Meaning Makers

“We are meaning making machines.” The first time I heard that I was sitting in a conference room at the World Trade Center as a participant in the first course offering from Landmark Education, called The Forum. “Somesing happens, we make a meaning, somesing happens, we make a meaning,” Sophie the instructor ranted in a heavy French accent. First I laughed then I scratched my head. Things just mean things we don’t make it up as we go along. Uh, yes we do. Please keep reading and I’ll do my best to support this idea.

Consider this story. Following the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech? I was listening to an NPR host interview a local VA. reporter. The reporter commented that Columbine had happened in April also and only 5 years and 5 days or so later. Somehow that was significant to her. I did not see any connection neither it would seem did Neil Conan who asked her to explain the connection. The reporter sounded hurt and replied “Well it’s clearly something we don’t know yet but there may be something about this time of year. I saw it immediately.”

Still my brain refused to find anything compelling in her argument that two horrifying school shootings had anything to connect them save dead innocents and deranged gunmen.

What is it about making meanings that is significant to you dear readers? It’s the words “we make” as in, we decide what the meaning is when something occurs. This determines how our day goes and eventually shapes our lives. The above quoted reporter decided that because two terrible events happened which had similar circumstances they must be related. Not for me but she’s certainly entitled to create a connection. Although I never got to hear what the meaning was for her that the two shootings happened in April it wasn’t far behind her interview. The meanings we give things are based on our beliefs, values, fears, formulas for life, etc. and so comfort us or not but they validate us. We get to feel “right.” Further along in my transformational studies I heard this, “nothing means anything til I give it meaning, everything is neutral.” Or as Sophie put it, “Life is empty and meaningless.” Reading what I just wrote makes me laugh now but when I first heard it my head almost popped off in indignation. Why indignation? Because what I heard was that My life was meaningless. No, what was being taught was that an event by itself is just an event. It does not necessarily mean the same thing to two people nor does it have to mean the same thing to me today and then again in two weeks or one year. Example: When a high school science teacher told me I would not be any good at the sciences and I should stick to language arts I believed her. What I made her comment mean was that I was stupid if I couldn’t excel at science. Was I stupid? Hardly and as time went on I came to understand that. What else could I have made it mean? That I was more naturally inclined to excel in language arts but that since I was capable and passionate about learning science I could master it.

Does unmarried at 48 years old mean a person is unlovable or will never find a mate? No but do you know people who have the belief?

In an unhappy relationship for 27 years means that you should give up because it’s too hard to start a new life and have what would really make you happy right? Of course not.

What’s wrong with making meanings? Nothing at all. It is our nature as energetic beings connecting to the world and people around us but some of the meanings we create do not support us and can be limiting or damaging. Like the above two examples.

What meanings have you given your life events that could use a tune up? Do you hear yourself saying, “I’m middle aged and I’m too old to really get in shape, get a better job, move to another city and start over?

Here is a conversation I had with a client not long ago. The client, let’s call her Michelle, is a successful 50-something freelance writer. Her daughter is a successful 25 year old with a very busy, high pressure job in media. The daughter has recently moved into her own apartment with some girlfriends which is approximately 15 miles from her mother’s house. When I asked what the client wanted to focus on for our call this day she told me this. “My daughter has decided I don’t matter in her life anymore. It’s very painful and no matter how many times I call her and tell her I’ll take her shopping or out to eat she turns me down. Sometimes she doesn’t even call me back all day” lamented my empty nest mom. I asked when she’d last seen her daughter. “Oh two days ago” she replied, “we went out for coffee.” Pause, pause. Right about now you may be thinking, the daughter probably just doesn’t have much time to spare or she just got her own place and works a full time job. Or, at that age it’s good to separate yourself from your parents more. And, for heavens sake Michelle got to see her daughter two days ago, why isn’t that good enough?” There are many responses to Michelle’s feeling left behind or suddenly unloved by her daughter. What matters is changing Michelle’s current belief about why her daughter has not been as available. If not Michelle will continue to find other incidents to prove how right she is and stay in her misery. We have all done this, but knowing we can choose how we feel, and wanting to feel good vs. not so good eg. Unloved, unhappy, trapped, old etc. can make the difference when attaching meanings.

As I said earlier, the meanings we give things, in this case, “I don’t matter in my daughter’s life,” arise out of our fears, beliefs or past experiences. This particular meaning sounds like fear to me. The fear of losing her daughter as she becomes more independent and creates her own full life outside of her family means to this newly empty nest mom pain through loss. But who gave the situation the painful meaning? Michelle did right? So what might be a better meaning? There will be as many as there are those of you who aren’t in Michelle’s camp. I asked if Michelle would consider her daughter as the same loving, terrific kid who moved out just weeks before. Of course she is, cried Michelle. “Could you also consider that she is finding her way with a very busy demanding job and the social demands of being a hip 20-something in NYC who loves her mom but wants to fully explore her new social scene?” I asked. Our call ended on a high note. Michelle promised to find out how her free time could be occupied with what would give her happiness or satisfy her creative side. She vowed not to bug her daughter but to call when she wanted to check in and see how the job and roommates were treating her. If and when dear daughter called back was not going to rule or ruin her day. She would choose a meaning that allowed her to respect herself and her daughter. What a powerful concept empty and meaningless is huh? Just remember everything is neutral, it’s just what is happening or has happened. You get to choose how you frame it and how it adds or detracts from your life. Go on make a meaning you little meaning making machines. But by all means, make up something that serves your life.