Ineffable is one of my absolute favorite words. Ineffable means:
- Too overwhelming or great to be expressed or described in words, inexpressible
- Too awesome or sacred to be spoken
It came from the Latin ineffabilis which meant, “too great for words”.
Ineffable is that moment when you experience something that profoundly touches you and takes you somewhere beyond words, a space vocabulary has never entered.
No combination, even of all the words that exist in the entire universe, can capture or contain something that is ineffable.
Like when you fall in love and suddenly the word love seems completely small and inadequate to contain what you’re feeling. You can see ineffable in the eyes of a mother when she and her child gaze at each other, both experiencing something way beyond words.
It could be what music does to you, that when you try to explain it to someone you can see your words are failing you. It could be how you feel about someone and you know you could never put it into words. It could be seeing the birth of your child or feeling someone’s arm around you. It could be the victory of facing fear down and doing the impossible. It could be a longing for something you don’t know what. It could be a moment where you suddenly plunge into a deep human connection with someone. Or you suddenly discover who you really are.
I felt it the first time I walked into a grove of redwoods, especially when I slept there that night, far from any civilization. It was the first time I experienced trees as sacred, as a cathedral. The indescribable sent of the redwoods, the amazing stars above. And seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, amidst a glorious red and purple sunset in Arizona. A close friend of mine is an artist and I get this feeling every time I see one of her paintings. I’m transported to an ineffable joy.
People do it to me a lot. I’ll be coaching someone and see a ‘greatness of being’ emerge and I’m struck by overwhelming wonder at how magnificent they are. They’re radiant with something tremendously unique, something so themselves, something you could never find anywhere else but coming from them. Their glory. Looking at them I’m seeing something I could never put into words.
I know it’s not just me. If I’m delivering a group workshop, there comes a point when everyone sees it in everyone else and no one can put it into words. Except to say, “Wow.” It’s just not sayable.
Whenever I see this ineffable quality in another person, I immediately tumble head over heels in love. But again, it’s not just me. So does the rest of the world become captivated. This is truly what we respond to in each other.
I believe everyone has this ineffable quality. I believe when a person is truly being themselves it emerges in all its captivating wonder and glory.
Someone asked me yesterday what inspired me to get into the work I do. I tried to explain to him that it’s to bring out the ineffable in others. Somehow I think he got it. Somehow I think he is someone who reaches for the ineffable too. It was a very satisfying conversation.
I measure the quality of my life by the number of ineffable moments I have, the number of ineffable people I know. I’m not happy if my life isn’t bursting with the ineffable.
I love words. I love putting my thoughts into words, but I especially love those moments and those people who are impossible to put into words.
I love what Douglas Adams, a writer I really like (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), said: Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.
I love that he knew the word ineffable. That he, like me, reached for it.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Ineffable moments you’ve had, ineffable people you’ve met, your ineffable dreams and longings. Please feel free to write me, I am very interested in your experiences and thoughts on this.