Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Making/Discovering Meaning

Originally posted on June 25, 2015

I’ve been associated distantly with the “Network for Personal Meaning,” get their e-mailings, and have been contemplating the place of “meaning” in human life. It recently occurred to me that meaning operates at a mid-higher level of mental organization. Mind operates in layers, just like body operates in levels of function, and that operations on one level are not mirrored exactly at higher or lower levels. However, the way a higher level functions in turn re-organizes subsidiary levels. In the case of mind, how an idea or even sensation is interpreted makes a difference in its perceived “meaning.”

This multi-level way systems function applies to religion and even philosophy of life. The higher levels frame experiences at lower levels. Meaning-making is a deep function. It can be and usually is unconscious or hypnotic, inuring one from pain. Most people do not have a meaning system that is able to be articulated, even a little. Some have a vague religion but it may or may not relate to the way they think and live. For another group, their meaning system works full time. Many are in-between.

A personal myth or meaning system does have a lively function, though. Thinking about life, developing a meaning system, makes a big difference. It puts many experiences in a certain perspective.

The trouble is that it isn’t something you can just do. It has to grow organically, take root. I’ve been watching one take root in myself—a surprising one—because it is only half-way rational. It draws on many both rational and non-rational roots, and is supported similarly by my wife and kids and various types of relationships.

There is a “Network for Personal Meaning” that I’ve been rather distantly connected with, but I’ve puzzled over the articles associated with it. My current formulation is in this present writing. Meaning works as a frame. And one does not construct this frame by dint of will and thought. Well, somewhat, but what I realize is that it also has a good deal of background non-rational glue in it.

For example, my meaning is that “I get to help,” a line that has been thought by a fairly simple part of myself, and often murmured while doing dishes or laundry. I love this part and it’s coming to the surface more. It is far from clever, so it lacks the stamp of whatever cleverness offers. But it works for me. Another source of meaning is that my wife, who is brilliant, is also a little goofy and we need to help each other. In this mood, I realize that my being a part of this and that group, and an audience to my kids’ lives as they do their superhero stuff, and grandchildren, these too are roles that are not to be dismissed casually.

I confess that a part of me adds to this mix with my Amazing-Brain role, my blahg-ing, book-writing, article-publishing. But really, this is not as predominant as I thought. My identity as I turn 78 partakes more of the simple roles mentioned above than I realized. It does indeed provoke a deeper level of contemplation.

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