I happened to hear the TED radio hour on NPR in the car yesterday. I was struck by the structures that were picked up by the editors, the pithy moments, so I thought about a TED talk with a great hook.
As a young theologian, I used to dream abut finally having the meaning of life laid out for me. How could I understand the context of the universe, the balance of suffering & joy, the cycles of life? I imagined that someday I would receive the answer. Maybe, after you got your PhD. your diploma would come with a special envelope, one you could open when you were alone, that had the meaning of life inside on paper that would crumble to dust as you read it. Oh, to have that moment when all was revealed, when the puzzle pieces slipped into place, when I could finally be satisfied I had the sum and total correct solution to the riddle that life offers! If I just followed the rules, the received wisdom would be passed on to me and I would become one of the enlightened few, the Illuminati! I listened to those who claimed to have the answer, wanting to follow them to revelation, but the more I heard the more I understood that there was no one right answer, no single profound truth that would unlock understanding. We stand as finite humans looking at a world that is, from all we can understand, infinite. From our small vantage point, we will always only be able to see a small piece of an immense and awesome whole. This is why we depend so much on the engaging the observations of other people, on struggling to understand their experience and then integrating their vision with our own to build up a bigger picture. The image of a world, the understanding of a universe comes by seeing beyond the limits of our own cultural viewpoint. One of the joys of the world wide web is the way our sharing becomes linked, forming a network of points of reference. Navigating from idea to idea, from perspective to perspective, we find an dynamic context that holds shared meaning rather than being limited to the kind of sharing that I first imagined, the flat sharing in one book, the answer that can be contained in one envelope. Meaning, then, stops being a finite goal, something that can be summed up in one sentence, one paragraph or even one volume. Instead, meaning becomes a living process, something that only exists in the connections between the shards of meaning we each hold. Meaning is revealed in the flashes and links between ideas, not simply in any one idea or another. In a vibrant universe, the meaning is in the motion. The very act of chasing meaning creates it, for as we apply meaning to what we observe, meaning is both brought forward and sent away at the same time. Our meaning isn't wrong, but neither is it ever completely correct. People, in large, mean what they say. They don't, however, say everything that they mean. Their words offer simplified, idealized, convenient packets of meaning, but their choices often reveal deeper meanings. The very act of communication demands a kind of abstraction which both shows some facets and hides others at the same time. Simplification is always also obfuscation. Meaning, the deeper meaning of life, is always in the motion. Our choices reveal meaning in ways our words never can. What are you willing to fight? More than that, what are you willing to fight for? Your commitment to creation beyond defence shows the meanings you hold as so important, so true that you are willing to bet your own life energy to make them manifest right now, right here. As a trans person, I have learned that the the meaning of my life doesn't exist only in one moment, on one page of my life story, but that the powerful meaning is in the motion of my life. The process of moving from one understanding to another, in the actual motion of emergence, is the way I have embodied the meaning I most valued. Becoming is revelation embodied, clearing away the expected and the pleasant to reveal what lies beneath, the deep and abiding meaning that fuels our power. Today, when I look to understand the meaning of life, I no longer try to look for fixed and fundamental truths that have been dried and stashed in a book somewhere. Instead, I look towards the motion of creation, the truths that come from the process of vulnerable seeking, of moving beyond convention to actualization. For many, the idea that meaning is fixed and fundamental is comforting. They want to believe they can use set truths to create walls, separate themselves from evil, resist the pressure to open their minds and hearts to others, deny social justice by marginalizing those whose motion leads them beyond convention. Meaning, though, is in the motion. The very action of seeking meaning past assumptions, of searching for the connections which contain flashes of illumination towards the bigger, broader and more universal meaning of life becomes meaning itself. Whenever we are around other people, finding shared meaning in the motion of our thoughts and efforts, in the journey of becoming better, of co-creating a life with the power that runs through nature, including human nature, gives us ground to grow and heal. The meaning is in the motion, in the choices we make rather than in the pronouncements we proclaim. Our life becomes filled with meaning as we act, as we understand, as we create, not as we cling more tightly to received words and beliefs. The meaning is in the motion. We work towards grasping meaning as we move beyond holding on to one moment, one view, one idea of what should be and instead come to participate in and celebrate the motion of the universe, from the smallest quantum level to the blossoming of the human heart, the expanding of the human mind. The meaning is in the motion. May your motion continue to lead you towards deeper understanding and a more fulfilled life.