Sunday, September 15, 2013

Meaning of life 6: possibilities of transformation

As human animals our minds have become characterized by a tendency toward creating, finding, seeing meaning. As individuals our felt need varies widely as does our ability to see, find, create meaning. But we’re all involved in this ongoing project of our evolving humanity and
meaning plays a central part in this adventure.

We look for meaning in our own lives, our personal collection of knowledge, insight, experience. And we find it in our wider cultures and societies. Sometimes we have little need for it and at other times we feel a desperate need for meaning to sustain, preserve, heal our humanity and our soul.

Sometimes there are those with a strong sense of recklessness and high risk capacity in their personality, who are willing to make the very bold move to throw over the entire fabric of their lives up to that point and trade it in for something else they are beginning to feel matches or corresponds more to the way they are now experiencing their life. They deliberately and consciously trade out their meanings for new ones.

There are also those who have had no felt need for meaning, who gain their pleasure in life from other pursuits, but then their life throws them a curve ball. They can’t get what they need and can’t figure out how to get and keep the pleasure they desire, or avoid the pain or loss or discouragement flowing in. They lose their hold on whatever it is that has given direction and energy to their life. They have stepped off into the incomprehensible end of the pool, teeming with the confusing parts – the parts that can’t be explained or understood. They have run smack into the lived experience of the essential meaninglessness of the raw, un-adorned flow of life.

And they suddenly need meaning . Because meaning is precisely the capacity to transcend the debilitating emotional and psychological paralysis which overwhelms us when life fails us. Often this is an impetus to the mind to step back and consciously sort through our life; to begin to piece together those things which give meaning for us. It triggers an individual mental construction project that can be the door to a more consciously lived life, a life of awareness and deliberate engagement.

Or it precipitates a broader quest for meaning through the vast human archives of knowledge and insight. We can collect meanings from those whose sense of meaning corresponds fairly closely
with our own sense of our life, our experience of life. When found or discovered meaning matches our own, our mind recognizes it as real, genuine, valid. Meanings are personal; if they are not constructed out of the fabric of ones own life they need to be matched to that fabric fairly closely.

And, of course, there are those for whom the crash into the darkness simply overwhelms them. No meaning can be found or created and they sink under the weight of life. But there are also some among us who have a gift for both meaning and empathy. They can step out of their own experience and enter into the experience of the other. And from within the darkness of the other they can listen until they see the fragmentary remnants there in the darkness of the other’s soul and feel their way along the contours of the broken parts to reclaim and re-construct.

Those who seek to become healing agents to the broken soul, must first be able to step outside of their own context and see through the eyes of the soul that is broken. Because the only stable and enduring meanings will be those which are drawn from the individual soul-mind-life which experiences them.

If you want to think about the dark side of meaning creation – and yes, there is a dark side – you can go on to the next post.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Meaning of life 5: creating meaning

As humans we have a tendency to want meaning, create it, look for it, preserve it in thought systems of meaning passed down in our societies and cultures.

But there are times when we step outside of these culturally and socially bounded frames of meaning. These traditional sets of meaning complexes may have lost their capacity to give our lives brilliance, or to sustain and heal us in our pain. Or there are those who just like to wander through alternative mental landscapes.

As noted earlier, the felt need for meaning manifests in each of us individually, and over time, in a wide range from nearly non-existent to immensely significant. And similarly, the capacity or skill or aptitude for creating, seeing, finding meaning also runs in a spectrum from slight to strong.

Those who have an inherent felt need for meaning but who have a low capacity for creation of meaning – or who find themselves in such a state – will often turn to others who not only have a capacity to create meaning but to convey that meaning, to express it, to pass it along. We value those who have the capacity training, skill, or insight to show us meaning, construct meaning in our world in which we live out our lives.

There are many different types of meaning creators, with different levels of skill and different attraction or appeal. Societies develop public meaning creators who can articulate the meanings which many in that society have developed in concert with one another, that have become a public shared meanings. Those who can express shared meanings in culturally and socially accessible contexts – writers, musicians, artists, speakers, creators of film and dance – often become the touchstones of meaning for their generation.

In addition to the broad social creators of meaning, there are also numerous providers of meaning all through our communities and families. They serve smaller groups of shared needs, or shared interests. The ability to see and give meaning is an inherent ability for our human mind. We can all do it, sometimes better, sometimes not so much. Our own meanings are always more powerful and more transformative than acquired meanings. But often we will be able to come across those who are able to speak, present, manifest the meanings that we have known but not been able to articulate to ourselves. We can absorb these meanings and appropriate them as our own.

Our minds are always involved in accessing, evaluating, re-evaluating, configuring, and re-configuring all the information, knowledge, learning experiences, pattern identification, and innumerable other tools and resources for managing our lives. Meaning is one of the resources which our mind is continually re-considering, re-vamping, re-organizing in the context of the lived experiences through which we make our way. It’s all part of the wonderful and terrible adventure of living life as a human.

For more adventures introduced by meaning see the next post