The Art and Science of Meaning
Often when I offer coaching services to my clients it is not to solve their problems but to help them to find a sense of meaning in life. If you do not have a sense of meaning inyour life it is unlikely that you will find happiness and contentment. I often ask myself;
“How would I even know if something had more than a superficial meaning to me?”
“What makes something significant?”
“What is the link between a life of meaning and significance and what one might call, ‘Spirituality’”?
“If something is important to me, whether good or bad, is it important because it reinforces my sense of being?”
Years ago I came to the conclusion that it is a personal choice that we all possess to give something significant meaning; and yet, it is what we give meaning to that is essential to our sense of self. In the quest for spirituality, many of us have developed an increased awareness of and reached out to our cultural, ethnic and religious roots.
I realized that though I, as everyone around me had created or accepted a personal life story, to create a story like this requires a larger supporting cast. One does not need special training or a college degree to see the value in people, places, and things; especially those people, places and things that have formed the “living landscape” of the known and unknown stories that have shaped who we are.
I came to understand, as I pondered the life game I was about to create, that we give meaning to people, places and things, and what that meaning is, is a reflection of how we think and function. I began to play with this idea of “meaning” as I went through my daily life. Then I had an epiphany of sorts in 2007. I was working at a Wealth Expo in Dallas, Texas that involved a group of successful business people teaching seminars on the creation of wealth. The presenters included Barbara Corcoran, from the Shark Tank television show, Tony Robbins, Robert Kysosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), Former Heavyweight Champion George Foreman and Donald Trump. I was in charge of the V.I.P. area at the event and had travelled to various cities with this team doing customer service and solving problems.
Waking up unusually early, I turned on the television and came upon a show called The Farmer’s Almanac. It was sort of a “60 Minutes” style show with short, fifteen-minute stories of interest to thinkers, farmers, and those who generally take pleasure in watching educational television at five in the morning. I was half looking out the window and half listening to the television when a specific segment on this show caught my attention. It was one of those segments that speak to something you already know well but is clearly a shift in another direction – an obvious truth given a new spin.
This particular story concerned a well-known cultural anthropologist who had accumulated a collection of almost identical, seemingly ordinary objects that were actually so unique, so unusual, and so meaningful as to deserve an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. In fact, the collection was so valuable, and took so long to accumulate, that they had come to his private little museum, packed everything up neatly, transferred them to Washington, and, when the exhibit had run its course, returned them all to him.
Anyone could obviously see when looking at his collection that all there was to view were small bottles, identical in size and shape, filled with a clear liquid of some type.
He explained that each of these small bottles contained the water he had drawn from one of the major rivers in the world: the Nile, the Amazon, the Thames, the Seine, the Mississippi, the Hudson, even the little San Antonio River, which is no more than five or ten feet wide in some places. In the interview, the man said, “The bottles hold the history of mankind, for what is mankind without fresh water? If you weren’t catching water from the rain you could go to lakes, ponds, streams, etc., all of which either came from or fed into these rivers.”
It was an interesting story and the interviewer commented about how unusual this type of collecting was. Then the anthropologist said something that really affected me in the moment and has stayed with me ever since. This is not a direct quote of what he said but it is the meaning it presented to me. He said that obstacles define much of what goes on in our lives. We function day to day pretty much on automatic pilot and then suddenly we experience an obstacle, often associated with some physical or psychological discomfort. It might be a red light that causes us to hit the brakes on our car. It might be walking up the steps of a non-functioning escalator or a long line at the post office. When things, events, or people limit our freedom, these “obstacles” take on meaning. We are also are often drawn to things of great beauty, sensuality, and elegance. These things also have meaning. So as you can see, to notice something in our lives, is to give that thing meaning.
I thought to myself, “If it had no meaning, would we even notice it?”
He responded to this internal question as if reading my mind through the television screen.
“We may need to ask: ‘Was the meaning already there waiting for us to notice?’ Possibly there was a shift in our perception of things that gave something meaning that might not have had any meaning just a few moments earlier.”
He smiled with a twinkle in his eye and said, “That is the difference between a bunch of small, water filled bottles lining a wall and the history of the movement and survival of mankind through history, as represented by the rivers of the world.”
So there it is. In the end what he was saying is that “It’s all about what something means to you!” This concept can have great implications for how one thinks, makes choices in daily life, and even how one uses language and communicates with others in the process of consciously creating a life game- a new personal reality.
I thought about those bottles It seems as if these water filled bottles were sacred to him. They had meaning to him and his story had great meaning to me. As. I could see that the bottles symbolized something much bigger than just a bunch of water-filled bottles.
I thought about all of the rites, rituals, and ceremonies in most organized religion. I thought about how the most intellectually sophisticated people give sacred meanings to things that would have no meaning otherwise. They have holy books, sacred totems, secret handshakes, good luck charms, various superstitions and such. Look at any group or any culture. Each has its own unique ways of bestowing meaning or discovering meaning in objects or events. Shamans, especially among indigenous peoples, will use what I call, “Tools of Meaning.” In these cultures plant medicine, geomancy and other tools are used to access information, illuminate hidden meanings, and magnify intuition to supply the necessary conclusions regarding the power and purpose of a place or event.
We become involved directly or indirectly with religion, politics, psychology, or art, all in the quest for meaning or symbols of meaning. It becomes ever clearer the more one appreciates the concept of meaning. The more one appreciates the symbols that reflect, or remind us of meaning in our lives the more effective we become in the game of life and the more fulfilling life becomes. Victor E. Frankl discussed this in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. In this book, he chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and describes his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most sordid ones, and thus a reason to continue living. Frankl was one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for many psychologists. He asked: “What was the meaning I was going to choose to define my life?”
Reading and studying these great thinkers, like Frankl, and their important ideas convinced me that what I wanted to do was make a positive difference in the lives of others. In the process of doing this, of creating this game, I wanted to have great love, freedom, kindness, abundance, emotional balance and spiritual contentment. I did not yet know how this was going to happen, but it didn’t really matter at this point. I believed that just by creating the game, the rules, the players, and all of the other essential elements that define a games meaning and purpose, would naturally follow. It also occurred to me that many scenarios that seemed problematic would seem less so over time through this way of thinking. I decided to call this game what it really was – “A Life Game”. The type of game that would teach me, step-by-step what I needed to learn. The key was that to play this game successfully I would have to begin with the basics. I would have to understand the fundamentals of gameplay.
These taken from my book “How to Hack Your Life Through Game Thinking”
If you have an interest in having a basic understanding of Applied Game Theory (and you need to) here is an interview I did with James Selman, a pioneer and innovator in Leadership research.
Just click below to watch the entire interview.
Listen here as Lewis explain the RealUGuru Project and how we can give up unnecessary struggle through visionary thinking in this insightful interview with award winning journalist Phyllis Haynes about the RealUGuru Project
Lewis Harrison is the director of the professional Coaching Training Program at the International Association of Healing Professionals
He is founder of the RealUGuru Project Think Tank is a is a life coach, peak performance expert, writer, mentor, content-rich, motivational speaker, and an entrepreneur specializing in problem solving and strategizing based on game thinking, applied game theory and Game Thinking.
He is the author of over twenty-two books published in five languages.
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If you are interested in business success in the 21st Century in the arts or in any other endeavor you need to study with Lewis Harrison. Begin by reading Lewis’ books.
If you are an entrepreneur you will want to begin with his books on game theory and business success. Here are two basic ones to start with:
The offerings on RealUGuru.com focus on the application of applied game thinking, gamification, decision science, positive psychology, happiness, and visionary thinking to solve basic, complex and extreme problems. He is the creator of a free course on business success and human potential.
Here is a short interview with Lewis;
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