Nonsense as a Path to Meaning
„The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.“ -Ludwig Wittgenstein
As creatures of habits, we use and perceive repetitive patterns that define our identity. We are used to express ourselves in certain conditioned ways. We learned that certain ways of reacting give us security and all kinds of social rewards. Through these mental filters we perceive our mental maps of our sense of self and the world around us. Any psychological change is a change in reaction patterns. Yet most of us spend their entire life with this finite set of associations and self-definitions. Especially us old rusty children (also called grownups) hardly dare to explore novelty and new horizons.
“There is no "You" - Only patterns that you have fallen into”
We think of ourselves as introverts or extroverts. And according to our perceived self-definition, when meeting a colleague on the street, we immediately come up with reactive patterns of behavior. These patterns are useful for maintaining ourselves and acting in the world. Yet when our habits become stiff and don’t reflect the current of our daily need for adaption, these mental recipes create suffering.
When the flowing river of behavioral change freezes, when behavioral habits become our dogma, our mental maps become our cage. We repeat our learned behaviors until we become caricatures of ourselves. Our mental health is then dependent on a narrow set of goals and environmental conditions. We become rigid and stiff, using on a daily base the same jargon in the same social environments. Habits of expression, our inner and outer language, become the limits of our possibilities.
„The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. “
To push the boundaries of our habits (e.g. used language) means to push the boundaries of our perceptual event horizon. Yet once learned, it is hard to melt our frozen habits and boarders because these behaviors are protected by the guards of fear.
Fear tells us that everything outside our comfort zone is dangerous. That even when we suffer and feel not really alive, we should stay inside the golden cage of our narratives. With the light that shines through the narrow ego-tunnel, creative exploration is perceived as a dangerous and redundant luxury. Fear of the whip. Fear of punishment when leaving our secured paths. This fear creates intolerance of uncertainty and keeps us on our old rusty tracks. Repeating routines and comforting conformity. Falling into patterns of responses like Pavlov’s dogs.
Improvisation theater on the other hand encourages us to embrace the uncertainty and to have confidence creating new action beyond controlled scenarios. In this sense, improvisation activities serve as a form of exposure therapy, meaning students are put into safe, yet anxiety-causing situations and are forced to navigate the unknown.
In order to break our old patterns, we need first to calm our mighty guards (worries, fears, overthinking). We need to experience that it is safe to leave the repetitive paths of tradition and habit.
Learning to lean into adventure and new horizons means learning to act without recipe. To sail our ship beyond our mental maps and leave dogma behind us. Such spontaneous acting is best done with a wide awareness and a relaxed confident mind.
Softening our awareness, making it fluffier and more playful is often very difficult to achieve in the framework of our current mindset. Overthinking and habits cannot be beaten with thinking and reflection. Analytical reflection of inner life will just reveal the memories and old thoughts. Searching for your “true Self“ will just reveal old patterns. When trying to act without regarding our old patterns, we should also not fall into new patterns. For us humans it is harder to not find patterns rather than find ones. It is very hard for us to let go of trying to make sense.
Don’t try your best
We learn spontaneous acting by acting without “Shoulds”. Normally these “Shoulds” serve as extrinsic motivations (basically reward & punishment) and turn us away from the wide explorative curiosity of intrinsic joy.
So, the first step is to get rid of every possibility of extrinsic reward or punishment. This is best done when the acting has no meaning in our life. Improvising crazy can free us from the burden of making sense. Acting when it is not essential to our survival, social status, or any sense of self. This can be talking gibberish (nonsense talking: “BRAAKOOOLSS”), senseless dancing, drawing, singing. The more abstract the action is the better. The more abstract the harder it is to form expectations about it.
When the analytical mind does not find any relevant meaning in our action, it relaxes because it does not care so much about the outcome anymore. In this wide relaxed mind, our recipes that usually control outcomes and expected rewards start to loosen. Without recipes we can become honest, we start acting authentic and without trained masks of fear & conformity.
Without filters that would censor our thoughts and ideas we can allow the natural flow in us to bring childish joy and blossoms of ideas. In this free wild spirit of the child we become receptive to patterns of meaning that would drown otherwise in the jittery & hectic mind of our worries.
“Jump and the net will appear.”
Further, we find intrinsic meaning and joy in our play. We start recognizing how acting itself, the play itself gives us meaning. A meaning that does not depend on any outer circumstances.
Some environment parameters that can boost the healing effect of such senseless activities:
Environment of Unconditional Love & Acceptance
Acting with a partner or very good friend that we can trust and can be open with.
Move Your Whole Body
Express yourself completely. Embody your authentic energies. Have fun with synchronizing your body to music.
Rhythmic movements and sensations are tools that influence our deep subconscious. Beyond melody, a simple rythm is perceived as repetition, repetition tells our subconscious that nothing new is expected and that our analytical brain can relax and turn off.
Make It Personal
Train spontaneous acting in contexts that are personally challenging for you. Recognize situations where your awareness narrows and your muscles tense. Start with very small variations of behavior and improvised gestures that bring joy in else tense situations.
Act in Nature
Do It Every Day (even if it is just for 10 minutes)
Using Gibberish or contentless communication can be also used for verbal dancing. A dialog that does not concentrate on analytical excuses to connect to each other. It frees us from wanting to impress and control the outcome, so that we can enjoy the intrinsic vibe of the conversation.
Also, contentless communication frees our mind to perceive rhythm, melody and emotional vibes. Content would invite to see differences. Contentless vibing is like dancing, an emphatic Jazz play, melodies of synchronization. And talking bullshit is just crazy fun.
Gibberish (“maakios kaaa!!“) and nonsense talk (“Rabbit red Why sky?“) can train us not to take the external world and ourselves so seriously and to see meaning in life beyond external dependencies.
“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”
― David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity
1. Get rid of meaning & making sense by practicing benign nonproductive activity
2. Get used to act without positive or negative expectations
3. Don’t pause. Recognize little thinking pauses and leap over. No brain, no pain.
4. This acting produces a feeling of safety and openness in our body-mind
5. In this relaxed body-mind patterns and habits start to open up
6. This fluidity of patterns creates emergence and self-confident playful creativity