• Search

    Search The Teal Swan Article Library

  • Meaning, The Self Destruct Button


    We encounter various experiences in our day-to-day life. Some we could consider positive and some we could consider negative. But the quality of our experience relative to those experiences is flavored by one thing and that is the meaning that we assign to the experience. It is well known that the experience of labor and birth can be drastically more or less painful from one mother to the next based on the meaning she assigns to the experience. Two people’s experience of the same event is often drastically different based on the fact that they interpret different meaning out of the same experience. Think of it this way… if you started uncontrollably vomiting right now and you thought that the meaning of the experience was that you didn’t wash your hands well enough and had caught a deadly virus, your experience of that event would be drastically worse than if you thought that the meaning of the experience was that your body had begun to cleanse itself of all the toxins within itself so as to become renewed to a state of health. It is critical to recognize that there is a difference between what actually happens and the meaning of what happens. We must see that meaning does not inherently exist in the world in and of itself. Therefore, meaning does not inherently exist in a situation. It is an interpretation. And it is best not to confuse interpretation with truth. If meaning does not inherently exist in an experience, we must and do assign it to the experience and then we mistake the event and the meaning of the event for the same thing. Think of this like peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter is the experience, jelly is the meaning we assign to the experience and if we stir the two together, we mistake them for one thing… a third substance. This disallows us to see the truth of an experience. We must learnt to separate the peanut butter from the jelly, or the experience from the meaning if we are ever to regain a sense of truth and learn to select meaning that benefits us instead of destroys us. If you think this idea of assigning meaning to events doesn’t sound too serious, consider that you can destroy your whole life based on the meaning you assign to an event. Case in point, a little girl asks her dad to play dolls at 3 years old, but he is on the phone. He yells at her to stop bugging him. This is a traumatic experience for her at three years old. She takes it personally. Now let’s pretend the meaning she assigns to this event is “I am insignificant to my dad”. That was not the meaning of the experience of the event for the father, the meaning for the father was, ‘I’m busy right now’. But the moment that little girl assigns that meaning to the event, it is as if a colored lens comes up over her eyes (demonstrate) and from that moment on, all things that happen between her and her father are filtered through that colored lens. The truth is now colored and distorted by that perception that the meaning creates. Every time something happens between the father and daughter that causes her to feel bad, it will automatically strengthen that meaning she’s perceiving her life through.
    The colored lens gets thicker and thicker until anything that doesn’t reinforce it, cannot pass through. This father could really love her daughter more than anything in his life and do all kinds of loving things, but it will not matter because all his actions are now being filtered through the lens of the meaning she adopted at 3 years old. The father has no idea why she is so angry with him as she grows up. The girl in this scenario is likely to grow up believing she is insignificant to men, just like she was to daddy and will end up in relationships with emotionally unavailable men, covering up her misery with various addictions, wondering why her self esteem is so damn low. Looking at this analogy of the colored lens, doesn’t this account for why two people perceive the same thing so differently?
    What I want you to consider is that the painful meaning you assigned to your experiences, was never the actual meaning of those experiences. What we must consider is that we’ve been punishing people or avoiding them for a meaning that we, ourselves assigned to that experience with them. What we must consider is that much of the pain we are experiencing in our lives is not because of what we actually experienced but because of the meaning we’ve assigned to those experiences. Doesn’t this also make much more sense why we tend to be so confused about other people’s defensive behavior? It is important to note that conflicts about interpretation of meaning account for the majority of our more than frequent miscommunications with others. Take a look back over your earliest memories. With each memory ask yourself, what did I decide that it meant? What did I think was the meaning of the experience? Then imagine that at that moment, your ‘meaning glasses’ went on and you interpreted everything that was to follow up into your adulthood through those lenses. Does some of your life make more sense now? Do some of your relationships make sense now? What if the meaning you assigned to an event was not an accurate interpretation? I am going to propose that from this day forward, whenever we encounter a trigger or an event that causes us pain, we ask ourselves, “What am I making this mean?” So that we can discern the difference between what is actually happening and what we think the meaning of the experience is. This gives us the opportunity to set the record straight. For example, let’s say that someone gives you a really crappy birthday present and you feel your heart sink. Ask yourself “what am I making this mean? And the answer may be, ‘he or she doesn’t really care enough about me to figure out what I like and want’. At this point, instead of assuming that what actually happened is that they demonstrated that they do not care about you, you can either question this meaning you have assigned to the experience or you can authentically inform the other person of what you are making it mean and ask if that is in fact the actual meaning. This gives them an opportunity to set the record straight. It also gives you the ability to not put those meaning glasses on in the first place and thus to remain illusion free.
    Separate out the peanut butter from the jelly and question the jelly. In other words, separate out the events that occur from the meaning you interpret from and assign to the event then question the meaning instead of assuming it. Take off those glasses that you put on so long ago… And prepare for your whole world to become a whole lot clearer.