“Meaning” is something we make…

The kind of humans we want to be depends on the stories we tell and how we tell them – Karen Rinaldo

I’ve long been in cahoots with the Unusual Buddha. Jim Martin was the one who encouraged me to start a podcast, and he was also the very first guest I ever had on my podcast. I had the pleasure of being part of a roundtable discussion put on by the Unusual Buddha. I’ve written a couple articles for their website (here and here). I made a series of original art pieces inspired by Jim’s book, which are for sale on the Unusual Buddha website. And, I’ve been interviewed on their podcast as well. Given such a rich history of reciprocal collaboration, it will probably come as little to no surprise that I’ve joined the Unusual Buddha team in an official capacity. In fact, what some of you may find more surprising is that this official joining of forces took so long to happen. Perhaps, some of us, and by “us” I mean “me”, simply catch on slowly.

One of my first tasks after coming on board was to edit together a recent interview Jim did with Daniel Scharpenburg for the Unusual Buddha Podcast. About 15 minutes into the episode Jim asked Daniel if he thought that there was any value in the allegorical and mythologized stories that have become so intricately intertwined within the Buddhist tradition, to which Daniel affirmatively responded saying that “Yes, I think there’s a lot of value in stories”. This discussion surrounding stories, questions, stories about questions, and questions about stories was the highlight of the interview for me, and inspired me to write an article about that subject for the Unusual Buddha website.

I think that our capacity to ask questions and our to ability to tell storiesĀ are the most pivotal parts of what it means to be human. Our questions help to craft the stories we tell. Our stories help us to wrestle with the kinds of questions we ask. Good stories will incite deeper and more probing questions, which will in turn prompt a deeper and more probing search for increasingly meaningful stories.
In fact, Brian Greene writes that “The questions we ask determine the stories that provide the most useful answers. It’s a narrative structure that capitalizes on one of nature’s most fortuitous qualities: at each scale the universe is coherent”.

If our questions determine the narrative structure of our stories, then it seems that the most existential of all questions, “What the fuck?”, narrates a story that says the universe maybe coherent but, life makes no fucking sense sometimes. However, I’m discovering the subtle but important distinction between “sense” and “meaning”. Sense is an external faculty, a faculty external to “us”. Some things make sense, so many things don’t, and we don’t ever really get a say in what does and what doesn’t. Yes, we can try to make sense of something but, let’s be honest most of the time that’s a Quixotic quest. “Sense” is more often than not the windmills we go tilting at. But “meaning”… meaning is something we make. We show up, we do the work, we fail BOLDLY, and we make something meaningful in the process. The meaning we are making is in the making of our meaning. I am learning to ask better questions, in the hopes of telling, and making, a more meaningful story.


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