Wife

wif = a woman

I remember the first time my husband introduced me to someone as, “my wife, Susan.” My brain literally went tilt in my head. Wife meant lots of things to me. I worked at home so I cooked, cleaned, ironed, shopped and generally took care of daily reality.

At dinner the night of our first anniversary, my husband said to me very gently, “Are you tired of playing house yet?” And that’s exactly what I’d been doing. Arrrggghhh! It was my own learned ideas of what being a wife meant that I was acting out. I stopped that very day.

The Anglo-Saxon root of wife means woman, which means, in turn, wife man. Like husband, wife is a word which clarifies relationships.

When women began to keep their own names rather than take their husbands’ as a matter of course, we began to redefine what wife meant. Like the word husband, if what wife has meant to you doesn’t work for you, think through what it does mean to you and choose that.

Ask:  How can I best be the person I was meant to be and in relationship with my partner as well?

Infinition: I listen to myself deeply and I learn how I most happily define myself and my roles in life. I choose the most freeing definition for me. I am always my best self, on my own, and as a partner.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)


Female

femella = a woman

In his Dictionary of Word Origins, John Ayto writes, “The symmetry between female and male is a comparatively recent development.” So, what is it to be a woman?

Just as with males, I think women (and men) spend their whole lives figuring this out. The deeper Latin root of femella meaning a woman, is the verb felare, which means to suck, and was about nursing children. Yet, just as is so about maleness, biology is not destiny. There are as many types of women as there are types of men, and as many variations on femininity as on masculinity.

I am living proof of Carl Jung’s theory of the opposite gender living as a force within the psyche of a gender. I experience my own masculine energy consciously. In women, Carl Jung called that energy the animus.

In my lifetime, women have paid special attention to their animi, going out into the world, and doing far more than nursing children (although that’s plenty!). What is this about? I think that gender fluidity is about becoming whole selves.

All genders need to be able to call upon the other(s) within in order to be fully functional in all aspects of life.

Ask: How can I let go gender biases today and be free?

Infinition: I choose to have all aspects of myself available to call upon when needed. I look at my feminine qualities as vital resources for giving my gifts to the world.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)


Stress

strictus = strict, narrow

and

stringere = to compress

So here is the most notorious excuse for bad behavior in the book: stress. Actually, this is a shortened form of the whole word: distress. As in damsel in distress. (Just to be fair about it, I’d like to point out that there are plenty of stories about knights in distress as well.) At the risk of sounding like I’m metaphysically malpracticing, I truly believe that most stress is of our own making.

The Latin root of the word is strictus, which means strict or narrow. We decide on a goal and then we stress ourselves out trying with all our might to push the river to get there. Why? Instead, I think we’d all be better off and nicer about it if we’d decide on a goal, take steps to achieve it, and let go a little more. This is why.

If you’ll look at the deeper etymology of strictus from the Latin stringere, it means to compress. What we do is compress ourselves into smaller and more restricted spaces and timelines and wonder why we feel squashed, and then we call it stress.

Instead, how about an upgrade? Let’s say we make a list of dreams for our lives, and then we stress (read: make more important) those that matter to us and let the Tao take care of the rest?

Ask: How am I being too strict with myself today?

Infinition: I give up distress totally today. Life will go on no matter what I do. I know when to make my goals important and when to let life lead me.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)

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Security

se- = apart from

+

cura = care

Oh, here is a whopper of a concept if ever there was one!  People have stayed in boring jobs for security, in miserable marriages for security, even in religious traditions for security. Security is the reason my three siblings think I’m crazy for the way I live my life. The whole insurance industry is based on the illusion of security.

Because—and I don’t ordinarily consider myself an alarmist, but . . . there isn’t any such thing! At least not how it’s defined in today’s world.  The truth is that jobs can be downsized, marriages can end in divorce, and churches don’t fall down when we leave them.

The Latin roots of this word give us much more security than our current (and in my opinion, narrow) definition. It means, literally, apart from care, not in the sense of uncaring or uncared for, but in the sense of carefree. AND, it’s a choice.

As long as we keep looking for security from outside of ourselves, we won’t truly have any security. The moment it comes from within, meaning that it comes from ourselves and not others, we are carefree.

Ask:  How can I be so secure within myself that I am carefree today?

Infinition: I realize that security is an inside job. If help is wanted, I inquire within, and I find all the security I’ll ever need.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)


Danger

dominus = master

Danger is, I think, as much an illusion as security. Whilst there are people who truly do live in danger, we in the West are addicted to adrenaline so we name things dangerous which are not just to feel alive.

A lot of the time, danger is in the eye of the beholder. Being late for a party or even for work isn’t really dangerous. Being followed by a menacing presence is a dark alley is.

The Latin roots of the word tell us what real danger is. It’s when someone is a master over us when it is inappropriate. That’s what creates danger. No one, save Deity, really has a right to be master over us except our very own selves.

In the Hebrew Bible, humanity is given dominion over itself. The only place mastery is appropriate is within each individual.

Ask: How can I be a master of myself today?

Infinition: If I have given myself over to the mastery of another, today I find a way to be master only over myself. What a relief.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary, Tarcher/Putnam 2002


Nice

nescius = ignorant

 from

ne- = not

+

scire = to know

I remember a New Yorker cartoon of a man and a woman, clearly married. He is reading the newspaper and she is talking with a diabolical look on her face.  The bubble over her head read, “Today I went to Cartier and got those sapphires I’d been wanting.” His bubble read, “That’s nice, dear.” A sad comment on communication, I’d say.

Nice, meaning  pleasant, is one of those words which over time came to mean its own exact opposite. Its original meaning was foolish, and it came from the Latin roots for ignorant. One of the keys to communicating effectively is deep listening. Another one is choosing our times to speak.

When we use phrases like, “That’s nice, dear,” we are indeed remaining ignorant of what is really being discussed. Or, we are dismissing the subject and its speaker. I’m a believer in deep listening, and in asking questions if I don’t understand the subject under discussion—after all, I might learn something!

Using standard phrases stifles real conversation. Next time you’re tempted, ask an interested question instead.

Ask:  How can I show my interest instead of my ignorance today?

Infinition: From now on I choose to stay awake in all my conversations. No more catch phrases for me. Instead, I show my interest and it’s nice.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)

 

 


Mean

mæne = false

This is a strange word. When I first thought of it for God’s Dictionary, I meant mean in the Mean People Suck sense. Oddly, that’s originally a United States colloquialism. It’s defined way down the list of definitions as “disobliging, pettily offensive or unaccommodating.”

English actually has three distinct words from this Old English root. The first meaning is intend, in the what I mean to say is sense. The second is petty or stingy, in the ungenerous sense. The third is the adjective which connotes average. But what about the mean people who suck?

All of these different “means” come originally from an Old English root meaning false. Mean people are actually not only being false to the people to whom they are mean, but they’re also being false to their own true selves. Meanness does come from pettiness, stinginess, small-mindedness. It comes from feeling less than . . . everyone else.

What do you do when you encounter a meanie? Simple. Make space for them as they are. Don’t argue or try to convince them to be different. Just agree with the meanie and walk away if you can.

Ask: How can I be true to myself in the face of meanness today?

Infinition: I know that mean people are often hurt people, and that hurt people hurt people. Today if I’m feeling mean, I hush and wait till it passes, and if someone is mean to me, I love them anyway.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary, Tarcher/Putnam 2002


Blame

blasphemare = to speak ill of, revile, reproach

from

blas- = false

+

-pheme = speech

Ever since it became fashionable to be in therapy, it has become equally fashionable to seek places to situate blame. It’s gotten to the point where every unattractive aspect of ourselves can be explained as the result of someone else’s influence.

The most popular focus for blame is our parents. We hear, “My parents smothered me,” and “My parents neglected me.” Both are just part and parcel of the same blame game. I do not at all mean to dismiss the devastating consequences of a difficult childhood. I have my own experience of that, but I do deliberately mean to challenge the usefulness of blame.

Blame, as an explanation, keeps us right where we are. To quote Richard Bach, “Argue for your problems, and sure enough, they’re yours.” Curiously, blame and blaspheme are essentially the same word. Blasphemy, originally meaning evil speech, has become associated with contempt for God.

I’d say that blame has the same emotion of contempt behind it, and what does it get us? Very little. The definition of both words is false speech. Blame can act as false speech in the sense that it can disempower our ability to change. (Not to mention blame’s paralyzing first cousin, shame.)

Ask: How can I speak truly about my life today?

Infinition: I give up the blame game and follow one of the Buddha’s precepts—Right Speech. When I speak the truth about my life without blame, I am free to change and heal.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)


Credit

credere = to trust

Were you taught to give credit where credit is due? I sure was. I was also taught not to take credit when it wasn’t due me. At various points in time, our economy has gone through what the pundits call “a credit crisis.” No mistake that the Latin roots of this word mean trust. Trust!

When we credit someone, we trust that whatever that person has said or done is trustworthy. I know I’d rather talk to a cardiac surgeon who has already done a lot of heart transplants, and credit her information, over a med student who has only studied them.

So here we are in the latest credit crisis—a crisis of trust. Of course it’s a crisis of trust! Our financial system, in collaboration with one or another deregulatory governmental administration has trampled our trust. Trust is the active form of faith.

How do we get our trust back? Slowly, carefully, small step by small step at a time. We’ve credited the government with deregulation (rightly, I think). Now let’s begin, slowly, to credit it/trust it for regulation. As our elected representatives take the actions that rebuild our trust, credit will begin to flow easily again.

Ask: How can I begin to give credit where credit is due, and offer trust so that our economy can recover again today?

Infinition: Credit is part of our world economy, and I step up today and take my part in it. I give credit, meaning I trust, to God to restore the economic balance and my trust is rewarded with surplus.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary, Tarcher/Putnam 2002


Contribute

con- = together

+

-tribuere = to bestow; also, of the tribe 

Over the years, I’ve done spiritual counseling with thousands of people.  This word has arisen again and again as something each of their hearts desired.  They would say, “I want to make a contribution to the world.” It’s natural that we want this.

I always ask them what that means to them. It’s different for each one of us. I’ve heard answers as diverse as, “I want to create a happy family,” to “I want to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”

To contribute means, from the Latin, to bestow together, and further, of the tribe. These parallel each other. First, let’s take as a working premise that each of us does have a contribution to make to the world. Second, that each contribution is a bestowal, a gift, and third, that it comes from the place inside us where we know we belong, our tribe.

The person who creates wonderful radio shows probably wouldn’t be happy as the Secretary of Transportation. That’s the point: your contribution is yours alone to make.

Ask:  How can I bestow my gifts today?

Infinition: I know I belong here and that I have a contribution to make. I applaud the contributions of others and I make the one that only I can make.

reprinted from God’s Dictionary (Tarcher/Putnam 2002)


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