A while ago I listened to an Invisibilia podcast that spoke about a remote tribe who experiences an emotion that has no translation. An emotion new to us outside this tribe. It is called liget, and it can best be described as a feeling of ‘high voltage’.
To this tribe, this emotion was an integral part of what it meant to be a human. The graces and rituals associated with this emotion were integral to their culture.
We, as English speakers, know what it means when someone feels the emotion of sadness. We know to try to console someone feeling sadness. We know what sorts of things cause sadness. There is a whole system of actions and reactions in our culture built up around this emotion of sadness.
But we have nothing like this for liget. I believe it is an emotion that everyone feels. I believe that it is indeed an integral part of what it means to be a human. It is only because we have lacked a word for it that we have failed to build up an emotional system for it.
In an attempt to start building an emotional system for responding to and dealing with this emotion (if only for myself), I will outline what I interpret liget to be and how it manifests in situations and emotions familiar to us English speakers.
I am no anthropologist or linguist. The understanding of liget I pose is solely my own interpretation based on my limited knowledge.
What Is Liget?
As described by the anthropologist who first brought knowledge of this emotion to the rest of the world, liget is the feeling of ‘high voltage’. To me, I interpret this the feeling of being unable to contain one’s self. An energy inside you that pushes you to action. Liget is often a ‘swelling’ of emotion, an undefinable but undeniable urge. When someone says ‘get a hold of yourself’, it is because you are feeling liget.
The feeling of liget is a wild feeling. While sometimes liget can be ‘out of control’, this does not always need to be the case. Liget can be perfectly calculated. It is a feeling of primalness, the need to express something within one’s self that simply wants to be the human animal that you are, regardless of all other factors.
To me, liget is the opposite of calm. It can mean excitement, it can mean anxiousness, it can mean wildness. Any expression of un-containable energy is liget. In our lack of having a word for this emotion, we have ascribed many of its expressions to other emotions. As I said before, liget is a drive to action. It is the urge to express one’s emotions, to shout from the rooftops.
Expressions of Liget
Liget in Happiness – Liget is what creates that feeling of “I’m so happy I could cry.” It is the uncontainable aspect, the ‘I just can’t help it’ aspect. It is the difference between euphoria and joy. Liget is what makes us run, jump, howl, and dance for joy.
Liget in Productivity – Liget is the urge to create, the drive to invent and birth something new. This fervor is liget, it is the muse, the wave of inspiration, it is what keeps artists and inventors mired in their projects, disregarding the need for food and sleep.
Liget in Anger – Expressions of liget in conjunction with anger are frightening. It is what we call blind rage.
Liget in Sadness – Shortly after visiting the tribe, the wife of the anthropologist who ‘discovered’ liget died. The anthropologist said that he had never quite understood what liget meant until one day he was driving, and the emotion of the loss of his wife overwhelmed him. And he just let out a guttural moaning howl. He said that this was liget. The overwhelming sadness that can only be expressed by releasing a sound of pain.
Liget in Fear – Often manifested as hysteria. It is the primal brain taking over the rational brain and reacting to a situation.
The descriptions above are very exaggerated expressions of liget, meant to connect one with the meaning of the emotion. But it is possible for liget to be a much more subtle feeling.
For me, I have often experienced a feeling of restlessness that I have previously attributed to boredom. Even though I would have many things I wanted to do, at the same time I did not want to do any of them, and yet I felt the need to do something, to be in action. It was an energy or ‘high voltage’ within myself for which I could find no outlet. I now think that this restless feeling is liget.
I think the reason most societies have disconnected with the feeling of liget is because we associated it with the ‘less civilized’ human, our more primal nature. We see ourselves as a civilized species and we want to distance ourselves from the perception of ourselves as animals. Thus, we have found ways of talking around this emotion, or ignoring it all together.
However, I think if we can understand and harness our feelings of liget, it will help us become even better humans.
Know when to express liget. There are countless situations in a civilized culture where it is not socially acceptable to express liget. When you feel liget, acknowledge the emotion, don’t just let it fester. Assess your situation, and if necessary excuse yourself from your current situation so that you may find an outlet for your liget.
Calm your liget when it is inappropriate. As I said before, I believe calmness is the opposite of liget. So whatever helps you to achieve calmness and stillness of mind will soothe the emotion. Meditation is probably the best/most common way of calming liget.
Don’t suppress your liget. Liget is not a ‘bad’ emotion. There are a lot of great things that can come out of liget. Boundless joy, beautiful and deep art, incredible productivity. Don’t strive for calmness simply because it feels more ‘civilized’. As the saying goes, let yourself live a little, and let loose once in a while.
Since hearing the podcast, I have searched for what liget is in my life and how it manifests in my behavior and in that of those around me. I have communicated my interpretation of liget to my closest friends, and now we now actually have begun to say things to each other like ‘I’m feeling so liget right now’. At first it was jokingly while we were having a kick-ass time or feeling just annoyed about something. But as time has passed, it has become more nuanced. This new tool for communicating our emotions has allowed us to understand each other better. It is my hope that it can help other people as well.