You know about nuclear fusion, when there’s a union of atomic nuclei that forms a heavier nuclei resulting in the release of enormous quantities of energy when certain light elements unite. You may even know about the fusion process when there’s a merging of diverse elements into a unified whole.
But do you know about meaning fusion?
- Do you know about the fusion that occurs when a human being brings high qualities of meaning together and merges it with high qualities of performance?
- Do you know what fuses together dynamically in human personality when you merge meaning, intention, attention, and sensory awareness in a crucible of commitment?
- Would it surprise you to realise that when a meaning fusion occurs in a person’s life, the result is a peak experience—that is, a moment of ecstasy?
- Do you have meaningfulness as a “nuclear power” within you? Would you like to?
I got the idea of meaning fusion from Colin Wilson and his book about Maslow, New Pathways in Psychology. He set out originally to write his book in 1972 as a biography of Abraham Maslow. But in the process, he ended up writing a very different kind of book. Yes, there is a biographical chapter on Maslow within it. Yet he spent the first 130 pages writing about the state of psychology and the key thought leaders prior to Maslow. What excited Wilson about Maslow, creating his fascination about Maslow’s work, was Maslow’s modeling of peak experiences. So he wrote a book highlighting Maslow’s discovery of peak experiences and added to that his own emphasis on will and intentional effort. In the process, he stressed something that Maslow did not, meaning.
Early in the book Wilson brought up this idea of meaning fusion.
“Anyone who did chemistry at school will recall what happens if you mix sulphur and iron filings, and then heat them in a crucible. A small area of the sulphur melts and fuses with the iron. At that point, you can remove the flame of the Bunsen burner; the reaction will continue of its own accord; the glow slowly spreads throughout the mixture until the whole crucible is red hot, and the end result is a chunk of iron sulphide. The same process goes on in the mind when we become deeply interested in anything. The warm glow produced by favourite poetry or music is often the beginning of this fusing process.” (p. 31)
Ah, this describes human experience in terms of a meaning fusion crucible. With meanings that are high and robust enough, we initiate a process within ourselves that releases tremendous energy and an inner fusion that eventuates in a new emergent property.Maslow called that property “peak experiences.”
Yet what are these high and robust meanings? Normally, life seems to be pretty ordinary and average as day after day we do pretty much the same things. Then, as we go through our everyday activities repetitively, the repetition, the habituation, and the unconsciousness work in such a way so as to drain the meaning and meaningfulness out of the activities. Eventually, we become bored and disinterested – life becomes trivial. Nothing seems to matter all that much.
Maslow identified this as one of the greatest sources of human evil. He called it “getting used to our blessings.” And when we do, the repetition and habituation causes us to stop noticing, stop appreciating and stop thinking. As we then go on automatic pilot, we move through the activities with less and less awareness, until we live our lives in a pretty much unconscious state. It’s as if we become drones and robots.
Conversely, consider those times when you have found yourself deeply interested in something. When have you wholly invested your attention in something that you experienced as highly meaningful? Then your attention merges with your highest intentions so that you become completely engaged in the focus of your attention. Then you experience a laser-beam focus of attention as a fierce will of effort and persistence. And these factors describe the essential elements; a fusion of meaning that gives your life a great sense of meaningfulness. You are “in the zone,” in the flow state, a genius state—you are having a peak experience.
Revitalising Will with Meaning
You are familiar with the process of meaning revitalising your will, are you not? Just let an emergency arise. Suddenly, you have energy that you didn’t know you had, or could call upon. If you take a moment to think about the times when you have felt most alive, what occurs in those times? Did you just decide to feel most alive, or were there some stimuli that called upon you to act? If you make a list of those times and then step back to look at some of the factors within them, how many of them involved emergencies? Or if “emergency” isn’t the right word, how about a time of challenge, demand, deadline, great need, etc.?
Another experience, within which you may have felt most alive, may have occurred when you were on holiday. Perhaps you took off on a vacation and it was in the time away as you visited some place very different from home. Or you took a sabbatical that gave you a chance to read, see plays and movies, visit museums, etc., which expanded your awareness of some broader and wider meanings for your life. And thereby you refreshed your spirit with new meanings, expanded meanings, and fresh meanings. Somehow you found new meanings that revitalised your will and intention. Wilson wrote, “Meaning sharpens the appetite for life, the will to live.” Or it could have been when you were faced with a problem and got totally absorbed in the process of solving the problem. After all, we humans are at our best when we are solving problems. When we are solving an important problem, we not only can become totally lost in the problem-solving engagement, but we concentrate, invest energy, and tap into resources that we didn’t even know we had.
About this relationship between meaningfulness and will, Wilson noted:
“The deeper my sense of the meaningfulness of the world, the fiercer and more persistent my will. And increased effort of will leads to increased sense of meaning. It’s a chain reaction.” (p. 31)
In all of these instances, our will is revitalised by the meaningfulness of some experience. Before that our will was flaccid, lazy, passive, waiting, unengaged. Then a spark of meaning occurred and ignited it. And with that spark, the significance of something activated your will.
Meaning Fusion as Peak Experiences
What do we call the experience of a fusion of meaning? Wilson made more explicit the discoveries of Abraham Maslow by saying that the meaning fusion is the same as a “peak experience.” He recognised the relationship between a peak experience and the explosion or fusion of meaning:
“The peak experience is a flood of meaning. As it pours in, we ask ‘Why doesn’t this happen all the time if the meaning is there?’ Because we allow the will to become passive and the senses to close up. If I want more meaning, I must force my senses wide open by an increased effort of will.” (p. 37)
What a rich and semantically loaded paragraph! Wilson here speaks about the relationship between a passive will and the use of our senses and how using our senses, coming into sensory-awareness, and being present in this moment—for us adult humans is a function of our will. We have to choose to go there and engage in this.
If this is the foundation of a peak experience, then what exactly is a peak experience? It is a moment in everyday life when suddenly whatever we’re doing—whether talking to a loved one, walking in nature, watching a sunset, holding a baby, playing a board game, working in the garden, having an “Aha!” moment of realisation and a thousand other things—that is a moment full of meaningfulness. In our everyday peak experiences, we experience an explosion of meaning. This is the meaning fusion—the fusion of meaning that makes the moment sacred. And if meaning is what arouses our will to reach out even further to more and more meaning, then the peak experience itself is a meaning crucible where we are at the very center of life’s most precious moments.
What is the peak experience like? Maslow said that the psychologically healthy people he studied reported that it was “something like mystical experience, moments of great awe, moments of the most intense happiness, or even rapture, ecstasy, or bliss.”
“Perhaps most important of all, however, was the report in these experiences of the feeling that they had rallied even the ultimate truth, the essence of things, the secret of life, as if veils had been pulled aside.” 1
Intentionally Creating Meaning Fusion
What does all of this mean? It means that to be fully alive to each and every moment of life, we need to use all of our meaning-making skills as we learn how to find rich meaningfulness in everything. It means that whenever we get used to our blessings we sell ourselves short and we sell our lives short. And that is actually a formula for how to lose your life and sense of aliveness while living it.
Letting moments count reverses the selling ourselves short process. Can we do this intentionally? If peak experiences have a structure and if they are made up of how we use our mind-body-emotion system to create meaning in the first place, then yes, we can evoke a fusion of meaning whenever we desire. How do we do this? In the crucible of our commitment to being fully alive, we can ignite our best meanings repeatedly until an explosion of meaning occurs.
1 Set high intentions. First, establish strong intentions, that is, high and robust purposes. It is when we have a stake in something, in a job, a project, a performance, a person, an idea, etc., that we easily and naturally become engaged in it. Wilson also wrote, “Peak experiences are in direct proportion to the intensity of the will. The will needs a purpose.” That’s why we also have to have a purpose – a strong, robust, powerful, long-range purpose to get the best out of us.
2 Align attention with intention. Second, we can focus our attention on the things that fit our highest intentions. Focusing attention in this way is a process which anyone can learn. As a skill we can enhance and enrich our intentions. This, in fact, is something we explicitly do in the APG training with the Intentionality pattern (Hall, 1999).
3 We can learn the magic of counting. We can catch ourselves discounting and choose to stop draining value out of our lives and turn around instead and inject rich meanings about things. When I first introduced the counting/discounting meta-program into the Meta-Program model of NLP, I had no idea just how important it would become in the ensuing years. Yet, we have found this distinction to be one of the most critical ones in the process of unleashing potentials.
4 We can develop our sensory awareness. I think this is what Wilson referred to when he connected meaning with senses wide open. “If I want more meaning, then I must force my senses wide open.” (p.37). So the more present I am to this moment, and the more aware I am of the sensory distinctions of my experiences, the richer my meanings.
We live by meaning. You live your life by the meanings that you find and that you create. Meaning is the food that we thrive on; our daily bread. Without meaning, we human beings lack energy, vitality, and purpose and so we begin to drift in life and start missing the special moments that immerse everything in significance.
Yet we live by more than just meaning, we live by meaningfulness. And this speaks about the meaning fusion—how we create a fusion from our interpretation of events and experiences as we use our everyday actions and activities. Out of those elements then arises a fusion of energy giving rise to peak experiences. And it is these special moments that give us a taste of actualizing our highest and best.
So given all of this:
- Does your life have this kind of rich meaningfulness?
- Do you have an inner nuclear power driving you?
- Would you like a nuclear power of meaningfulness propelling you into your future?
If so, then several things are required. You will need to fully claim your meaning-making powers and give yourself to practising them until you can give rich meaningfulness to anything. An accompanying skill is that of being able to identify something that you have given too much meaning to or the wrong meanings to, suspend those meanings, and then reframe them so that you are no longer semantically reactive.
Beyond these semantic skills are the implementation skills. These have to do with actually taking an idea, concept, principle or belief and turning it into action. In Neuro-Semantics we call this the Mind-to-Muscle process and have numerous mind-to-muscle patterns— patterns that enable us to translate a great idea into a physiological activity. These patterns involve a process whereby we first “coach the body” to feel the idea and then commission the muscle-memory of the body to engage in that activity. But that will have to wait as another article in another issue of Actualise.
1. From Abraham Maslow 1961 presentation, “Lessons from the Peak Experience,” Western Behavioural Sciences Institute, La Jolla, California.
Hall, L. Michael. (2007). Unleashed: A Guide to Your Ultimate Self-Actualization. Clifton, CO: Neuro-Semantic Publications.
Hall, L. Michael. (1997). Secrets of Personal Mastery. Wales, UK: Crown House Publications.
Wilson, Colin. (1972). New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company.