5 Ways to Consciously Craft Your Own Meanings.
“You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
~ Albert Camus
I know what you’re doing. You’re out there turning over stones in search of some deeper meaning to existence.
And when you do, you’re going to find some things: moss, algae, bugs, discarded exoskeletons. Your toes are going to dig into the mud. And you’re going to get wet. You’re going to feel the stream’s current on your calves. And you’ll probably discover some other hidden gems you never expected.
What you will not find are any engraved explanations, no statements of empirical meaning. Life is not some big game of hide and seek, where the gods have written down the correct answers under certain stones, and the game is for you to look in the right places. Though that would make a good story.
If you enjoy playing in rivers and creeks, turning over stones, and hunting fairies, then you should continue to do just that. There are treasures to be found everywhere. But just as you must bring your own eye in order to behold beauty, your life’s meaning lies in the joy of your own experience.
Do we find meaning or does it find us?
There is no such thing as inherent meaning. Meaning is not hiding out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Life has whatever meaning we attach to it.
In other words, we do not find meaning, we create it. And when we stop creating meaning, we get lost. And then, though we are in search of meaning, we go looking for ourselves. And we don’t realize that now we are two steps away from the answer.
And we also don’t realize that when we begin to feel better, it isn’t because we have found ourselves or even discovered meaning. It is because we have assigned some meaning to life again, to our present experience.
What does it mean to mean?
What does it mean to have meaning? How do we know when something is meaningful? It is not when another person, religion, institution, television show, billboard tells us it does.
Consider a rose. To a photographer, the meaning of the rose is its vibrant color. To a sculptor, its texture. To the blind, its smell. To a lover, it is a symbol of affection. To a gardener, a reflection of success. To a bee, it is food.
These are each aspects of a rose. And yet, no one could ever say that any one of these was the one true meaning of a rose. Which is also why it is impossible to say that something is inherently meaningless.
You can do this with almost anything. Take a songbird. I may see waking up to bird songs at dawn as the Universe giving me the best gift it can imagine to start my day. You may grab a pillow and wonder why in the world you’ve been so cursed.
When the gelato café moves in next door, you may celebrate it as the gods confirming you are, in fact, their favorite, whereas your best friend may bemoan yet another obstacle to a happy bikini season.
What do you mean, create?
Isn’t that like making it up? Are you saying we are just making things up about life to make ourselves feel better? Well, yes, in a way. But what I’m really saying is that the meaning of life is not set. It is not a fixed, static thing.
We live in an interactive universe. One where mysteries are forever unfolding around us. The meaning of anything in life is not separate from you. We all create our lives (and their meaning) everyday, all day long. Life is not a board game where we are merely game pieces.
When a painter paints a picture, everyone agrees that the painter has created something. And the metaphor often lies in the art itself. But the act of creation is actually spread across all aspects of our lives. Your life’s meaning is no different. You decide what is meaningful constantly. (Even if you are just deciding to go along with someone else’s idea of meaning.)
We assign meaning, usually without knowing we are doing it. But we can change that. We can set about to be conscious of the unique fingerprint of our own world of meaning. I won’t pretend to know all the ways we create meaning or all the ways that each of you will discover how you create your own. But here are five ideas for consciously crafting your own meanings.
1. Make a list of things that make you happy or sad.
It isn’t just the happy and joyful that have meaning. Things that are sad or uncomfortable are also meaningful.
For Julie Andrews’ Maria, some of her favorite things were: girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on her nose and eyelashes, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.
Probably on the sad list she would include falling out of boats, leaving places you love, and Nazis.
2. Ask yourself why these make you happy or sad.
They are pretty, they are comfortable, they excite you, they warm your skin, they remind you of childhood, your first kiss, your favorite book.
You don’t like water, being cold, racists.
3. Resolve to be present with each of these things when they happen in your life.
Don’t shy away from feeling unadulterated bliss or from a good cry. Acknowledge when and how anything in your life feels to you. Admit you are uncomfortable when passing a homeless person, that you are embarrassed by compliments, or that you get turned on when others kiss in front of you.
4. Create more opportunities to be and do the things that make your life worthwhile.
When you know the kinds of things that make you feel alive — whether it is doing something that terrifies you or making time to sit in your favorite chair and read a book — make a commitment to yourself to do more of it. Put it in your calendar if you have to. Whatever you do, do it.
Life is an endless opportunity for discovery. Get out there and be ridiculously sexy, grateful, generous, aware, kind, thoughtful, observant, artistic, supportive, explorative and brave!
And then, if you find it makes you happy, share your experiences with others. Inspire them to consciously create more of their own.
“When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others.” ~ Anaïs Nin