Eric Maisel, in his book Coaching the Artist Within, declares that one of the primary skills in living successfully is to “passionately make meaning.” I’ve read a couple of Maisel’s books. Maisel’s a family therapist and creativity coach, with a Phd in psychology. He may not believe in God, but he’s a good writer, and a helpful one, atheist or not. I’ve gotten inspiration from several of his ideas over the years (all you have to do to get the inner “I suck” voices to shut up is tell them to “hush!” and mean it…it works pretty well) and I’ll take inspiration wherever I can get it. (Well, maybe not wherever…you know what I mean.)
In reading the chapter of Coaching the Artist Within about making meaning, Maisel says you have to decide to make meaning, that your life is yours to decide about, and no one’s is going to decide it for you. In fact, there will be many who will try to derail you from whatever it is you decide is the work and meaning of your life.
So do we find meaning or do we make it? This morning, as I was driving into the church office, I was mulling this, and I remembered that I used to tell students that they could stop looking for meaning, because meaning had already been given. What did I mean? It had to do with God, of course, and ideas of origin, identity, and destiny, and being loved. However, it makes total sense to me that if there is no God, no personal source of origin, identity, and destiny, then of course, as Maisel declares, we have to make it up. We have to decide, and yes, passion will be needed to bring any meaning into the world, especially when there’s really not any fundamentally other than the processes of natural selection, reproduction, and survival.
But then, a metaphor came to me. It made me smile. What if meaning were like a material? And what if we didn’t have to find it, because it is all around us, like water is all around the world of fish. What if meaning is like air, and we move through it constantly, but really forget it’s there? And what if, as a material, it’s malleable, and can take various shapes and forms, and it’s not that we have to make it so much as we get to shape it, form it, make beauty with it, discover what’s possible with it? What if we’re not making meaning, we’re making life, and meaning is one of the materials by which we make it?
The Christian faith makes the straightforward claim that meaning has already been given. Worth, value, purpose, meaning, love…these are gifts of God that are there from the get-go. We forget, true enough, and have to figure it all out again, remind each other, help each other, shore each other up. And yes, I can even say I agree with Maisel, that there is a sense in which we must make our meaning, and make it with passion. But for me, making meaning is closer to painting a canvas than it is to making paint or color from scratch.
I’m not sure I know what I mean, exactly. Far too abstract. Maybe what I mean is buried in this: Children are far too busy playing to wonder about the meaning of playing. When they begin to wonder about the meaning of their play, they’ve stopped playing.
Playing is good…