophony.

I have not been blogging much lately, partly because my outer life has become quite busy of necessity, but even more so because my inner life has been shifting radically.  I have been undergoing a defragmentation process.  The orchestra has stopped tuning up and the first few notes of coherence and harmony have begun.

This is happening because of some recent life events that have urged me to move away from the negative thought processes that have kept me fragmented.  Some of these events have been by choice, such as giving up bitching for Lent, and some of them have come from the "outside."  In conjunction with these events is the reading I've been doing of Tolle and of Byron Katie's book Loving What Is.  At this point, I must heartily thank Jennifer for directing me to Tolle and Dan for directing me to Byron Katie.  The fact that I was turned on to these amazing resources at the same time blows my mind.  Literally.  Because the purpose of these books is in fact completely aligned, and that purpose is undoing the egoic mind, bringing the Self into awareness and acceptance of reality in the moment.  Embodied in this is the realization that the mind is an instrument, yet only one in the whole orchestra.  It has its uses, but when it's allowed to run the show, the result is discord.

Within a few days of applying the principles of these books, I was experiencing and responding to life significantly differently.  (I will post more about this soon.)

Around the same time, I also drew a card from The Kabbalah Deck, and pulled the Hebrew letter Vov (or Vav), which means "and."

Edward Hoffman, the creator of The Kabbalah Deck, says that Vov "reveals that things seemingly separate and even contradictory...can be seen to comprise a higher unity.  With the right attentiveness, we can perceive the nature of that unity and thereby resolve conflicts."  This sounds uncannily related to the practice of Negative Capability (see my About Me section for the definition of this term.)  This quote shows why Negative Capability is important, and not as abstract and esoteric as it seems.  It's a practical process resulting in defragmentation.

And.  Such a little but powerful word.  The supreme conjunction.  And is the solution to fragmentation.  It is the empty space, the gap, the silence and stillness between things.  It's a powerful and always accessible koan. It's the reason I make collage, the very nature of it.  It joins all things.

Black and white.
Fire and water.
Male and female.
Inspiration and expiration.
Inner and outer.
Yes and no.
Past and future.

To meditate on the and is to truly apprehend the things it joins, but also to become less attached to them.  To see that higher unity, which cannot be understood by the egoic mind because its mantra is "or."

Interestingly, Vov is also associated with the ability to reverse past and future tenses in Biblical Hebrew.  According to, "the power of teshuvah  [repentance or returning to God] to completely convert one's past to good, is the power of the vav to invert the past to the future.

I see a connection here to English grammar's conjunctive mood (more commonly called the subjunctive mood).  This is a way of joining past, present, and future tenses, but can be done for different purposes and with different effects.

It can emphasize the present as the place where past and future meet, or in the case of expressing a wish, for example, it does almost the opposite.  It reaches to the past and the future with no real recognition of the present.  This is very fitting, since wishing by its very nature reaches to the future with no regard for the present.

But the conjunctive mood is also used for blessing, a way of coming fully into the present and allowing it to extend into the future.  For example, the conjunctive mood phrase, "Peace be with you" is for right now, but also a continuation into the future.  Same thing with "God bless you."  It's subtle, because the emphasis is on the present, as it should be.  The hint of future enters with the implied word: "May."  (May) peace be with you, (May) God bless you.  If the word was included, the emphasis would be on the future, but because it is not, the present-tense form of the verb is in the spotlight.

Interestingly, this type of construction is falling out of usage, and (according to Wikipedia) especially in the UK, for some reason.  In fact, there its usage is actually being fought.  What does this change reflect, I wonder?   

I like this construction; I like contemplating that even the ways we use language reflect our spiritual condition.  It is another vehicle for practicing Negative Capability, specifically with the paradoxical and mysterious nature of time.  I find myself living in a conjunctive mood these days.  And my favorite koan-ish conjunctive mood phrase, appropriate to end this contemplation with is:

So be it.


  1. Blessed be!

    Wonderful post, and thank you for the tip of the hat.

  2. I love how you've tied all these experiences together..another way "and" has such power in our lives. On grammar and writing as a way of understanding: to me, that is probably the profound way I come to exploring and understanding ideas. Language is far more than a way to communicate with each other; it is a way to communicate with ourselves.

    I also really loved the piece about understanding that the mind cannot solely run the show. Perhaps in the same way that we cannot be only in the past, or the present or the future. To live fully, we must embrace all three.

  3. Great post....I've been "away" from blogland for only a week or so and in some ways was missing it and in other ways truly enjoying catching up (w/o feeling the necessity to read every word of every blogsite I love)with my favorites. Glad you're reading some great positive stuff and feeling good about it and yourself. I'm noticing lots of "ands" in this reply:) So be it! xo

  4. "Embodied in this is the realization that the mind is an instrument, yet only one in the whole orchestra. It has its uses, but when it's allowed to run the show, the result is discord."

    Personally, I feel that growing in an understanding as "the mind as my tool, not the boss of me" is the greatest lesson and attribute to my writing life. This statement you made is beautifully constructed and amazing truth. So immediate in its liberation!

    "reveals that things seemingly separate and even contradictory...can be seen to comprise a higher unity. With the right attentiveness, we can perceive the nature of that unity and thereby resolve conflicts."

    Wow, RESOLVE CONFLICTS - Amazing concept - that each of us with attentiveness are brought together for unity & peace...WOW.

    "I like contemplating that even the ways we use language reflect our spiritual condition."

    Indicators of where we are, but not our ALL or essence - Isn't this amazing? This is one of my most favorite statements in this contemplation.

    Thank you!

    I feel infused with exhilarated energy!

  5. Someone was just telling me about Tolle last week. I have an interesting use of the word "and" in my life. When I first got into AA, I would complain and cry and want everyone to feel sorry for me. One of the best tools someone ever used was this.

    ME: Everyone around here hates me!
    Them: And?
    ME: What? It's true. No one likes me and I'm never coming back.
    Them: And?
    ME: Why aren't you listening to me? This is serious stuff. I could go back out and get drunk.
    Them: And?

    See how it works? Infuriating. But gets you down to brass tacks. What all the fuss is about. Which has everything to do with me and my attitudes. It's a great tool.

  6. I love the way you've put all these components together, and are holding them there so lightly. I realise now why I've always been fascinated by the defrag process on my computer - great analogy.
    And wonderful the way these comments have taken it further, including Kate's story about this use of "and".
    Great thoughts here.

  7. "I like contemplating that even the ways we use language reflect our spiritual condition."

    Me too! Me too! Which is one of the reasons I like being around here and reading your stuff. I'm glad you wound up being a teacher; you're uniquely suited to the prospect, being such an investigative grammarian as you are.

    What does the failing use of the conjunctive mood signify? Gosh, I don't know. That we're falling out love with past and present and focus only on the future? Nah. Then we'd be saying things like "Peace be with you" and Let it be so" and "May God help us" more often. (Well, maybe we still are saying the latter one anyway.) I hope it doesn't go out of style. It's a wonderful sentiment. Even just those three little words "So be it." There's a world and wealth of feeling and hope and desire in that phrase. "Fine, let's do this." "As it is now, let it be always." "Okay, now what?"

    You're developing your own set of jargon for this blog, too. You have to read the whole post to understand the final paragraph. Way to go, and excellent job making us all learn and think. Keep it up.

  8. Dashed off to google to see if I could find more on the conjunctive being fought here in the UK, but didn't find anything much. I suspect it has fallen out of fashion due to the uncertainty it often expresses, it's seen as a bit dithery and we do seem to like the emphatic here these days. Shades of grey aren't tolerated. I don't know why that is though, hopefully it's just a phase and the next generation will revive the art of shading.

  9. I am so glad you are back. I have been missing you.

    'and' is a most important word as it includes instead of excluding or placing in opposition. It expands a vision, a dream, a prayer.

    You seem to be in a most 'juicy' place, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally.

    I rejoice with you.

  10. And is a powerful word indeed. And I agree that the path of the spirit works to defragment the follower, unless the follower becomes a fanatic literalist. Extremists of all kinds seem fragmented and isolated to me.

    To add to your book list, may I suggest "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge? Fantastic book!


  11. One caveat - the scientists he writes about did heinous experiements on animals to prove their points. I am SO against that!

  12. As there are extreme limits on my time right now, I won't reply individually to each comment, but I just want to thank each and every one of you for the "ands" you've added to this conversation. You're all brilliant!

  13. Polly
    I enjoyed this discourse AND all the interesting follow-on thoughts that have been contributed. As I read your post I kept thinking of the word join...which is of course what and does and then too when we are in the present, not fragmented, we feel joined - joined to ourselves and to all that is...we feel a communion...

    The response by Kate reminded me of a response I often used to clients when they relayed their interpretation of events and issues: I would say AND if that was true...what would that mean? It would make them stop and think and then come up with a response to which I would pose the same question...and repeat this line until the client had reached a different perspective.
    It was a good tool to turn the client inwards...

    Happy days

  14. Speaking of constructions, I've noticed that younger (than me) people are now beginning sentences with "so." The interviewer on NPR will ask something like, "Where did you get this idea?" and the person will say "so I was walking down the street, and..."

    The effect, especially repeated as it is, is that of a constant continuation. Or, in my grumpier moods, it is as if the speaker was planning to gum on all day, and anyone trying to slide a word in edgewise was just a minor interruption. So. There.

  15. a fabulous post, polli! i found myself nodding and saying yes throughout the post. those small little words can hold so much power. i found that by replacing "but" with "and", the whole essence of an encounter can shift. (i.e. think of what a child hears when we say: "you've done _____ wrong, BUT i still love you" versus the unconditional loving response of "AND i love you."

    my response could turn into it's own post :-) my ongoing "defragmentation process" has been working overtime lately, so blogland has taken a back seat. i'm so glad to see we're still operating in the same realm :-)

  16. I was stopped short with your discussion of 'and'. I stopped midway through reading just to mentally affix 'and' to nagging thoughts...and realized how powerful that little word is.


  17. Delwyn - Your method sounds a lot like Byron Katie's.

    Murr - That's interesting. Since "so" implies a cause/effect relationship, it makes me wonder how it came to be used this way. Your take on it makes a lot of sense, like it's just a placeholder to keep the speaker's voice in command of the conversation.

    Lucy - Yes. I said Monkey Mind's mantra is "or" but "but" seems even more fitting.

    Jerry - It's amazing how that works, isn't it?

  18. Happy to see a person blossom into the collective and share the daintiness of the experiences surronding them.

    With Love



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