Meaning and mana are the pillars that hold up the gateway to life lived as poem-fodder. Oregon’s late poet laureate William Stafford once said, “Poetry and other arts come from acceptance of little signals that immediate experience contributes to beings who are alive and fallible and changing.” Actually, meaning and mana are probably the pillars for the gateways to all the different lives a human can live.
Life lived by humans is almost never simple, even when the moves we make appear to be straightforward. According to ancient wisdom teachers, our moves arise out of a mixed bag of needs and motivations, desire and goals that form the matrix we call “self.” The motives and needs and desires are pretty much standard-issue, they say. It’s just the mix that differs.
Science agrees. Daniel H. Pink’s popular book, DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, lays out the results of a wide variety of scientific studies about human behavior. Pink lists the “three primary elements of true motivation”:
Autonomy (which is about understanding oneself and cultivating self-direction, a large part of developing mana or personal power)
Mastery (which is the other part of developing personal power)
Purpose (which is another word for “meaning”)
Says Pink, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” In his book, Pink goes on to present assorted ways and means for achieving that liberation in your own life by working with your own particular mix of motivations.
A PARABLE OF SORTS
Need an example of the wide variance in human motivations? Imagine that you’re a time-traveling researcher gathering data for some scientific study or other research project about why people do the work they do. Your subjects happen to be laborers working on a cathedral. Not just any cathedral. Make it a big one, like the Notre-Dame de Chartres.
Four journeyman bricklayers are among the people who’ve agreed to take part in your study. You ask them why they are engaged in this work they all do.
The first one says, “It’s hard work, but it’s my job. I do this for my family, to provide for them.
The second one says, “It’s hard work, but this is my career. I do this because someday I shall be a master builder and I will be the one in charge of a project like this.”
The third one says, “It’s hard work, but this is a part of my family tradition. For generations now, my family have been bricklayers and builders. I do this because I am carrying on the legacy of my ancestors and I want to pass it on to my children.
The fourth one says, “It’s hard work, but this is my calling. I do this for the glory of God. I do this because even when I am gone, this cathedral will still stand, and it will be beautiful.”
Each one of the bricklayers is doing the same hard work. Each one looks at the work with different eyes. Each one does the work for a different reason. And each one of them are probably living very different lives. Motivations — the “why” of living your life – vary. So do the results.
This YouTube Video by the Great Big Story video network, “The Lone Man Building a Cathedral by Hand” is about 90-year-old Justo Gallego who has spent 53 years of his life building a cathedral on the outskirts of Madrid in Spain. It is amazing….
THE EXAMINED LIFE
Life lived as poem-fodder requires a particular mindset – one that begins by looking at who and where you are now. Poets, artists and storytellers are particularly prone to examining life-as-we-know-it.
We look at the messy chaos of it all, focus on one specific thing that catches at our hearts, and we unpack and tease out the meanings contained in this ordinary slice of life. We roll all of these meanings and metaphors up into a ball that makes some sort of sense to us and we play with it. Sometimes by doing that we can discover new worlds to which we can invite other people to come and play.
Here’s a YouTube video, “For Those Who Dream.” It’s a heart-felt spoken poem by Osric Chau.
THE MEASURED LIFE
Scientists, engineers, technicians and other more linear sorts also look at the world with special eyes. They pull out their tape measures and calipers and use them to tally the height and width and depth of some part of life. They gather together far-flung bits of data and throw them into a funnel that moves the bits through a series of filters that have already been set up. These filters have names like “hypothesis,” “premise,” and “theory.”
All of the data gets compared and correlated according to preset or already established ideas and ideals. They hope, these smart guys, to suss out how the “rules” are supposed to work.
They take the little bits they’ve sifted out of the whole thing and press them into molds made according to older, established constructs to make more bricks. With these bricks they build other rules and constructs and edifices as they trundle right along making their visions “real.”
This way of seeing and doing can also be quite exciting. This YouTube video, “A Day In the Life of An Oxford Physics Student” was published by Simon Clark. What is most evident is the young man’s passion for his field of study.
Very different ways of seeing become divergent ways of making. Each one is a perfectly valid way to build a life with meaning and mana.
Here’s a poem:
NOT MY WALK
I forget sometimes, you see…
Your walk is not mine,
You are not me.
You’re headed off in
Some direction that
Makes no sense to me.
Maybe it’s ’cause your horizon’s set
At an odd angle from mine.
Maybe your gravity well’s
Located in a different place.
I don’t know.
It really looks peculiar,
That way you’re standing,
But, mostly…probably…that’s just me,
Just the way I see.
Looking at your stance from here
Gives me the jimmy-jams!
What is holding you up?
Do you get dizzy from that levitating thing you do?
Does standing sideways like that
Feel to you like hanging your head backwards
As you pump your swing up higher?
Maybe not. If that’s normal for you….
There must be cool stories
Sandwiched in there somewhere
In all that precarious-looking
Crane-stance thing you’re doing.
There must be things
That I can’t see
From where I’m standing.
So tell me, please….
How’s it going for ya?
By Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: Gateway by George Redgrave via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
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