Meaning making

 

Humans are deep meaning-making machines. At every instant of our lives, we seem to be processing our environments, both social and physical, and interpreting them in meaning-rich ways.

I look around me and try to find love, engagement in work, spiritual fulfillment, an identity in a complex shifting world.

While this is beautiful and “natural,” I think we must also ask deep questions of the meaning-making process. This is often difficult to do, as our emotions are so deeply rooted in the meanings we make of the world. However, if I persist with my questions, some interesting perspectives arise.

For instance: how can I be sure that a meaning that seems solid and real is not just my own invention? If I look at the social institutions that mean so much to me—religion, family, community, nation—I can quickly see that these institutions vary tremendously through the world. So in some sense, humans have “invented” meanings that may simply not exist otherwise.

Since life is so fleeting and transitory, I am convinced that there is something (or Someone) Out There who is permanent, beyond change, all knowing and all powerful. But the fact may be that the Universe is fleeting and transitory; that may be its beauty, power and creativity. Is permanence simply my invention, my belief?

My point is not to tear meanings down but to question them to reveal their limits.

Many mystics across the ages have insisted that when the human ego, with all its rich meaning making capacity, ends, then a totally different kind of perspective on life, one not bound up with human pettiness, emerges. It is this possibility, as well as the conflicts in human society that are born out of specific attitudes, that keeps me interested in questioning our frameworks of belief.

 

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