There’s an old joke that makes fun of someone who took up the dictionary, expecting it to be a novel only to come away from it unable to make head or tail of the story.

The joke isn’t on those who laugh at the poor reader, though.

It’s on those who don’t see the thousands upon thousands of short stories the dictionary is made of.

In a sense, the dictionary is the ultimate epic, for it draws upon everything and tries to make sense of it all through telling us how everything is related to everything else. When you look up a word, the word becomes the main character and the definition its story. Through the telling of these myriad stories, we make sense of the written word.

Reality works a little like that too, I find.

You could look at what’s within you and around you in the world and try to sort your way through a million disparate elements, never imagining that things would make more sense if you only look a level or two deeper into your reality.

An example: I often experience thoughts and emotions that don’t seem to fit what I’m hearing, reading, saying, or doing at the moment. Yet that confusion is no allowance for ignoring or brushing them aside. I address such thoughts/emotions by accepting them for what they are, tracing their beginnings back to what might have triggered them (or if that isn’t fruitful, playing out the consequences of such in my head to see what my subconsciousness might be hinting at for the future).

I refuse to allow anything I’m conscious of–within or without–to be divorced from reasoned perception, or at least thoughtful realization.

Some things in life are simply beyond me however, due to my humanity; and yet I must engage with them. I am learning to smile at and dance with this uncertainty by faith. But with what I can, I try to help them make sense, at least to myself.

Sense-making often boils down to connections-drawing–once you look beyond just what is, you’re able to work with life at a level that, while directly impacting the practical pieces of life, is actually one of understanding, tracing, and influencing the bridges of meaning between emotions, ideas, consequences, and conversations.

This reflects something my dad encouraged me with years ago, when I was fresh out of university and wondering what I should pour myself into:

“More important than learning a particular skill or understanding a specific field is the ability to understand the mechanics of understanding.”

In other words: figure out the way you personally understand things; notice the patterns and systems of thought and action that make up things we do; think through causes and effects, and learn not only what they are, but why; thus you learn how to learn, and can then explore and become skilled more quickly in any particular field at a deeper level than just the field itself.

Application of the principle behind his words changed my personal view of the nature of things, and has given (and continues to give) such variety and complexity to the texture of my mind and soul.

The power of this principle stems, I think, from its foundation in what we opened this discussion with–the idea that everything is connected to each other, and that things are more readily and deeply understood (and enjoyed) once you can read the stories tying everything together.

And once you begin reading those stories–even if just the ones in the dictionary–and experiencing life through them, reality becomes so overwhelmingly colorful and vivid and alive that simply being without much doing is often enough. (Though, of course, your doing also takes on greater and deeper significance as you think, speak, and act with renewed perception and understanding.)

Think about this the next time you look up a word, and see if this does not help you live just a little more consciously.

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