I will never forget a very strange experience I had as a young girl involving the word bicycle.
Suddenly one day, the word didn't make any sense to me anymore. Shocked, I repeated it over and over in my head and aloud, 'Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle, bicycle, bicycle', until the word was a series of strange sounds and odd mouth movements. The almost out-of-body experience of loosing my grasp on something so simple was frightening and dizzying. In that instance of astronautical disassociation I simultaneously longed for meaning to return me to the planet earth I recognized, while also enjoying, in some odd way, the freedom of no longer feeling tethered to the gravity of meaning, despite the odd queasiness it caused.
It didn't take long for 'bicycle' to regain it's familiarity and I was soon reunited with the community of English speakers who all agree that when you make these particular sounds in this particular series, you are referring to: noun 1. a vehicle composed of two wheels held in a frame one behind the other, propelled by pedals and steered with handlebars attached to the front wheel. Yet, the realization that there might be no 'real' connection at all between a word and the object it represents- that the connection between a thing and it's meaning was random and tenuous like a fragile tube supplying oxygen, was a revelation (however inexpressible at the time).
15 odd years later I am sitting in a classroom at McGill listening to a lecture on semiotics and the work of de Saussure. "de Saussure believed that the relationship between the signifier and the signified, is purely arbitrary' said the professor, standing in front of a screen showing a shiny red apple above the word 'Apple". The memory of my 'bicycle moment' came flooding back.
Whether young or old, 'bicycle' or 'baedeker', inquisitive young girl or a theoretical genius, we have a deep desire to tear down systems of meaning to their raw essence: a sound, a noise vibration, an empty symbol, that is at once powerless in it's randomness, and yet infinitely potent in it's analytical potential. This inclination, I have found, is then followed by the desire to rebuild meaning - this time to form an even richer understanding brought about by the personal process of conscious meaning-making.
Artists also do this during the creative process. We tear apart rough drafts, stare endlessly at the beginnings of a painting, agonize over a mise-en-scene and deliberate over a chord progression until for a fleeting moment, everything we knew, saw, tried, learned, believed and thought we knew becomes suspended in space as we orbit around our work searching for the landing pad of meaning.
Yogis also partake in this act - we deconstruct poses down to their foundations to understand how to balance, hold and breath in asana with joy and ease. The deepening of our spiritual practice asks us to open the proverbial onion, one tearful layer at a time, until we no longer recognize our selves as who we once thought we were - this is the homecoming to what is at times called 'the true self' - but it takes a frightfully far flung journey to arrive back to an evermore comforting home, and in this we have traversed the intention of self-discovery.
This, to me, is a core of both practices, (yoga, and art): learning to float through the sometimes terrifying solar system of exploring meaning in order to bring home that soul-filled message, feeling, experience, aesthetic and intangible beauty we the artist intend and the viewer is left with when all is said and done...
Today I try to remember to be that little girl - to look for meaning everywhere, not just in the dictionary but in the world of poetry, in the twittering characters on the screen and the emotional responses in people's eyes, in the murmurings of my unconscious as she speaks to me through the language of the heartbeat in meditation. In this quest I can use meaning-making as a primary tool for expressing my artistic intentions -and only then do I feel that my far-flung adventures as a creative cosmonaut are tethered to the core of humanity. Then, I can come back to earth and finish my work.