On Meaning

I am aware that I am con­stant­ly at work on my choic­es, espe­cial­ly the big one, my con­stant re-choos­ing to be the per­son I have decid­ed to be. To do oth­er­wise would lead me into inse­cu­ri­ty, dis­con­ti­nu­ity, a major loss of iden­ti­ty. Choos­ing and re-choos­ing is my sta­bil­i­ty and home base. Each day I am going places, from one con­ver­sa­tion to anoth­er, one project to the next, but under­neath the shal­low­er choic­es that allow me to accom­plish these feats, I am con­stant­ly re-choos­ing to be exact­ly who and what I have been. It’s my gyro­scope at work.

So the ques­tion is what might cause this gyro­scope to stop, and to make an entire­ly dif­fer­ent choice, one that is down­right incon­sis­tent with my inte­ri­or ver­sion of the laws of physics. The stan­dard answer, I believe, would be “obsta­cles;” that is, walls, bar­ri­ers, unto­ward events and dis­as­ters, sand in the machine. I change only because I must.

But we are not gyro­scopes, real­ly, are we? We do need sta­bil­i­ty, but we also need to step out­side that sta­bil­i­ty, that “real­i­ty.” We go to new places for all sorts of rea­sons, for the adven­ture of it, the new­ness, the fun. 

And for mean­ing.

Mean­ing is any qui­et thing that can knock you for a loop. 


Caldera”/New Mexico

I was up in the hills in Col­orado a long time ago. The day was gray with low clouds as I walked far off the trail into a deep pine for­est. Dry under­foot, the only sound was me walk­ing. Oth­er­wise, the place was absolute­ly silent. But then, sud­den­ly and out of nowhere, the wind came pour­ing through the branch­es of the pines, tear­ing at them fierce­ly. I felt a shud­der run through me. There was some­thing in that sound, melan­choly and omi­nous. I turned my face into it. It was not cold, but it seemed to enclose a time­less fore­bod­ing, of what I’ll nev­er know. After a few min­utes, the wind reced­ed and the silence returned. I was think­ing about that when sud­den­ly a huge black crow set off from the branch­es above my head, rau­cous­ly caw­ing. In the empti­ness, that sound, too, shook me. Wind. A crow. Well, you could say it meant noth­ing, just my imag­i­na­tion at work. Except that it all seemed to come from out­side, from nature, and I’ve remem­bered that moment for thir­ty years.

Maybe our ances­tors did not strug­gle with mean­ing the way we in our “mod­ern” soci­ety do. Mean­ing was all around them.

A lot of peo­ple right now, because of the reces­sion, are won­der­ing what they are going to do. There’s a great deal of sand in the machine. So it is good to remem­ber that it isn’t just the sand that caus­es us to change direc­tion. It’s not just the obsta­cles, it’s also an inner thing. It is mean­ing that cre­ates the gen­uine change, and learn­ing to fol­low it. It’s the wind and also what we make of it. It’s nature that touch­es us, and who can tell, real­ly, if that’s some­thing out­side or inside. Nature is still with us under­neath the day-to-day events that nois­i­ly stream past. And it is also us.

All I know is that when I heard the crow, the gyro­scope stopped turn­ing for a moment, and that was exact­ly the instant I turned around and head­ed for home.

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