The Linguistics of Staying Present and Finding Peace

October 21, 2014

It’s been almost six months since I graduated college. Now, as the leaves begin to fall and the air is cooler, my feelings of freedom are beginning to fade. I realized my last summer vacation was a year ago and I can no longer call myself a student.

My degree is in musical theater, something I fell out of love with while still at school. In my attempts to prepare for “real life,” I convinced myself that I needed some sort of degree to succeed. So, I put my head down and barreled through the rest of my schooling straight towards May 2nd: Graduation Day and the beginning of my freedom.

However, since acquiring this freedom, I’ve repeated the same damaging sentence to myself everyday: I should have studied something else.

This sentence is a mantra of mine, a daily haunting from the regret I feel and the blame I put on my 18-year-old self who chose to study theatre. This sentence has harmed my psyche, my self-esteem and any hope I had of moving forward. Everyday, I convinced myself that my current happiness was being squandered by a decision I made four years ago. If I had studied something else, I would have a better job. If I had a better job, I’d be happier. I would be happier if this had happened or that had happened. I could be happy if…

The Linguistics of Staying in the Present and Finding Peace

Is your self-dialogue filled with ‘if’s, should’s, and would’s’?

It had become by own method of self harm. Then one day I found Phuc Tran.
Phuc Tran is a tattoo artist and classist whose TedTalk on grammar exposed my monster-mantra as part of a larger language issue. With his family, Tran immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam as a child. In his TedTalk, he describes learning the subjunctive form of English, a form a speech the Vietnamese language lacks.

The subjunctive form expresses action in the past, present, or future in an abstract way. For example: If it were to rain, we could turn off the sprinkler.

The subjunctive lives in this imaginary, hypothetical universe that allows us to project, hope, and regret. This is unlike the indicative, which expresses only fact: It’s raining, so I turned off the sprinkler.

As I listened to Phuc Tran’s TedTalk, I realized how my own language was hindering my ability to stay in the moment. This was a much larger problem then my harmful put-downs. It was a matter of perspective in all things.

The subjunctive allows us to imagine things that haven’t happened. Things that might happen. Could happen. Should happen. It’s a fantastical world that can create anxiety and regret simply through grammar. It can make you imagine terrible things might happen or that you missed a perfect opportunity. It brings a cloud of doom and despair, implying that there is now way forward from reality, only the emptiness of what might have been or the fear of what might occur.

The indicative is present. It is here and now. It is fact.
I accept myself, where I am right now.

The subjunctive is harmful.
I would accept myself, if…
I should accept myself, but…

The fact isn’t that I should have studied something else.

The fact is, I studied theatre in college and now I want to do something else.

How wonderful that the simplicity of the indicative can bring a clear state of mind and a fresh perspective that is full of hope and maybe even excitement. I don’t need to waste my mental energy on things that didn’t or will never happen. It is a gift to have the present and to be with it, mind and spirit. Now, I make it my goal to think only in the indicative.

When I am in a challenging posture in yoga, I used to tell myself I should be able to accomplish it. Now, I simply say One day, I will nail this pose. Today, I am building the strength to do so.

When I don’t get the job I interviewed for, I look for a new one. I wont image how much happier I would have been if I had been hired. I wasn’t. Someplace else will hire me. And I will be happy.

And now, after four years of theatre, I don’t have any idea what I want to do. But the indicative says: “What do you like? Do that.”

There is a power to our words that cannot be measured and the indicative form can keep us true and honest to the present.

There is no one I could be other than who I am.
Nothing I should be other that what I am.
I can simply be who I am and be happy.

Also see: The Literacy of Self-Love

5 Ways to Journal Through Pain

5 Things to Feel Okay About Your Career



Photo: Send me adrift via Flickr

Alyssa originally hails from Denver, Colorado. Now, she is calling the great city of Chicago home! In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, home cooked meals and singing in her shower. Her fierce yearning for travel has made her a super saver and her plans for the future just keep on growing. For more, please visit her blog.


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