Thoughts Without Words

Thinker monkeyI recently received an email from a friend asking if I would have difficulty communicating with an animal in another country who was used to hearing a different language spoken. While I knew immediately that wouldn’t be a problem, I understood the basis for the question, which then inspired this post. I realized that maybe a little explanation might be of general benefit.

So let’s break it down. We humans are completely enamored with words. I am tempted to say that we are hypnotized by them. We are so accustomed to putting words to our thoughts, and are taught to do so at such a young age, that it’s sometimes difficult for us to even imagine, much less believe, that thought actually exists independently of words.  The old (and irritating) phrase “dumb animals” refers to the lack of words, but also clearly implies the lack of thought, even though nothing could be farther from the truth.

Thought is an aspect of consciousness — ALL consciousness — that does not require words. Thought travels very, very quickly.  Humans, on average, think about 50,000 thoughts a day.  That averages out to about 35 thoughts every single minute of every hour, waking and sleeping. We are unaware of most of these thoughts. The few we are able to “catch” are those that we focus on and slow down enough to put into words.

There are a great many “channels” of thought other than words. Humans often, with varying degrees of accuracy, lump thought that does not involve words under the headings of either “intuition” or “instinct.”

These channels can include:
Physical sensations
Smells (Yes, really. This is a big one for your dog or cat.)
Sounds/noises/music, etc. (a.k.a. the “audio” channel — which can include words, but encompasses so much more)

Every animal on this planet (yes, YOU are an animal on this planet) has the ability to receive and exchange thoughts without words.

Sometimes we receive thoughts instantaneously in large blocks of pure, unfiltered, wordless information that may take a long time — hours, days, months, even years –to fully understand, process, and then translate into appropriately nuanced words. In “new age” terms this is often referred to as a “download.” Creative writers may call it “inspiration” — that light-bulb idea that comes in a flash and is actually worked out, understood, and expressed through the process of writing.  Visual artists are often able to translate the information directly into images, bypassing words completely.  Remember that saying about an image being worth 1,000 words?

The process of translating and expressing thoughts with words is a specific element of what we humans call the “art of communication.” We even use words in our own minds to communicate with ourselves. We assign words as we organize our many thoughts, and choose which ones to give our attention to.

In communicating with other animals we have to be willing to let go of words in order to focus instead on the essential thought — the information that is behind the words.   Animals, having no words to let go of, are much better than we humans at this type of communication, and are usually able to pick up on the feelings and images that we transmit to them with relative ease.   But we can make it even easier for them to understand us by remembering that our words are just symbols and placing our attention on the images and feelings that convey the underlying meaning of our words.  For example, if you tell your dog that you’re going to the park, picture the park, perhaps visualizing you and your dog playing there together. Feel a sense of fun and eagerness about the experience.   The more you are able to allow the images and feelings that are represented by your words to flow close to the surface of your mind as you speak, the easier it will be for your animals to understand you. Your very awareness of the process will make it that much more effective.

With practice, this awareness will expand so that it will become easier for you to recognize and decipher the wordless thoughts, images, and feelings that your animals transmit to you all the time — usually without you even realizing it.

Of course, at this point, you will naturally tend to translate their communications to you into words, because that is, after all, how we humans make sense of such things.  It’s possible to do this so quickly and automatically that it can seem as though you are actually hearing the words spoken in your head, but that’s really what I call our “inner translation system” and not the actual mechanism of the communication.  The animal isn’t speaking the words to you, you are supplying the words to match the animal’s thought.

So, don’t worry if you meet a dog or cat that is accustomed to hearing French or Hungarian or Japanese rather than English.  You can still communicate just fine.  Human language is never a barrier to communication when thought is transmitted without words.

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10 Responses to Thoughts Without Words

  1. Carolina says:

    Well written and profound thoughts about animal and human communication! Thank you for writing this post! In this time when people talk and communicate less and text more we need your posts more than ever! They stretch us into deeper understanding…

    • Dara says:

      Thank you so much, Carolina! I didn’t think of the implications in terms of communicating with other humans. But, of course, we ARE animals. I appreciate you pointing that out.

  2. I just had an interesting experience with the kind of wordless communication you so eloquently describe. I was at the foot of a tall fir tree, taking photos of three owlets sitting on a branch. They were staring down at me until two crows flew into the tree above them, cawing loudly. The owls looked up. I looked up. The crows looked down at me, and I caught a distinct message they were there to make sure no one bothered the owlets (who are many times larger than the crows now).

    • Dara says:

      Wow! That’s an amazing “catch,” Cathryn! I love that the crows were looking out for the owlets. I’ve heard that corvids — particularly ravens — sometimes threaten owl babies in their territories, but that is just lovely. Isn’t it interesting that you were in visual mode, focusing on taking pictures, and not on your words when you caught that message? Thank you for sharing that.

  3. Bekah says:

    This is very interesting. I don’t know if this example fits what you’re describing, but during my wedding ceremony a little bird lit on a branch near me and looked right at me singing a happy song for the entire vow exchanging until we were pronounced man and wife. My grandpa caught the singing on video. You can hear this very loudly singing happy bird like a soundtrack to our wedding ( in fact you hear it more than you hear us). I will always distinctly remember that moment because I could see the little bird’s throat moving as he sang away. I couldn’t help but think he was feeling our happy thoughts and singing in joy himself.

    • Wendy Thomson says:

      Beautiful, Bekah.

    • Dara says:

      Thank you, Bekah! I love this story and I’m so glad you mentioned birds singing, because it’s such a great example of wordless communication. Your comment inspired me to tune into the bird singing outside my window, and I heard a lovely celebration of a glorious Spring day. What a wonderful musical celebration of your wedding day and vows!

  4. Cher says:

    Very well done! Your article is articulate and clear. It’s not easy to describe a process that is so profound. Your talent and skill is amazing. You help people and animals solve important issues. Wonderful.

    • Dara says:

      Thank you so much, Cher! That means a lot. I would love to be able to help humans understand how simple and natural this form of communication really is.

  5. Tory says:

    Right onhit-s helped me sort things right out.

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