“Nothing has meaning except the meaning you give it” (author unknown)
I came across this phrase 2-3 years ago, and it had an immediate, liberating effect on me. And it continues to provoke much pondering and grappling even now. I understood right away the implications for my own life and my brain immediately started unraveling the gravity that I had attached to some circumstances that had been causing great distress for me.
I realized that the choice is – and always has been – up to me – and me alone – what meaning I attach to anything and everything. Somebody else can tell me what I “should” feel about something, and I might go along with it either because I’m young and don’t know what I feel about it yet, or because it’s just easier to agree, but unless that feeling or significance resounds from within my own self, it will be superficial and unauthentic – and perhaps even distressing and certainly unfulfilling.
And so I was able to go back over some life events that had continued to haunt me with regret and bafflement. In most instances, I was able to see that I had allowed others to influence me in how to feel or respond to those circumstances…and more importantly, that it was no longer the way I felt or wanted to respond now. I was able to re-label those circumstances as simply life experiences that had grown me in a certain direction, and I was able to see the value and gift of the experiences in my here and now…thereby allowing me to change the meaning from “bad” to “good”. I did that. I chose to revoke the negative meaning I had once given those experiences and replace it with a new meaning, based entirely on my decision that it be so.
Very powerful stuff. And that’s not to ignore all the implications on a societal level…I don’t really want to go into how this concept could cause potential havoc within societal norms and legal systems. I’m speaking solely on the self level, in regard to experiences and circumstances that we go through and which may have taken on a life of their own simply because we attached that degree of meaning to them – which isn’t written in stone. We can at any moment choose to attach a different significance and meaning to anything that happens to us. The change might evolve out of further life experience, wise counsel from others who have “been there, done that” and are able to provide fresh perspective and insight into the dynamics surrounding those events.
Our filters change and evolve. We learn new things about the other people involved. We learn new things about ourselves and the emotions that were at play at the time. We are more able to see the many facets of the circumstances from the safe distance of “now” than we could have at the time of being totally immersed in the emotional firestorm or catastrophic impact of that moment.
I’ve learned, and continue to learn, how to be more careful in labeling experiences now. I’ve never liked being measured and defined by someone else’s yardstick, and I’ve never liked feeling that I have to believe something just because someone else expects it of me because that’s how THEY feel or believe. I cherish the empowerment of allowing myself to examine the circumstances and give a name to the specific impact they have on me personally. In any given set of circumstances, event or encounter, it’s up to me to decide what level of meaning, if any, to attach. I am no longer bound by the yardstick that others use to measure importance and value. If I choose to perceive an experience or event or encounter as “good” because I can see that it is leading me further in the direction I’m choosing to follow, then that’s what that experience IS for me. Someone else in the exact same set of circumstances or event or encounter might choose to see it entirely different, but that’s his/her choice, not mine.
I will no longer be a prisoner of someone else’s definition of me.
I can now allow others to be other, and give myself permission to be me. And to that – the liberty and empowerment of choice and self-definition – I give meaning.