Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Ninety Six Words for Love

--by Robert Johnson (Sep 15, 2014)

The first difficulty we meet in discussing anything concerning our feelings is that we have no adequate vocabulary to use. Where there is no terminology, there is no consciousness. A poverty-stricken vocabulary is an immediate admission that the subject is inferior or depreciated in that society.

Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling. Eskimos have thirty words for snow, because it is a life-and death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of thirty words for love ... we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.

Imagine what richness would be expressed if one had a specific vocabulary for the love of one's father, another word for the love of one's mother, yet another for one's camel (the Persians have this luxury), still another for another's spouse, and another exclusively for the sunset! Our world would expand and gain clarity immeasurably if we had such tools.

It is always the inferior function, whether in an individual or a culture, that suffers this poverty. One's greatest treasures are won by the superior function but always at the cost of the inferior function. One's greatest triumphs are always accompanied by one's greatest weaknesses. Because thinking is our superior function in the English-speaking world, it follows automatically that feeling is our inferior function. These two faculties tend to exist at the expense of each other. If one is strong in feeling, one is likely to be inferior in thinking -- and vice versa. Our superior function has given us science and the higher standard of living -- but at the cost of impoverishing the feeling function.

This is vividly demonstrated by our meager vocabulary of feeling words. If we had the expanded and exact vocabulary for feeling that we have for science and technology, we would be well on our way to warmth of relatedness and generosity of feeling.

Robert Johnson, in The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden. ‚ÄčIn 1945, he went to Ojai, California, as a student of Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian spiritual teacher. In 1947 he began his own therapy with Fritz Künkel. He later studied at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zürich, Switzerland, where Emma Jung, the wife of Carl, was his principal analyst. He completed his analytical training with Künkel and Tony Sussman. He established an analytical practice in Los Angeles in the early 1950s with Helen Luke. In the early 1960s he closed his practice and became a member of St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, in Michigan, a Benedictine monastery of the Episcopal Church.

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On Sep 11, 2014 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

Here's to creating new words for love. I am one who feels deeply and yet much of what I say are "thinking" statements. I tend to rationalize my feelings with thinking. Thank you for pointing out a lack in the English language, perhaps we will be inspired to create new words to describe the countless ways to love. Hugs from my heart to yours!

On Sep 11, 2014 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 The contradictory way of perceiving the reality is bothersome to me. The either -or mind set- instead of this and that is closer to perceiving the reality. In Jainism, it is called syadvada-the reality, the existence , is multifaceted like many colors of the rainbow. We hear this contradictory way of  relating to each other by sayings like either you are with me or against me. This polarized way of seeing everything is an indication of our fragmented way relating to ourselves and others. We are familiar with the value we put on the left brain dominance, the head brain, the thinking brain at the cost of the right brain, the heart brain, the feeling brain. Our educational system is designed and developed for the cultivation of the left brain. Think about the damage done to the right brained children in a country in which we believe and claim to be equal and to be treated equally.

I was born and raised in India in an extended family with a large number of family members. We express our love for parents, brothers, sisters, younger and older and even for Gods and Goddesses  by using different words for love. The different words convey different shades of love, different meanings of love. Words are very powerful. The brain research shows how positive words and negative words  differently affect the brain circuits. There is a great wisdom in the saying, " How you think and how you say and behave have a tremendous impact on us and others."

I am living my life in a balanced way. I value both sides of my brain, head and heart, and relate to me and others mindfully and compassionately. My life has been enriched by embracing and practicing the wise saying that I leaned as a child: Truth is one, perceived and expressed differently by different truth seekers.

I value this weekly thoughtful and thought provoking gift and the comments of all to the weekly reading. Namaste.

Jagdish P Dave

On Sep 11, 2014 Abhishek Thakore wrote:

 At one level. having multiple words surely allows for greater nuance and precision....but then again, words are merely pointers - in fact they can end up becoming cages, keeping us from the seamless experience of an emotion....

The many words for snow may help the eskimos but maybe a child playing in the snow for the first time ever (without having even a single word for it) experiences snow in a much rawer and direct way than a 30-words-for-snow eskimo ever can....

In fact the moment I know I am going to meet an 'eskimo' I already have made so many assumptions about the person.....the word, in that case actually is a hurdle for me meeting the real person hiding behind the word....

The deepest of our experiences are beyond words - and we are united in our inability to ever articulate or share them and in reveling in their ineffable-ness

On Sep 13, 2014 Nilam wrote:

You said it beautifully......!!!!Deepest of our experiences are beyond words!!! If somebody truly loves you don't need them to say it loud can just feel it in your heart!!!! 

On Sep 14, 2014 david doane wrote:

 What a fascinating article.  I never knew that various cultures had so many words for what's important to them, and English is so impoverished in words about love and feeling, though it makes sense since we are so impoverished in awareness regarding love and feelings and inner experience in general.  I don't think superiority in one function only comes at the expense of the other.  I think we can be superior in both.  I play with the notion that whole thinking and whole feeling grow concurrently, not divergently, and that you can only have as much of one as you have of the other.  Thinking is dominant in this culture, and some would think superior, but so much thinking is unwhole, fragmented, and unwise because it is separated from feeling which is so ignored and also unwhole.  So, both our thinking and feeling are impoverished.  I see the impoverishment of my thinking and feeling when I am awakened to or at least get a glimpse of the lack of clarity and depth in my thinking and feeling, such as when impoverishment in words about love and feelings is pointed out by this article.  Someone wise said thinking makes a fine servant and a terrible master.  I agree with that.  I think remembering that and looking inside ongoingly helps us balance the thinking and feeling functions so that both will be superior. 

On Sep 15, 2014 Jyoti wrote:

Yes, a richer vocabulary for love is desirable and would enrich our world. Everyone says Sanskrit has these words, but why do not share some of these so we can start using them? I am ready. I do not believe that thinking and feeling exist at the expense of each other, for in practice, it is impossible to find a perfectly (ir)rational thinker !

On Sep 15, 2014 Jyoti wrote:

 Your words nicely explain the limitations of words !

On Sep 16, 2014 Sumanta wrote:

 Nicely explained,
if we have more words for love it would create any difference i dont think so, it only showed how rich the language is? its only depending on the person who is realising the value of love for whom he has in his heart.  

The post is awesome................ keep writing

On Sep 16, 2014 Maya wrote:

We have many names for God, however it did not enlighten most of society to realize God within... Having many words for love does not induce that emotion in generous levels within us. Emotional healing of our unconscious mind wounds created from the past needs to be healed in order for us to receive unconditional love for self and give it to others. We are all a work in progress at this, I believe. 

On Sep 16, 2014 Aaron wrote:

I 'love' this piece for the opportunity it gives to consider the impact of something that I haven't fully considered, language/words. I believe our societies should reflect our values and I find it painful that in a western society where 'love' in many forms is clearly present,'love' lacks the recognition, acknowledgement and celebration it warrants.
Many would argue that a lack of 'love' could be attributed to the amount of problems we face in our 'modern' world; poverty, in equality, racism, war, rape, murder... And some would argue 'love' will help solve these problems. How many words do we have for sex, money and war in our 'western' societies vocabulary? 

So for me, although not the only method, language/words are the most commonly used method to communicate in our 'western' societies and therefore one of the most valuable areas for change. The use of language/words has been and is growing everyday with the amount of different mediums; stories, music, letters, books, newspapers, radio, phones, journals, tv, videos, mobiles, websites, blogs, emails, social media...  If we as a society value 'love' then surely this should be reflected in the language/vocabulary we use. The fact there is only 'one' word may or may not be the issue, but clearly its significance, its different forms, its value, its presence, its ability to change and the context in which we speak of it is. Let's continue to speak of, practice and celebrate love in all it's forms and ask that there be more of it... With love Aaron.

On Sep 16, 2014 Dave wrote:

 Wow, what a negative article to start off my day! I did not adore or cherish the criticism of the English language. I also don't accept the dualistic views on feeling and thinking. Why cannot a person be superior at thinking and superior at feeling? In your next article, please bring back that loving feeling, oh, that loving feeling.

On Sep 16, 2014 Dave wrote:

 Wow, what a negative article to start off my day! I did not adore or cherish the criticism of the English language, and by extension, those who speak it. I also don't accept the dualistic views on feeling and thinking. I cannot buy the notion that if one is superior at thinking they will tend to be less superior at feeling. I also believe that you do not have to be fat and dumb to be happy.  In your next article, please bring back that loving feeling, oh, that loving feeling. 

On Sep 16, 2014 Peggy wrote:

A powerful commentary. As a musician and music therapist who also values transpersonal states of awareness, I want to add that there are forms of consciousness that are "ineffable" and have no terminology, and as a result are expressed through music, dance, and art for just that reason - they are beyond words. Maybe in the future have the terminology, but the consciousness surely exists without the terminology in this case!

On Sep 16, 2014 Bonnie wrote:

 I was curious about this article, because it seems to me that  English does have more than one word for love - devotion, loving-kindness, affection, appreciation, fondness, adoration.... is it just me?  But then I began to wonder, if Love is the substance and energy of the Ground of All Possible Being, i.e. the universe, then maybe everything has the capacity to be a synonym for love depending on our perspective and intention.   Perhaps today, when I speak with my husband, my students, the clerks at the grocery story, my dogs.. I'll use my fancy words, but I'll know I'm really saying love, love, love, love, and love.  

On Sep 16, 2014 Margo Lalich wrote:

 What are the 90 words for love?

On Sep 16, 2014 Dina Pennington wrote:

 Grok (from Stranger in a strange land)

On Sep 16, 2014 Syd wrote:

Love is a movement and is a dynamic force that melts down barriers and boundaries.  Love dissolves separateness.  Love is more or less my degree of being present and more or less my contact with the Other.  At times I have clarity and a transparent Presence.   Then there are times of reactivity and mechanical thinking.  There are other times I have deep self-alienation, suffering and even my own self-destructiveness.  Love is this movement is between my inner essence and my ego personality.  Love is a yardstick of my consciousness and is everything in between.  Love to me, therefore, is expressed in many different words and these words are only a signpost.  The whole flow of love is our words and is one enormous creative dance.  I feel to put words on love could make it static, when actually love is dynamic force that melts down barriers and boundaries.  The difficulty is I can imagine myself to be very different from how I actually am and putting words on this is the unfolding of this dynamic dance.  Love she creates and sustains, saying we are all in this dance and is the significance of your presence.        

On Sep 16, 2014 Dina Pennington wrote:

 Syd's description feels....lovely. 

On Sep 16, 2014 Gail Holmes wrote:

 I developed a vocabulary and ease of expressing love and all feelings and needs when studying the Nonviolent Communication tools developed by Marshall Rosenberg. I life is richer for the freedom I feel using them and more intimate as a result. 

On Sep 16, 2014 Syd wrote:

Gail, nonviolent communication is genuine strength and is the powerful force of love.   I thank you deeply for your powerful force, love itself.      

On Sep 16, 2014 Syd wrote:

 Dina, your feelings appear to be your value, a special value as person, and a energy of somethng special about you.  

On Sep 16, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 Well said!

On Sep 16, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 A number of people expressed it well, in numerous ways!!!  We have many words and many means of expressing love.  First question for me was whether there's more love being expressed, felt, evidenced in those cultures with so many words (boxes someone said).  Labels, tags I call them.  Yes we need language to communicate, but more we need intent, motive, desire to love, be loving, and receive love.  With that, I suspect the Universe, God, whatever term we want to use, will help us express it.  (Here again, so many words for the Origin, Creator of all things and some of us take issue with one or the other!!!)  In my own experience, study am learning the more I realize the love is already within me, the more I'll see it, express it, experience it.

On Sep 16, 2014 Dina Pennington wrote:

 Maybe our words are inadequate in describing love. When I think of my daughter, there really are no words intense enough to describe my love for her. Unconditional and internal come the closest. Love for my mother and to my mother are hard to put in words, too. Nurturing, all enveloping. How we feel and express love isn't limited by words, only actions. 

On Sep 16, 2014 Syd wrote:

Sandra, I read your post and I felt something profoundly liberating, as watched my body fall back into the chair. The liberation was in my body and feeling spontaneous.  This moment is not primarily a feeling either, as it is more like drawing back and is being lost in the unselfconsciousness.  This merely is my words and yet the moment is an opening to a hidden depth and your presence is bringing something new to the world.   Thank you!         

On Sep 16, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 Thanks Syd, for that, makes my day.  You certainly are blessed with the ability to express.  Love your post.  It seems this article has unleashed a dam!  Many are really in tune and attuned it would seem.  We're not being fooled!  What joy!  Wish I could reblog all this commentary.
Thanks to everyone!

On Sep 16, 2014 Rebecca McCarty wrote:

William Blake wrote these lines, which have proven of great value to me.

"Never seek to tell thy love

Love that never told can be 
For the gentle wind does move
Silently invisibly"
~William Blake

On Sep 16, 2014 Celeste wrote:

 Interesting little snippet. Always thought it was a tad lame that we only have one word for love. Each time I've "loved" it's different as the people places and things I regarding. But its a great word! Mastery of it's vibration is more important that finding different ways to meander around it. Most people ( myself

included ) do not always discern what love. They certainly don't feel the flow of love through their hearts. They feel longing or the "miss" someone so they say they love. Not the same thing. Or lust, attachment, or desire, or the desire to control ( like parents for their kids ). None of those are love in it's purity. However to it less because there should be moooaaar weeerrds is to be in ones head and missing the point entirely. While I like the point the person makes about the word and how more would be cooler to say that one sacrifices feeling for mindfulness is an argument for ones limitations. This is exactly why I and so many people meditate- to observe themselves in feeling and thought with hopes to become integrated humans in integrity! You cannot tell me someone can not love and be sharp as a tack. True love transcends polarity, and it is the highest form of intelligence. Anything less has some fear mixed in which allows for the dilution of that divine intelligence. But that is the fault of the ego, not of love.

On Sep 16, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 Re-reading your comments, and others' have to add that infants and newborns express some of the most profound and pure love there is and they can't speak!  Likewise people are often more emotionally attached to their pets than people.  Wordless, unconditional adoration.  Do they know at some level love is what they are?  When did we forget?  Is one word maybe too much?

On Sep 16, 2014 Raghava wrote:

 Language has always been a limitation in expressing one's true "intent"... That is why perhaps greatest of the Gurus in Indian scriptures - Sri Dakshina Murthy taught in silence...even contemporary Gurus like Ramana Maharshi taught more in silence rather in words. One needs to live practically in life and go beyond words ... Intents, actions and perhaps words when conveyed with this sincere intent will convey what needs to be conveyed... Learning 96 different words for the same intent might be useful but picking the right one out of 96 is still an intent driven by altruism - which is what perhaps love is all about... 

On Sep 17, 2014 Amy wrote:

 Since God IS Love (and He is Superior to ALL in intellect) . . . ALL things are possible.  
No matter our gifts, if we haven't love tucked in somewhere, we are sunk.
i love you!

On Sep 17, 2014 Syd wrote:

 Sandra, you speak of infants and newborns expressing pure love.  You ask, “Do they know on some level love is what they are?”  It seems to me we are all created and born in the Garden of Eden, where we have the essential qualities of the heart.  We appear to lose these essential qualities of the heart by falling away from our awareness and presence.  It is like we fall away from our inner Essence and into the trance of our personality.  For me personally, my parents nurtured me erratically and I did not feel a dependable source of love and assurance.  When I realized my value was“nothingness” I felt holes in my soul and I even look at my body to see if I had holes.  This sense of having holes and a vacuum from within made my human nature fight, as human nature abhors a vacuum. 
We all experience this “nothingness,” the vacuum and this inner void to some degree in childhood.   It feels like the sky is falling to a small child.  This creates anxiety, the fear of separation, and how we respond to this inner anxiety is different for each of us.  There are also patterns that are common to all of us, because fear is insecurity, this inner doubt.  We all experience the fear of abandonment. There seems to be a point fear creates faithlessness and this appears to make us lose our inner Essence.  It is the point where self-possession and self-surrender are taken away, deep painful anxiety.    
Pride seems to be the most common response to this anxiety and this inner void.  Pride is denial and it is the ability to endure whatever is happening by tuning out.  It is like our feelings become fatalistic, as we may feel nothing can be done to change things and in any event whatever is the problem, it is not much a problem after all.  Pride can also become vainglory, satisfaction in what I am good at and satisfaction in my virtue. Pride, though, is a fundamental denial of my loss of contact with Essence and is particularly the loss of contact with qualities of real love. 
We never really lose our inner Essence if we all could be really present and awake, where our identity and self-worth do not arise.  Our Beingness does not depend on sustaining our identity in activity.  And yet to have no purpose and this place of no accomplishment, God or Essence, creates feelings of this Being is a dirty rat. Faith becomes mean, complex and exhausting, nothing true ore valuable to believe in.  The fall is into self-consciousness and alienation.  The fall can also paradoxically allow us to fall into our deeper self, this inner Essence.  It feels like falling back into faith, this inner Essence where there is union which appears to create enormous dignity and self-respect without the faintest whiff of egocentricity.  It feels like just a place to begin. 
Unity is before the Fall and unity comes back to us in the Fall.  The Fall is part of nature’s ways and it seems we all have to find our peacefulness or faith in this natural order of things.  Faith is created in the Fall, as we learn to not be defiant and learning to yield ourselves to it.  Falling back into this Garden of Eden, our inner Essence, is mean because there is no clinging to any ideas.  Faith seems to discover this ability to keep an open mind, falling into a higher state and making all our experiences, even the pain, into something beautiful: faith hope and love. 
Maybe one word is too much, even the word God, because my mind ricochets from one psychological state to another from this word.  So it seems faith becomes its own value and literally has no reference to anyone, as our identity IS.                    

On Sep 17, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 HI Syd,
I must be more care-full of my comments.  I was writing a bit rhetorically, in a sense, knowing the answers.  Though we all have different paths and then different terms, etc.  So some of your language may not be clear to me.  But I was only adding to the conversation that love is naturally expressed with or without language.  Words don't stop us from feeling, recognizing the love from babies, pets, even adults.  From the divinity within.  I'm "aware" that entrance into the illusion called material life, we initially retain some of our spiritual understanding, and "time" causes it to fade, somewhat.  But, it's never really gone.  Prayer and meditation, whatever your path, brings it to the surface, for in fact, we've never left heaven.  Just seems that way.
Anyway, lest I be guilty of contradicting myself, probably should end my "word" contributions to this inspiring thread.  We all get it at some level!!
P.S.  So are you a kind of "official" contributer to this blog?  A spiritual teacher/leader I don't know about yet?

On Sep 17, 2014 Syd wrote:

 I had a sense your questions were just adding to the conversation and I could have left it there.  Writing just gives me the key to see the whole, as I am home bound.  I have a cell disease, mitochondria specifically.  Mitochondria are parts of the cells that combine the calories we consume with the oxygen and turn this combination into energy which runs everything in our body.  My mitochondria are shot which makes my body function with a constant exhaustion.  It is like climbing a steep hill and you cannot take another step.  Social life is extremely exhausting and from there I have no ability to think, to feel, or to do.  My mental connections go haywire.  The craziness is insane.  So I write sorting out my thoughts and also trying to create this opening to no longer hold onto my ideas.  This is to say, I have no faith in my body, dragging along, and writing helps me keep an open mind.  It helps my faith live in faithlessness.  I am also no official contributor, as I am just allowing myself acquire a new depth.  My disease is only eight years old, this is all new, even my faith from within, which is trying to learn to live without reference to anyone.  It feels impossible to have a faith without reference to anyone and then again everything is also beyond me.

I may be out of step here, and then on-the-other-hand contemplation is a sense of wonder.  I have not completely learn how to contemplate quietly, so writing is my key for now, and helps me observe my faith.  The present is enough and allowing my faith to fall into it is another thing, so I write for this realistic faith.

I appreciate you being honest with me, even if we misunderstood each other.  Your presence is significant!                     

On Sep 17, 2014 Sandra wrote:

 Thanks for sharing, although you may have already done so before I started participating.  Good you've found this outlet in writing.  Don't know what your spiritual studies include and I don't need to know, but I hope some of them have "suggested" illness can be healed metaphysically, prayerfully, through meditation, etc.  I've seen the benefits, but it's an individual preference.  Happens when we want it, accept it.  None of us has any clue the degree to which we are loved too much to go through any trials.

Keep writing and sharing and learning and growing!!  You are blessed.

On Sep 18, 2014 hari wrote:

 Love grows with expenditure. As we grow, the spectrum of our love becomes brighter, broader. When it reaches an intensity, to experience divine love. This greater love contains all lesser loves.

On Sep 18, 2014 Sally Keil wrote:

I see the notion of “superior” and “inferior” functions in a way that has been very useful for me.  For quite a while, I have been using Jung’s typology, with its four functions covering the four vital aspects of a fully human life, as a “practice” in expanding my awareness.  We all have all four psychological functions of thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition to cover the vital aspects of a fully human life. That we have them in a certain order of “accessibility,” and that when using one perceiving function or processing function its opposite must be quiescent and not interfere, is a brilliant example of the economy of the human psyche essential for sanity.  We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. 

On Sep 18, 2014 Sally wrote:

One of the best new words ever! Like "suss", it fills a real gap in the English language, which is world-class wherever thinking is needed.

On Sep 18, 2014 Syd wrote:

 Sally, your words offer a refreshing breeze and a quiet satisfaction in the real world.  I am grateful!   

On Sep 18, 2014 Sally wrote:

 Syd, I read your beautiful thoughts too and found them to be especially real and moving.  You really communicated well your shifting inner images and feelings inspired by love.  I thank you!

On Oct 11, 2014 hidden wrote:

 Amen, hari!

On Feb 4, 2018 Leslie A. Tessman wrote:

( On 96 words for love), We don't have a lot of ways to express our love, like other cultures, but we have more than ONE. e.g. adore, beloved, devoted, fond, passionate, fancy, idolize, treasure... Just sayin'