“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all. There is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.” ~ Anais Nin
Meaning can never be given to us. It can only be created by us. We don’t come preprogrammed with it but we are wired to seek it; all of us desire a meaningful life. There are two sources we draw from to make meaning: the things we learn and the emotional connections we make. For as long as we live, meaning flows in and out of our lives through the channels of the mind and heart. As we filter through all the information we receive and make sense of it, we assess its meaning and weave it into our lives according to its importance. Through this continual process meaning can grow more profound or become shallower as the complex details of our life stories shift and change.
We are like master artisans intricately threading meaning through every aspect of our lives. We blend it in like the colours of a magnificent tapestry and it becomes an inseparable part of the whole. When life is torn apart by adversity, meaning is torn apart with it. It can change drastically and in extreme circumstances it can disappear. When this happens people enter into a crisis of meaning that leaves them feeling lost, alone and frightened in a world they no longer understand.
How is it that something as important as meaning can seem to evaporate in the blink of an eye? Our three big anchors in life are structure, order and meaning. We create structure on our own through our interests and initiatives. We create it with others too, through our agreements with them. Order is the byproduct of it, and meaning is given to everything in it. What we may not realize is that we rely on a multitude of assumptions to cement the structure together. Each day we assume that our world will look much as it did the day before. Even if we are anticipating an event that we know will change our lives, we imagine that change largely based on assumptions. This is not good or bad. It is essential for allowing us to function in life and make progress.
A radical adversity severely disrupts structure causing all the cement holding it together to crack and fall away. Our assumptions tumble into dust. Suddenly things we thought we understood don’t make sense anymore and often things we believed to be true seem false. Some of the deepest questions we can ask in life emerge from the disruption of meaning: Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? When a crisis of meaning happens, uncertainty sweeps in bringing anxiety and fear. We feel the despair of being adrift in a world we do not know anymore. This is one of the most difficult challenges a radical adversity gives to us, and it is absolutely crucial for healing that we take it on.
When meaning becomes ruptured, we must find ways to restore it back to health. We must search for the places it is waiting to be discovered. When we find them, we have to start weaving again. Before we can do this we have to reach the point of healing where we are able to loosen our grip on life as it was. We can then open to new possibilities and start to restore meaning. Two of the best ways to do this are by doing something for ourselves that benefits our wellbeing or finding a fulfilling way to be of service to others. Both require us to take action and this helps us take back our power in a very positive way:
- in making a plan and carrying it out, we take control again
- we need to be organized to get things done which helps to bring back the structure and order of new schedules and routines
- we have a vision we want to make real which brings new purpose
- when we see it become real, we feel accomplished and confidence is restored
Whether you choose to engage in a personal project or extend yourself outward to help others, notice what you feel drawn to and follow this nudge from your wise, intuitive self. It will always point you in the direction of healing.
Adversity that stirs the deepest questions of life brings with it an opportunity and an invitation. It’s hard to see this until we find a more peaceful place within us to hold our memories. When we have, we will be ready to move toward a new future and will be able to understand that we have an opportunity to build ourselves back up in a new way. We are given an invitation to reassess and reevaluate; to look at where we have been, where we want to go, and how we want to get there. Whether we decline or accept it is our choice. If you accept, asking two questions and listening deeply for the answers will help to guide your way: What means the most to me in life and why? The answers that come to you are the weaver’s threads.