The Power of Words
“Words are precious to me.” Blair, who had suffered a stroke a few months before, said these words softly as we drove downtown to hear a concert of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony No. 8 and Mahler's The Plaintive Song.
For anyone struggling to come back from aphasia, words indeed are precious. Aphasia is the loss of speech, partial or total, or the loss of the ability to understand written or spoken language as a result of disorders such as stroke. When words come easily, we may forget that they are powerful gifts, not to be squandered or misused.
So, during the ordinary conversational exchanges in our lives, when words flow from our lips effortlessly—even casually—it would be wise to ponder upon the power of words to transform us emotionally and physically.
Don’t ‘demean’ the water
The capacity of words to change the molecular structure of water has been demonstrated in the controversial work of Japanese researcher, Dr. Masaru Emoto. Emoto's research was presented dramatically in the independent film, 'What the (bleep) Do We Know?' In the film and in Emoto's books, The Message From the Water, photographs of water crystals showed almost shockingly how the very structure of the newly-formed frozen crystallized molecules changed when words, positive or negative, were “spoken” to the water or even taped to a plastic bottle containing water. A crystal that had a visually random pattern became organized when the Japanese word for “thank you” was spoken to the same sample of water.
At the other extreme, water molecules in a bottle with a curse taped to it were yellow and black and would not form crystals. Since most of the body is composed of water, the implications for our own physical health are staggering. Whether or not you can swallow Emoto's water research, the metaphor is clear: If a sample of water becomes “polluted” from an unspoken curse, what happens when we are cursed or curse ourselves?
Words of Prayer
As a matter of fact, science knows quite a bit about the physical effects of both curses and prayers on health. In his book, Be Careful What You Pray For ...You Just Might Get It, physician/author Dr. Larry Dossey presents some of the copious research on the subject. Over 1200 studies published in the last decade indicate religion’s positive effect on health.
Prayers are words, spoken or unspoken, and both have an effect. But not all prayers are positive. Dossey cites a 1994 Gallup poll which found that 5 percent of Americans have prayed for harm to come to others, which means one in 20 among us admits to calling for divine intervention to cause suffering. He concludes, “Between curing and cursing, there is only a letter's difference. Curing often involves cursing, and vice versa.” Anyone who has used imagery in attacking cancer cells can understand what he means. The cancer cells must die if the patient is to live. The power of words is not limited by intent, which is all the more reason to be exceedingly mindful of our words, spoken and unspoken.
Chemistry of words
What makes words so powerful that they can change molecular structures? The body and the mind are not separable, as the research in the field of psychoneuroimmunolgy has powerfully demonstrated. “When we strongly believe that a pill, procedure or any other intervention into our problems will help us, most of us experience physiological changes known as a placebo response. Because thoughts themselves are electrochemical events, capable of initiating physical effects, this response is not only real but also powerful. It plays a part in 'miracle cures,' control of pain and other symptoms, spontaneous remissions from disease, and the effect we get from drugs. Much of what is known about the influence of 'the positive' on the body comes from research on placebos, which depend on faith and positive expectations for their effect.” (from Who Gets Sick, by Blair Justice, p. 301).
There are other explanations as to how words have such physical power. Sound is a word derived from the German language, meaning “whole” or “health.” It is an energy that is especially noticeable in nature, where sound is often subliminal but powerfully affective. If we tap into the imperceptible music of mountains, forests and meadows, we become aware of a rhythm. There is a tempo that entrains us and balances our breathing, heartbeat and brain waves.
The tenth cranial nerve transmits sound—its rhythm, tempo and pitch—from the brain to the vagus nerve, which has been found to regulate cardiac output and foster social engagement as well as to consolidate memory. Sound produces powerful effects on the autonomic nervous system and can not only calm us but also—through vagal effects and oxytocin, a bonding neurotransmitter—draw us closer to others.
That is, after all, why we use our words: to draw our living, breathing community closer together. Words indeed, are precious.