recently, i have had numerous little conversation bits on twitter about meaning and meaning making. rather than expound on my ideas here, i’d like to invite you to reflect on the questions below and/or the words of others who have thought about the topic. maybe you’ll come up with your own questions. maybe we can begin a conversation.
- have you ever wondered, “what is the meaning of life?” if so, what specifically are you talking/thinking about or perhaps hoping for when you ask that question?
- what does it signify when someone says, “his death was meaningless”?
- “meaningful” is another word. i just saw that i used it in at least 20 entries. do you use that word? what are you trying to express with it?
- does a tree have meaning?
- how does the concept of “meaning” fit into your approach to spirituality? to creativity?
- when you look at the thoughts on meaning and meaning making below, could we have used other words/ideas/concepts instead of “meaning”?
here are some things other people have said:
meaning-making is a bridge from the negative emotion caused by negative life events to positive emotion through cognitive restructuring. (by mary-frances o’connor in a paper making meaning of life events: theory, evidence, and research directions for an alternative model.)
stephen downes, a fellow canadian, has an interesting article on the topic. an excerpt:
in the roughest sense, ‘meaning making’ is the placing of perceptions or information within the context of a perspective, point of view, or world view. in other words, the ‘making meaning’ of something is to show or to understand how that something assists or contributes to one’s understanding of the world.
beyond that rough outline, the topic of ‘making meaning’ is fraught with dispute and conflicting accounts of ‘meaning’.
the term ‘meaning’ is of semantic origin. the word ‘meaning’ traditionally applied to words. the idea of ‘meaning’ is that one thing – the word, or the ‘sign’ – stands for, or represents, something else – the ‘signification’ …
but the meaning of a word (or sentence) may extend beyond what the words directly refer to. frege captures this idea by distinguishing between ‘sense’ and ‘reference’. other writers speak of the distinction between ‘denotation’ (ie., what a word ‘denotes’, or refers to) and ‘connotation’ (ie., what a word makes you think about, or what a word is associated with). such a distinction is necessary to understand metaphor. ‘the early bird captures the worm’ is either meaningless or [possibly] false when understood strictly by reference, but understood as a metaphor, may well be true.
in either case, there is presumed to be a strong correlation between what a word means and the state of affairs in the world. the idea is that, without a corresponding state of affairs, a word is, literally, meaningless. this opens the way, substantially, to a way of understanding the world, by understanding how we describe the world.
then, interestingly, there is something on a mental health site in new zealand that talks about creativity (interesting because i’m interested in both topics)
meaning-making is the construction of ‘comprehension’ from an individual’s experience. this may be the discovery of completely new core constructs or the reframing of current ideas. it requires an engagement with people, places, ideas or things, to create an ‘internal’ space in which an energetic information exchange can occur. this is what enables the individual to grasp an understanding of the unity between their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds. in the ‘space’ that creative process provides, one recognises themselves as this is reflected back by the image/word/sound they have made, and so comprehension expands.
futuredirected looks at it this way:
perhaps what we are really looking for is completion ” the recognition that the universe is exactly as it should be. there’s nothing wrong with it. we created this way, and if it should have been created some other way, we would have created it that way. but we didn’t. we created it this way.
when you are complete with life, and always already complete, then you are free from the burden of surviving. you have the freedom to create intentionally. your life as you now know it will end, but in its ending there would be no sorrow or tragedy. you would have had a life well lived and it will have been lived completely. new life would appear in your wake. the world you created would go on, always in the context of you. only by giving up the need to survive, in favor of being complete can one attain true survival.
life has no innate meaning, but it does have purpose, and the purpose of life is completion. this isn’t the answer. it’s not even the truth. it is simply a place to stand.
and here something that i think is quite representative of the place of “meaning” in buddhism – in this case, the meaning of sitting meditation (zazen)
our normal western minds would say, “ok, let me just try to figure this thing out, let me try to figure out what the meaning of this “looking at a wall” has for my life, let me just figure out the significance of this and then i will know its meaning. so let me just think about this for awhile.”
sit down! shut up! look at the wall!
finally, here are all the different interpretations of “meaning” on wikipedia.
ok, now over to you!