In What Ways are Words Dangerous?

Feb 21

The biggest danger with words is self-righteousness. Often, without even realizing it, we grab hold of someone else’s words and repeat them, massage them, exaggerate them, and argue for or against them without any direct experience with which to give the words appropriate meaning. We manipulate these words in our heads without making any experiential or emotional connection to what we are saying, other than learned emotional connections that are triggered by the words themselves or by whether we like or dislike a particular speaker. Whenever we do this, we are functioning entirely in our heads and subconscious emotions without any grounding in the context of awareness of our own personal experience and choice.

How many of us take the nightly news as gospel when we haven’t personally experienced Iraq or Afghanistan and the many different nuances that play out in those countries in every single moment in every single life? Have we even stopped to consider how distorted and limited the view of a single reporter may be, and yet, many of us accept it as truth without thinking further.


Feb 21

Words are Shorthand for Human Experience

Just as shorthand is a method for transcribing words quickly, words are a method for understanding and communicating our human experiences. Even words like “heaven” and “hell” can be given meanings related to personal human experience.

From the moment we are born, parents, priests and educators teach us to chop our experiences up into words: “Mommy” and “Daddy”, “blue” and “green”, “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong”. As science, technology, psychology, and philosophy develop, we make up new words: iPod, space station, animus, ego, epistemology.

Sometimes we use the same words to chop up our experiences. Sometimes we use different words. None of the words is either right or wrong. They are simply little black marks on white pieces of paper or guttural sounds we utter.

However, we all give words emotional overtones. We can call this “creating filters”. Suddenly, those guttural sounds or little black marks on the white pieces of paper become charged with fear, anger, love or joy. The emotional charge often depends on what each of us has experienced in the past in relation to the words we are hearing now and the emotions with which we’ve filtered those past experiences.

The Same Words Can be Used to Describe the Same Experience

Sometimes we use words in the same way to chop up our experiences. For example, if you and I are both looking at a daffodil, we might exchange words about the beautiful yellow flower with the strange odor. We are using the same words to describe the same experience. Our communication is clear because we are both focusing on the same object.

The Same Words Can be Used to Describe Different Experiences

Sometimes, you and I may use the same words to chop up different experiences. If you are standing on the gray sand next to the Atlantic Ocean in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the cold, gray waves may be rolling in as breakers, the beach may be crowded with bathers, bikinis, tan bodies, little children building sand castles with their fathers, red, yellow and blue umbrellas, seagulls squawking overhead, black scallop shells, a boardwalk peppered with bikers and joggers, and casinos in the distance. The water may be cold, murky, and thick with stirred-up sand. With a land breeze, nasty, biting black flies appear. You might verbalize this experience as a “day at the beach.”

I, however, if I live in Roatan, Honduras, might use those same words “day at the beach” to verbalize a very different experience. On Roatan, it is rare to see breakers. The sea is often a clear, placid mirror of blues, greens and turquoises. Seaweed gently washes up on the white sand. Weathered driftwood and palm trees dot the deserted, narrow stretch of sand bordering the sea. An occasional boat accents the skyline. There are no sun tanners here, for the tropical sun burns tender skin far too quickly. Instead of nasty, biting black flies, I am tormented by chitres, those dastardly, invisible no-seeums that, with a single bite, leave a welt the size of a tennis ball.

Atlantic City and Roatan are very different “beach” experiences, but you and I are using the same word “beach”. Our communication is not as clear as it could be. Instead, it is as murky as the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. If you had never experienced the Roatan beach and I had never experienced the Atlantic City beach, we might even argue about whether beach sand is really gray or really white or whether the ocean is really gray or really blue.

With the words “heaven” and “hell,” many of us have been taught that these are physical places “we” go after our bodies die. How can anybody really know that?

There is, however, a different meaning we can give to the words “heaven” and “hell” within the context of our personal experiences. Who has not suffered the hell of his own anger? Who has not suffered the torture of her own fear? Who has not experienced the total beauty and personal immersion in a heavenly sunset? Who has never experienced the limbo of his own purgatory where he feels stuck and unable to move forward?

Different Words Can be Used to Describe the Same Experience

Sometimes you and I chop the same experience up differently. For example, if we are both looking at the same flower garden, you may be looking at roses and I may be looking at trellises. You may talk about the beautiful red flowers with an exotic odor and I may talk about wood patterns and climbing thunbergia. Different words can be used to describe the same experience where the speakers have different focuses. When this happens, communication again becomes as murky as the Atlantic Ocean. Until you and I realize we are simply looking at different aspects of the same experience, we may argue about what is really in that garden we both see.

Can You Really Get What You Want Simply by Shifting Your Focus?

Feb 09

Old Hag or Young Woman?

You absolutely can get what you want simply by shifting your focus from what’s “out there” to what’s “in here.”

It’s all about noticing your thoughts, noticing your emotions, choosing the ones you want, and taking the necessary action steps to make them happen.

What’s “out there” doesn’t change. What changes is what your mind and emotions do with what’s “out there.”

It’s just like looking at an optical illusion. Once you understand the different ways your mind can organize “what’s out there”, you can choose what you want to see, what thoughts you want in your head, what emotions you want in your heart, and bring them into your life.

For more food for thought, listen to Linda S. Thompson’s interview of Janet Smith Warfield on The Author’s Show,

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Sep 20

Why do bad things happen to good people? There is always a deeper spiritual purpose behind the “bad” things that happen in the physical realm. Time, experience, and hindsight ultimately provide answers.

Many “bad” physical things have happened to me: my divorce from my first husband,  struggles caring for a family member hooked on drugs, the sudden death of  my second husband, a landlord who evicted me because he thought he could get more money from someone else. At least, they felt bad, unjustified, and unexplainable at the time.

Is this Higher Power’s way of strengthening me with courage, deepening me with compassion, clarifying my values, and moving me along the path I am intended to go? Not my will, but Thine?

I never thought I would divorce my husband. I believe in commitment and accountability. Yet when he became involved with another woman and refused to end the relationship, I found myself sitting in a spiritual limbo. I felt degraded to nothing more than a baby sitter, cook, and housekeeper. I had lost my partner. Perhaps I never had one. We were simply on different spiritual paths.

I agonized for months over whether to stay or whether to leave. After all, we had three children, all of whom I loved dearly. I struggled with anger, guilt, and fear. Ultimately I left the marriage and applied to law school.

I had never considered being a lawyer. The divorce radically shifted my path. After almost twenty years of staying home to care for husband, home, and children, I had to find a way to support myself financially on the physical plane. On the spiritual plane, I  felt compelled to find a way to speak about the mystical experience I had had years ago. Law school could teach me to think and speak with more clarity. None of this was easy.

Would I have become a lawyer had I remained married? Probably not.

My struggles in a relationship where a family member was addicted to cocaine propelled me into Naranon, a twelve step support group for families and friends of addicts. Would I ever have become aware of my own addictions to people and relationships, but for that experience? Would I ever have realized the value of setting boundaries and tough love? Would I ever have learned to focus on my own issues and stop trying to change others? Would I ever have learned the value of using first person singular language when speaking? The words then become simply my own thoughts. They are no longer ideas I am forcing on others, but, at the same time, I am free to express what I truly think and feel.

When my second husband Don died suddenly of a heart attack on Roatan, Honduras, it was, of course, a terrible shock. My life immediately afterwards was not easy. His death changed my life direction drastically. Among other things, I no longer had a home in the States.

Don was 14 years older than I. He had heart problems and had begun to lose his balance and fall a lot of the time. His mind was not as sharp as it used to be. It was becoming a full time job to care for him.

When I look at his death from hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if the timing and manner were exactly right. Have you heard of people making agreements before they enter this physical life to relate to one another in a particular way? I can’t help but wonder if Don and I did that.

After Don’s death, I simply holed up in the house in Roatan and wrote Shift, the book I’ve known for 35 years I had to write. Would I have had the time and focus to write a book had Don wasted away for years? Probably not.

When my landlord in a foreign country evicted me because he thought he’d found another tenant who would pay him more money and give him a longer term lease, I was furious. The anger again made me aware of how important commitment , accountability, and trust were to me. I struggled to find ways to enforce those values in a country that had little respect them. On the physical plane, it was not a struggle I could win. Even though my landlord had violated our agreement, I soon discovered I had no legal right to stay. On the spiritual plane, I had help in ways I could never have imagined.

I left as quickly as I could. With the breach of trust and lack of accountability, I didn’t want to pay this man any more money than necessary. I had to let go and trust Universal Energy to take care of the “bad” physical things. I was not disappointed.

Shortly after I left, my landlord’s wonderful new tenant breached his lease with the landlord. He hasn’t rented the house since.

An astute, spiritual friend said to me eighteen months ago when I was first having challenges with the builder of my home, “Haven’t you figured out yet that you aren’t supposed to live there?” No, I hadn’t. I’m stubborn. I will exhaust every viable avenue I can think of to resolve a situation or relationship issue before I’ll walk away. However, when Higher Power doesn’t want me to stay where I am, She just keeps slapping me harder and harder and putting more and more roadblocks in my way until I have no choice but to move in a new direction. From hindsight, the new direction is invariably the one my spiritual path is intended to take.

Can You Be Authentically Angry and Authentically Fair at the Same Time?

Sep 05

My first thought was, “No, I can’t be authentically angry and authentically fair at the same time.”

In our human world, I frequently experience a sudden shift from being fair and reasonable to feeling rage when a person on the other side of a transaction stops being fair and reasonable, blames, doesn’t listen, doesn’t respond, and tries to control, manipulate or dictate an outcome that is not mutually acceptable. 

However, at a different level of consciousness, I think I can be both authentically angry and authentically fair.

On the human level, “fair and reasonable” assumes that the other and I have a mutual goal – working together to create a result that neither of us could create alone. We brainstorm and mastermind, throwing our thoughts out to each other and exchanging information about what we can do and what we can’t. We look for alternate ways of creating the result. Together, we make it happen. This happened for me recently with the help of almost 40 other people. It was both mind-boggling and humbling. 

“Fair and reasonable” at the human level breaks down when the goals of the parties are no longer identical. The homeowner wants a beautiful, well-built home. The builder wants to pocket as much money as possible with as little expense as possible. If the original understanding was that the builder would construct a house in accordance with specific plans using specific materials, and the homeowner would make progress payments, when one of them does not do what they agreed to do, it’s very easy, on the human level, to shift from “fair and reasonable” to authentically angry. 

“Authentically angry” is, of course, an emotion. “Fair and reasonable” is a function of the rational mind and normally involves committed action.

What does it mean to be “authentically angry”?

It does not mean lashing out with blame, criticism, and name-calling. Those are actions, not emotions, and often they’re done re-actively, not consciously. Experience tells me they are not useful. 

It does, however, mean noticing and feeling my anger. Then I can decide what to do with it. 

Usually, I have to shift from creative mode to assertive mode. While before I was working with another to create a mutually beneficial result, now I am taking unilateral action to create a mutually beneficial result. I am still being authentically fair and reasonable but I am using my authentic anger to change my own actions.

Change is never directed at the other. It is only directed at myself.

The mutually beneficial result may not feel mutually beneficial to either of us on a human level at the time, but from hindsight, it is always a karmic vehicle for bringing both of us into harmony on a more expanded spiritual level. 

When I first moved to the part of the world where I am now living, I rented a home from a Long Island real estate investor. I told him I needed to stay in the rental until my own home was built. He agreed. I thought my lease protected me. 

Two years later, someone  else offered to pay him more money and give him a three year lease. He asked if I would match the offer. I said, “No. I couldn’t make that kind of commitment.” He sent me an eviction notice. 

Fury does not adequately describe what I felt. I had always paid my rent on time and took good care of the place. Yet this man didn’t care. All he wanted was more money. 

I spoke with several local officials and attorneys. They told me he had every legal right to evict me. 

“What if I refuse to leave?” I asked. 

“You’ll get a judgment against you,” they replied. 

I had no legal support and no other worldly options. However, I had spiritual options. I left politely and quickly. I wanted my landlord to receive as little additional money from me as possible.  

My landlord breached his agreement with me. At the human level, there was nothing fair and reasonable about this. But was there a spiritual benefit? Absolutely.

I had learned once again that I needed to be more selective in choosing the people to whom I gave my trust and my money. This man had helped me step into my own sharpened discernment, assertiveness and power.

And the spiritual, karmic benefit to him? My landlord’s wonderful new tenant breached his agreement with my landlord. The house has now been vacant for over a year.

Searching for Healing? Pay Attention to Your Words

Aug 30

Did you know that you shape the world in which you live by the words and emotions you allow into your mind and heart? If you need to heal, put healing words and emotions into your life.

Forty years ago, I would have been skeptical of that message. The way I viewed the world then led me to believe that the problems I experienced were caused by others. After all, I was doing the best I could and yet awful things were happening. 

Now, I know differently. Forty years ago, I was simply giving my power away to people who didn’t deserve it. I didn’t have to do that. Because I was unaware, I unconsciously allowed it to happen. I permitted dysfunctional people to have free rent in my head all the time. 

What changed? As a young mother, I unexpectedly had a mystical experience. That experience started me on a long journey through the world of perception, thoughts, words, pain, despair, paradox, anger, fear, terror, joy, peace, skepticism, faith, humility, gratitude, self-esteem, and personal power. 

The mystical experience was not one I was seeking. It just happened. I couldn’t find the words to describe it. My religious training offered me no ready-made vocabulary. Yet the experience was so magnificently transforming I needed to find some way to communicate it. I desperately wanted to understand it. My search for the ‘right’ words turned into a forty-year quest that ultimately left me acutely aware of how many different ways I could perceive the world and how the ways I perceived it affected how I felt. 

I’m not going to go into detail here about the mystical experience. Those who want to read more can go to my website at or read the first chapter of my book Shift: Change Your Words, Change Your World. 

As a child I’d been fascinated with optical illusions. The famous one of the old hag and the young woman is a good example:

Old Hag - Young Woman

Old Hag - Young Woman

The lines on the paper don’t change. What changes is the way our minds shape those lines and the meaning each of us gives to them. Depending on what we see, we use different words. We either use words like, young, beautiful, vibrant, charming, gentle or we use words like big nose, toothless, hag, jutting chin, drooping eyelids. Depending on what we see and the words we use, our emotions and energy levels change. Most of us feel better about the words young, beautiful, charming and vibrant than we do about the words drooping eyelids, big nose and toothless. 

Our real world is just like an optical illusion. We have a choice as to what we see, the words we use, the emotions we feel, and the actions we take. Perception, words, emotions, and actions are all interrelated. 

Eastern religions speak about piercing the veil of illusion. This is exactly what they are talking about. Christians talk about salvation. Same thing. Both are simply talking about consciousness-shifting experiences that suddenly allow us to view our world in a new, more harmonious, and creative way. 

How does shifting our consciousness allow us to heal? 

When we accept the fact that the influx of sensory data is what it is and that each of us is in a dance of consciousness with that sensory data, we suddenly realize that we have the power to change that dance by choosing our own perceptions, words, emotions, and actions. If our partner wants to tango and we want to waltz, we simply stop doing the tango. Either our partner will waltz with us or we will find a new partner who loves to waltz as much as we do. 

In short, by becoming acutely aware of the choices we have every minute of every day, we can seek out those people and experiences that enhance our energy and well-being and blithely dance away from those that do not.

Warm regards,


Janet Smith Warfield
Ordinary words, extraordinary insights
Author of Shift: Change Your Words, Change Your World
WINNER: 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Best New Age Non-Fiction
WINNER: 2008 COVR Best Website Award


Aug 29

Dear Ms. Warfield,

I live in Boquete with my husband and little boy, and I came across an email about your work.

Some years ago I had an insight that is very difficult to describe… the idea that in situations… in ALL situations in life, if only we would ask the right question (to ourselves or to the other(s)), this would be the key to successful living, and even to spiritual growth.

The best way I can relate this idea is to use your own described situation from your book… the one where you asked the fighting boys questions instead of scolding or lecturing.

It takes practice, especially if one is rooted in a faulty foundation, insecurities, and anger. But I believe that the practice of asking the right questions works. And I don’t think it is unlike what you describe.

Yours, Elizabeth Slagle 

Elizabeth Slagle has a blog at – all about her family’s Panama adventure.


LOL! Questions are good. The right questions are even better. 

One of my struggles in writing Shift has been how to communicate my experiences and what I know without sounding authoritarian. This is not about following rules. This is about personal freedom. 

Over lots of years, I’ve learned techniques that work. One of those techniques is questions. Another is telling stories. A third is dialog. A fourth is first person singular. A fifth is poetry, particularly haiku. A sixth is thesis and antithesis. A seventh is paradox or unusual juxtapositions of words. The latter jolts people out of their conditioned linear thinking. Divisive, linear words simply cannot communicate wholistic understanding. 

If you look at the linguistic techniques great philosophers and spiritual leaders used, the best of them used one or more of the above techniques.

  • Socrates used questions
  • Plato used dialog
  • Jesus used parables or stories
  • Zen masters use koans and haiku
  • The Buddha used statements such as “I am aware.”
  • Kahlil Gibran used poetry
  • Hermann Hesse used novels
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche used thesis and antithesis.

Current spiritual writers also use these techniques:

  • Neale Donald Walsh uses dialog
  • Eckhart Tolle uses dialog
  • Elizabeth Gilbert uses stories and first person singular
  • Janet and Chris Attwood use stories
  • Esther Hicks/Abraham use dialog and questions
  • Stuart Wilde uses stories and first person singular
  • Dr. Wayne Dyer uses paradox

But getting back to the subject of questions, how do we know when we’re asking the right question and when we’re asking the wrong question? There’s a very simple answer. When you’re asking the right question, you’re putting the power to answer in your own hands, not in the hands of somebody else.

For example, you can ask, “Why is she always late?” It’s a question that puts the power for answering in the hands of somebody else. Maybe she will answer. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she doesn’t even know the answer. Maybe it’s conditioned behavior. Who knows.

But when instead you ask, “If she’s late again, how am I going to respond? you put the power back in your own hands.

 Warm regards,


Janet Smith Warfield
Ordinary words, extraordinary insights
Author of Shift: Change Your Words, Change Your World
WINNER: 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Best New Age Non-Fiction
WINNER: 2008 COVR Best Website Award

Do People Need to Socialize?

Aug 09

This is one of those questions that truly can’t be answered in its present form. There is no general answer. Some people need to socialize. Others don’t. You may need to socialize sometimes and not others.

One of my workshop topics is “Ask the Right Questions to Get the Answers You Need.” Isn’t that the bottom line? Getting an answer you need, right here, right now?

The questions I’d ask would be: 

  1. What do I get out of socializing with other people?
  2. What do I get out of being alone?
  3. When do I need to be with other people?
  4. When do I need to be alone?
  5. What kinds of people do I enjoy socializing with?
  6. What kinds of people drain my energy?
  7. Do I need to socialize with someone now or do I need to be alone?
  8. If I need to socialize, who can I socialize with who will support me and fulfill my needs?

Those are questions each of us can answer for ourselves at any given moment.

Socializing with positive, creative thinkers can be hugely supportive to your goals and visions. Choose wisely the people you socialize with.


Spiritual Disparity and Lack of Communication

Aug 09

Can a relationship work when there is spiritual disparity in understanding and no communication?

That is such a tough question. It has many ramifications. Let’s see if we can break it down. 

At what level do you want your relationships to “work”?

A car with a bad muffler “works” in the sense that it runs, but it doesn’t “work” as well as a car with a good muffler.

A relationship with spiritual disparity may “work” on some levels.

For example, perhaps the partners have children together. Both love their children and are working together to support them. The man earns money to pay the mortgage and buy food. The woman cooks, cleans, washes dirty diapers, and educates the children. Neither is abusive, so on the physical level, the relationship “works.” This is a “working” that is not to be discounted.

However, on other levels, the relationship isn’t working. In the sexual area, the man wants an orgasm. The woman is frigid because her needs for mental and emotional communication aren’t met. The man spends his free time with male friends, bragging about how many orgasms he had in a single night. The woman feels deserted and relegated to the role of a convenient babysitter, cook, and cleaning lady.

Perhaps the woman tries to express her feelings and needs to the man. He never learned how to deal with emotions so he doesn’t know what to do with them. After all, he’s been taught that real men don’t cry, right? God forbid that his buddies should find out he’s a weakling. Better to avoid the subject altogether, crack a joke, and move on to an area where he’s comfortable and doesn’t have to look at what he doesn’t understand and doesn’t know how to deal with. 

So what does the partner with the more expanded spiritual consciousness do? Not an easy choice. The answer is entirely individual. I can promise it means you have to change.

The change you make in yourself will affect both your partner and your relationship. Will the relationship hold together? I don’t know. It will either become stronger and more satisfactory to both partners or there will be too much of a disparity and the partners will go separate ways.

Regardless of what happens to the relationship, I can promise that you will become stronger and wiser in the process and will expand your own spiritual consciousness.

Spirituality and Religion

Jul 17

Spirituality is an attitude, a consciousness, a way of seeing life. Religion is an attempt to put spirituality into words – an effort that can never be adequately accomplished because of the nature of words. Words divide. Spirituality is whole and integrated. Words are only reflections. While often, they can guide the seeker to Truth, they are not Truth. Using words to communicate the spiritual experience and consciousness is like trying to hammer a nail using a screwdriver.

A major reason we have war is because some people set their own words up as Truth and then fight with others who have set up different words as Truth. The fact is that neither has evolved to a consciousness where they understand that words are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. This is the huge danger of religion. Religious doctrines are created to codify the spiritual experience and guide the seeker to it, yet in the process of codifying it, they frequently destroy it. Used correctly, religious doctrines guide one’s own actions. They should never be used to control the actions of others.

The spiritual experience is pure awareness, beyond dualistic words, beyond my words, beyond the word “awareness.” And yet it can also include dualistic words. Sometimes, it needs to because they can be wonderful catalysts when used in context to shift energy. They just pop up and they’re there. 

Despite the inadequacy and imperfection of words, we have to put them out there in the best way we know how. It is through putting our words out there and engaging in dialog that we clarify, both for ourselves and others.