Meaning Making Creatures; Meaning Projecting Machines


QT, the gathering I cohosted on the weekend with Quanita Roberson, is largely about the simple process of being curious together. I like it that it is that simple.

The stuff we invited people to be curious about is that which has their attention. That’s pretty simple too. Sometimes, quite literally, attentions like those harvested in the photo above. A wall of post-it notes, in this case seven per person, with the freedom to respond at any layer. Thanksgiving — great. The Bengals football game — great. Racism and presidential politics — great. There are no wrong answers in “what has your attention?”

Sometimes, the “attentions” were accessed through dreams. We started the day by inviting people to share their dreams — with awareness that the dream might just be for, or connected, to the group. The subconscious works that way, right. We didn’t process the dreams therapeutically or with imposed objective definition. We simply used them as sets of symbols upon which we could individually project meaning. “If that were my dream, my detail would be the van driving to Columbus.” Then from there, to say just a bit about why that symbol stands out and has personal meaning, for example, “I relate to being lost.”

It’s a beautiful process. And this time, it taught me something further. We, we humans, are meaning making creatures. We can’t help but do it. Our brains, hearts, and bellies can’t help but make associations through connecting experience and ideas. Yes, there’s a whole pile of that that happens subconsciously. But we can’t help it. It’s as natural as blinking. Or smelling. Or our heartbeats.

But also, we, we humans, are meaning projecting machines. And my machines, I mean extremely productive. Prolific. Mass produced. Sometimes running amuck. Projection, the phenomenon of attributing (or piling on / heavily imposing) meaning in someone else’s behavior that comes from the projector, not the projectee. This one takes discipline to realize that we are doing it, which of course is at the heart of shadow work.

The former, meaning-making, is part of being human. The latter, meaning projecting, is part of learning to become more human, more aware, and more awake.

I’m grateful for a weekend of fantastic meaning making together, to all of the group in Cincinnati. And to the men in particular, for those 25 minutes in the kitchen of sense making and evolving the edges of healthy masculinity.