Movement & Meaning

The human body is designed to move. The joints are the juicy junctures where movement happens (click here for more on that). As my body moves and makes shapes, I communicate with myself and with those around me.

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The human brain is a meaning-making organ. On this blog, we’ve explored how posture and body language communicate both inward and outward (for more on that, go here, here, and here.) However, our brains make meaning not just of body shapes but of all shapes.

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Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien has identified five universal shapes that mean the same things across time and culture. In her book Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes & How to Use Them she demonstrates how these five universal shapes are used in art, architecture, design, and advertising to communicate particular things. Beyond language and culture, these five shapes communicate on a basic human level.

In fact, considering our preference of these shapes can give us insights into ourselves. As Arrien writes,

The preference for particular shapes is an announcement of the values and processes active at any time for an individual, a group or a whole society…. The meaning ascribed to each of the five shapes symbolizes and demonstrates an individual’s worldview: the qualities, characteristics, belief structures, actions, and forms of expression used by one person or shared by the members of a society…. The Preferential Shapes Test allows a person to discover one’s own current worldview…. The sequence in which someone places the shapes when taking the test is most important in showing which of the five universal processes of change and growth is being experienced most intensely by that person at that time….

To take the Preferential Shapes Test, take a look at the five universal shapes:

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Without over-thinking it, rank your preference of the five (1 = most preferred, 5 = least preferred). Tomorrow, I’ll post a full explanation of the meanings of the shapes and how to analyze your sequence. In the meantime, check out what shapes show up around you – in patterns on carpets or pillows, in jewelry, and in other details in your surroundings. Look for how the shapes are used in art, advertising, business logos and cards, architecture, and furniture design.

The body is a moving system. The brain is a meaning-making organ. Start noticing the shapes you tend to make with your body and the ones you prefer to have in your environment. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how your human, meaning-making brain receives them.

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