I tend not to differentiate the meaning one can find watching a beautiful sunset and the meaning of words. A sunset is something we viscerally find beautiful and worthy of our attention. It is never a waste of time to watch a full sunset unfold. And yet, we can’t seem to understand within ourselves why it means so much to us. It is something more than us, that we can’t fully comprehend, and yet somehow it is enough : we do not require to understand it better.
Words are not simple labels we put on the things we can see or feel : they are tied to the very essence of the concepts they refer to. Words are way deeper than the mere title of a thing. Just as with the sunset, we can very well find ourselves in a position where we do not understand them fully, and yet, they are enough.
When two persons communicate, it is likely that they see different things through the words. This can happen when one person has more experience in a certain field than the other one, or even between two versions of a single person. When I journal, I find myself quite often reading something I had written a few months earlier and realizing that the things that are most important to me today were already on my mind several months ago, without me being aware. I now give those words a lot more depth, and they are a lot more meaningful, but if I had to use words to describe my current views and thoughts, these would be the exact same words.
This means that the more experience we have in a certain field, the more meaning we find in the words depicting that field. And yet, when we didn’t have that experience, we never felt like we lacked something to understand the words. The two different persons can very well communicate with the same words : one is simply going to see deeper things in them. If they talk about a sensation of bliss, or the idea of a partnership, they can very well understand each other and have a conversation. Someone who has actually experienced those concepts will find much more meaning in them and yet, there is no guarantee they have reached the deepest level of the words. Someone else might just understand them mode deeply. Nobody who knows a word ever feels like they don’t see enough depth in this word. Just as with the sunset, words are something we can’t fully understand, still it is always enough.
So, when do we find meaning ? I find that meaning is a connection to something that seems to exist outside of us. We have a meaningful experience when we do something good for someone else, when we leave a legacy, when our work will be valuable to others, … It seems that we need to impact the outside world to feel meaning in an experience. When I ask myself if a scene has a legitimate place in a story, I tend to perform one test : can I remove it without anything else being affected ? If the answer is yes, the scene doesn’t deserve to be in the story and it is likely that it was added simply to benefit the writer (who needed the character to do a certain thing, who wanted to tell a joke, …). On the other hand, sometimes I try to remove the scene and I realize that I then need to change the following scene to make it work, which I can’t do because of what a character has said before, which itself was based on yet another scene, and so on… In those cases, the scene is fully embedded in the story, and legitimate.
The same seems to be true for our own efforts and existence. If we feel that we or one of our projects could just be removed from reality without anyone else being affected, we feel very meaningless. But if others rely on us and would not be fine without our presence, that is where we find meaning.
Given that meaning is mainly attached to things external to us, it seems that it can act as a compass. In physics, we evaluate movement relatively to an anchor point. And so, a person on a train is standing still relatively to that train. We are constantly evolving. Not simply moving in space, but changing our mind, our mood, the ideas that come and go through us, … From that position, it is really hard to evaluate where we are going, and even to simply assess our own movement. But if we have an anchor on the ground, an anchor outside of that shitshow of change within ourselves, we can better appreciate the direction of our own evolution. Meaning ties us to external events, things and people, and acts as a negative mirror. By the perceived difference between us and that motionless anchor, it becomes possible for us to detect our rhythm of change.