The Tyranny of Meaning Making

Something happens; a client cancels, or a workshop books up quickly; a friend thanks me for how I am with them, my car breaks down…
…and I immediately jump to making meaning out of the event: this means that I am a good therapist, a bad therapist, a valued and respected person, a poor victim of circumstance…
The meanings seem to be either about me: I am good/bad/worthy of welcome etc, or meanings about the world: the world is good/bad/safe/untrustworthy/predictable etc.
…and this splitting into categories; into me and the world, into meaning something good or something bad, is also characteristic of this process.
It can be exhausting, and often unhelpful. It doesn’t generally help me to feel ok about what is happening, or to make easy or wise decisions, and it takes my attention away from real here-and-now experience.
So why does this move away from ‘being with experience’ to ‘doing meaning making of my experience’ come from? And how might I be with my experience in a simpler, more graceful way?
I imagine a young being as essentially that: a being, rather than a doing.
Then, ideally, over time, experimenting in the world, trying things out, some patterns start to emerge, which generally support and dovetail with the felt sense of experience – structured thinking supporting and underpinning intuition’s expertise.
When early experience is unpredictable or shocking, or polarised, then intuition fails – the world doesn’t make implicit sense.
So an external explicit model is urgently sought, at a stage when cognition is still crude and simplistic.
The model is crude: good and bad, us and them, safe and dangerous. Simply being with experience, trusting the world, trusting myself all takes a back seat, and the explicit model calcifies.
…and as the model helps to make some small sense of the world some of the time, the project of refining, revisiting, changing and adapting the model becomes self-perpetuating – the world still doesn’t seem predictable, safe, comprehensible, so I need to keep tinkering with the model.

There’s not a lot of time in all this to pause and let the smell of the roses and the beauty of the view touch my soul.

It is possible, however, to experiment with simply being.
It is possible to pause and allow experience, whatever it is, to touch me, affect me, and pass on.
The more I experiment with this, the more I trust and relax.
…and of course, if it all goes horribly wrong, I still have my judgements and external frameworks to fall back on!

Stephen Tame 2015

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One Response to The Tyranny of Meaning Making

  1. Lynne Holmes says:

    Well said Stephen. The equanimity practice “and this is how it is right now – let me feel it” in a grounded way – feet on floor bum on chair type of thing is so helpful and attends to any split right now. And it also deals with the impermanence of all things, all states – “and this too will pass”, and having the discernment to know when to take any action. e.g. If I’ve got my leg too near the fire and its burning, I don’t say ah lets feel it, I take my leg away, nothing more, nothing less and certainly not making any meaning out of why I left my leg there for too long etc etc Ha ha.
    A lecture I went to a couple of years was talking all about this and the title of it was why zebras don’t get ulcers. Brilliant.
    Sending you lots of loving kindness, compassion for being human,

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