Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Making Meaning

Originally posted on December 20, 2013

I’ve participated in the Network for Personal Meaning, and a recent email from Dr. Wong, who heads up that group reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about this topic.

Personal meaning emerges largely as a feeling, like feeling secure in one’s home. It can also be stifled by a childhood of great insecurity. But for many people it never finds clear words. Many others find a sense of meaning in the confluence of the many elements of traditional religion. For some it’s more in the community, and the words just give it voice. For others, the words are more important. Some folks find meaning apart from traditional religion, in various approaches to philosophy.

My point is that meaning is a felt experience, with a covering of words to anchor the feelings. For many, the feeling arises from sources other than the words, but the feelings find expression in the words.

Meaning is continuously being reconstructed by mind, just as memories are. Personal meaning is a cohesive frame, a group of words that allows one to re-connect to deep values. To build it with concepts is useful. To be aware that it is built and does not have final form is even more useful. As soon as one overly relies on what has been built, it becomes slightly sacred.

Jacob L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974), the inventor of psychodrama, was also a theoretician of creativity. He used the term "cultural conserve" to refer to that which has been created. These creations serve as springboards to further creativity. Problems arise when some people—indeed, alas, most people—tend to cling to what has been created as if that’s the end-point.

This is a deep mistake. What we have created—including our mythic frame for meaning—is not the end—and should not be. Indeed, there should be no end-point, no finality; withholding a finality invites and blesses those who wrestle with meaning to surpass whatever has been created before. I think this is also what Martin Buber meant by encounter. I meet you and we encounter—you neither convince me nor do I convince you, but we listen and grow. You, I, or we create something new in the moment.

In a world that continues to evolve in so many inventions, discoveries, new forms of play and mind as well as things, whatever we have created is thus open to further creativity. In fact, theology is a dynamic field. Admittedly, theology was once a subject for ultimate taboo and blind obedience to the authority for interpretation, but many brave souls continue to open to new perspectives, new language, new metaphors. My own vision of what some call God is big enough so that if I don’t do full justice to God’s Glory, It-He-She understands. My intention is to open, not to grab on to any belief that I finally know.

Thus, meaning-making is an open-ended, creative process. There’s no finality, nor need there be. Certainly my meaning—however I may coordinate the words, concepts, historical allusions, roots, etc., can never work entirely for you. What is important is that we meet and smile and say, in effect, "Aha, so you’re building meaning too? What’s it like for you?" No one tries to convert or argue, just share, and I may indeed get more ideas with which to fertilize my ongoing conscious and unconscious construction of life!

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