True Meaning, Nothing Less
What is it that gets you up in the morning? That orients you in life? That makes you feel that you have a mission?
What is it that makes life worth its suffering? That beckons when you are lost? That shines from afar when it is dark? That keeps your boat afloat through the storm? That provides a solid ground when everything around you falls apart?
What is it that preserves your soul? That allows you to look at yourself in the mirror and sleep at night? That makes you look back, at the end of your life, and say: “I can leave this place in good conscience?”
What is it that makes your life better now, tomorrow and the days after that, while simultaneously improving the lives of those around you and beyond?
The answer is: meaning.
What The Hell Is Meaning?
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
– David Foster Wallace
Without water, those two young fish would die. This doesn’t prevent them from ignoring the very thing that sustains them.
Similarly, there is something about you that would die without meaning, but you have never recognized it as a thing.
This makes my job of defining meaning to you pretty hard. But bear with me. I will approach this from different angles, and hopefully by the end of this you will have an intuition of what meaning is.
The Shape of Life
Meaning is the orientation of the present moment.
You may be used to think of what surrounds you in terms of things (the content of the present moment), but that’s not what you truly experience.
Take a moment to look around you.
Yes, there are things, but these things are not neutral. Certain things are irrelevant and fade into the background, while others demand your attention. They want things from you. They help you. They bother you. They are tools. They stand in your way.
If you put all those shapes together, what you get is a story. The story of where you are, where you are going, what path you are going to take.
What Is Your Story?
Are you aware of what story you are living? Does it have a happy ending, or is it a tragedy? Who wrote that story for you? Your parents? Your society? Your genes? Who are the gods that decide your fate?
If you don’t have a story, the most likely outcome is that you are going to live out a number of contradictory stories, like a cart without driver, horses pulling in all directions. How can such a cart land anywhere desirable?
And then there’s an even more subtle danger. Say you have a story. You know where you are going. Who tells you that the story is accurate? How do you ensure you don’t fall into a pit while you blindly pursue your narrow goals?
This is where the most important manifestation of meaning comes into play.
That Little Voice Inside
Your story is necessarily insufficient, therefore sometimes you will encounter something that doesn’t fit your story. Something scary, but also intriguing. It is a window towards the world that lies beyond your story. Chaos manifesting at the edge of your experience.
At this point you have two options: ignore it, shy away from its message and become dangerously separated from the meaning manifesting in front of you.
Or pay attention, describe what you see truthfully, negotiate with it, if possible, and integrate it into your story.
If you stay true to the meaning manifesting within you, your landscape of meaning will slowly transform into a mandala, the very symbol of integrated Being. Your story will become richer and make you stronger. It will become a guiding force for good, in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Explore Your Landscape of Meaning with Nick Redmark
Straightening out your story is serious, long, hard, at times frightening work. Sometimes it helps to do it with someone who listens to you, who supports you and trusts your potential for self-actualization, who can provide accountability and who knows a trick or two to get you unstuck and see things from a new perspective.