Shared meaning-discovery

In two more days I’m flying. I’m off to the international logotherapy conference in Dallas and on from there to visit my mother in Chicago. Airports make me a bit nervous because I’m afraid of getting lost. Mostly they give me a thrill though. I love the excitement of the huge numbers of people all going different places. It’s like a no-man’s land where the central theme is movement and adventure.

It’s also good every once in awhile to drop everything and get away. Change the whole routine of life so that the everyday feels fresher when I get back. I guess that’s called vacation. I don’t take them often enough.

Today the excitement has already begun. I’m packing and preparing various things. My vacation from work has started and I’m already in that vacation frame of mind. There’s no time pressure. I can plan my day as I like. It’s open-ended.

Summer is a time for new beginnings. I won’t be writing for two weeks. After my return the blog will look different. I will invite the conference-goers to contribute their input here. This blog cannot be only me. My original goal was for this to be a think-tank, and that means at least two people (or three, or four, or more) thinking and interacting.

I wanted that to happen through comments, and it has happened here and there. But interactive thinking is a radical concept. Mostly people just want to agree or disagree or sometimes be supportive.

But my vision is to put an idea out there and look at it from all angles and talk about our experience of it and share our personal meaning of it.

Many years ago my mother gave me an important book. It’s called An Introduction to Shared Inquiry, put out by the Great Books Foundation. It takes the group facilitator through the steps of how to carry on a discussion revolving around a text. How do we distinguish between interpretive questions and questions of fact and evaluation? What are the rules of shared inquiry? How do we pursue the implications of an idea? These and many more guiding questions provide a framework for deeply listening and thinking through the meaning of a text, whether it’s a philosophy book or Jack and the Beanstalk.

When I first perused the booklet I was very excited about the possibilities for discussion provided there. Then at one point I discovered logotherapy. It was then that I realized that I needed to take group discussions one step further than this book was taking me.

The text has a meaning just as any life situation has a meaning. However texts, as life situations, have a two-fold meaning. As Frankl says, there is the meaning of “what is meant” by the author or by the reality so to speak. In addition to this he wrote about the meaning that is embedded there, waiting for me to draw it out by discovering how it is inviting me to take a stand or do something. I create the meaning by responding to the text or the reality, by hearing how it is calling me, by interacting with it with my entire being.

This is necessarily a different kind of discussion. One characteristic of the first discussion is seeking evidence for whether the text means what I think it means. Participants will have different answers to this question and one answer will probably be more compelling than another.

In the second discussion the meaning of the word “meaning” shifts. The question becomes “What is the meaning this is inviting me to actualize through my response to it?” Here we are not reflecting the accuracy of each person’s logic. Here we are listening deeply to each person’s life calling and to the many strands of human becoming offered by the text. Instead of “shared inquiry” we might call this a shared meaning-discovery.

This is the kind of teaching I’m planning to do in the logotherapy course starting in October.

But I have gotten off track. The blog will be an opportunity to think about ideas and think about our life experience, so that we can do both shared inquiry and shared meaning-discovery.

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