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What is Meaning?

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Why Meaning?

First of all: why meaning?

For all of us, life can be difficult. Our world can impact us deeply, through emotions that stay with us and change who we are, until sometimes we don’t recognize the person we used to be or even know how we got here. Once there, it can feel like our mind is working against us, even our brain, which can sometimes take on an uncomfortable and intrusive feeling that didn’t use to be there. The whole thing makes us a little bit desperate, until finally, we have to find an ally in this fight, and fall back to the last and most important line of defense, in this case, modern psychology and medical psychiatry.

The problem is, both fields take a bleak view. Both tend to isolate the symptoms you came in with, and construct a narrative entirely based on that. It isn’t long until even you’ve forgotten that you were here because of issues in your life, and gradually come to accept the authoritative rationale for all that medication you’ve been prescribed: that your genes or your childhood probably made this handicap a foregone conclusion, and we’re just now seeing what was always there, hiding.

But that isn’t necessarily true. Due to a lot of historical, social and systemic factors, including the constraints of an overburdened system, medical psychiatry is how it is because it is far easier to manage the people afflicted by mental illness than to change their lives. And so instead of trying to understand how our brains are functionally connected to our day-to-day experience, much less culture and society, we create diagnoses which take up all of our time. If we could just figure out how our interaction with the world creates well-being in our head, maybe we could stop making people the problem; maybe we could create well-being by understanding the necessary feedback loops and influence our brain productively, even purposefully.

I’ve been working on a manageable, conceptual way to tackle this for ten years, one with proven results. I know – like Hair Club For Men, I’m also a client. We will approach all of your psychological pain in the context of your experience and come to understand the feedback loops that produce them, connecting you to your world in a normal, even universal way, all while externalizing the problems to a common human nature so we can tackle them together. We will call the connections between you, your experience and your subjective well-being, “meaning,” and seek to understand it, manage it and create the good stuff.

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What IS Meaning?

So what IS meaning?

Well it might not be what you think it is

For many, meaning is far too sacred to talk about in concrete terms; for others, it’s too important not to. Chances are, if you’re here you’re struggling with how to improve your life it probably feels like a very concrete problem.

Meaning has historically had a wide range of definitions, but for the purposes of introduction, we will compare it to something you’ve heard of – the mind-body connection. With meaning, we will take the definition one step further: the mind-body-world connection. Because meaning is, by definition, the power of our experience to change who we are, right down to the level of our body, mind and soul, just as our mind can change the world through action. This tri-directional influence the world has on our body and mind and vice versa, might rightly be considered meaning in all senses of the word. In one sense, the world can affect us emotionally, even biochemically, and change how we see and feel it; at another level, we can create meaning by changing our interaction with the world, which in turn changes how we experience it, mind and body.

What does this view of meaning make of depression, anxiety, even more serious forms of psychological pain and distress? What does it mean for ADHD, borderline personality or psychosis? For our purposes, we will look at these as phenomena that have emerged out of the world’s influence on our body and mind, changing the meaning of our experience at a biological level to create unsustainable internal conditions. So to put this in context, we will look at how meaning is functionally created under normal circumstances – how our relationship with the world is designed to work – in order to see how we might move our physical and mental states to something more sustainable.

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Functional Meaning

We will look at meaning as being something functional, a relationship between elements of our body-mind and aspects of the world it is designed to respond to.

A good candidate for this relationship is biochemistry. Certain important neurotransmitters – the chemical messengers in our brain behind crucial aspects of cognition – are responsive to particular kinds of stimuli from the outside world. These chemicals also have corresponding shifts in how they affect our cognition and disposition so as to produce certain functional responses to those stimuli with particular kinds of logic as to why this relationship would have evolved in the first place.

Though the full discussion is beyond the scope here (rather, the subject of many future blog and video posts), the end result is something we will call functional irrationality. These chemicals produce irrational influences, needs, drives and behaviors that can override conscious rational thought, but to a specific functional end, one that often serves an even larger logic that will become important to some of the connotations we think of behind meaning.

Functional irrationalities will help us to make sense, then, of how to interpret feedback between our inner world and outer world to take control of these feedback loops and influence them for maximum sustainability. Often, misunderstanding these forms of feedback with cultural narratives – even mental health narratives – can lead to a short-sighted view that interprets these views so as to make them unsustainable (often by trying to repress them, or by allowing messages from the outside world that these phenomena make us crazy or stupid). Through a combination of understanding, recontextualizing, universalizing and externalizing, we will come to embrace that these functional irrationalities aren’t just a liability implicated in the subjective pain of “mental health issues,” they are incredible corollaries to a life worth living, and serve a purpose in who we are that can guide is in using them not just productively, but meaningfully.