With everything in our life we place some meaning upon it. When we wake up in the morning we assign values to the expected day. When we look in the mirror we already have a story about who is looking back. When we are at work we ascribe some value to what we do and who we are doing it for. When we spend time with our family or friends we assign some meaning to the interactions. We are always thinking and assigning imputed meaning, both positive and negative, to everything in our lives. In this week’s blog I will share my thoughts on the meanings we give to things in our life.
What am I referring to when I write imputed meaning? We attribute our perceptions, values and/or opinions to everything and everyone in our life. It is rare that we encounter something that we do not place some meaning upon. For example, where we live has meaning for us. We typically find comfort and security where we live. Just walking into our home or driving around your community you have a perception of comfort and security. Similarly, where you work has imputed value for you with regard to the environment, your employer and colleagues. All of your interactions come with conditioned or perceived meaning. Our families and friends have some of our strongest ingrained values. Our long term relationships hold deep rooted meaning. How we interact and connect is based upon years of experience. This conditioning guides us in how we communicate and influence family and friends. Imputed meaning provides safe ground. It allows us to operate in a way that is known because we have already placed some context to it. We seek out or try to create safe ground so there are no surprises, we feel in control of our life and destiny. Illusory as it may be, we spend a lot of time trying to maintain control and feel safe.
Our anticipation of how events will unfold create imputed value. Anticipating the future is another way we to try to be in control. By anticipating how a future event or situation will unfold we begin to place imputed meaning to the events before it occurs. In essence we are creating our future before it has arrived. Consider for example, a loving conversation you are going to have with your partner. We typically make up a story in our mind about how we will say things, what will be their response, how we will respond and what we want the outcome to be. All of this occurs before the event and we have attributed meaning to every nuance. This occurs on a daily basis in our working lives. In the meetings we have or the conversations we have with colleagues. We often preplan what we will say, how we will say it and what responses we get. Seldom are we open to being open to what is but rather seek safety and comfort in anticipating all possible outcomes. How liberating it would be for us to engage in these situations without having placed meaning in advance. If we can be open to what is rather than planning our lives in advance, life would be more spontaneous, less stressful and more joyous.
It is rare that we don’t ascribe meaning to life, to be free and open to the unfolding of life here and now. In rare moments with no imputed meaning, we may find the rug pulled out from under us and we can’t find safe ground, there is an emptiness to our experience. A sudden or traumatic event is usually the precipice that disrupts our world resulting in open receptivity to the moment. I have had many of these events occur in my life, but perhaps none as great as moving to Virginia in 1993 to live in a sanctuary. Leaving a five bedroom house and a family with two young children uprooted my world big time. While this was self-imposed, nothing prepared me for the world I arrived in. My new world was a shared accommodation with four other guys. My bedroom had no place to hang my clothes, no dresser, a foam mattress on a plywood frame and no comforts of home or country. Granted I didn’t move to a different continent or foreign culture but for this small town family boy the foundations of my world were challenged. I could not ascribe any meaning to my new surroundings. Everything was new and I was raw, exposed and definitely had no ground under my feet. There is an emptiness to groundless experiences. Empty of imputed value where one is wide-open to what is.
Events in your life will no doubt have created similar experiences. The sudden end of a long term relationship. The death of a family member. The unforeseen loss of a job. Thinking back to these moments in your life, how was your world shaken? Did you feel as though there was no safe ground and your eyes were wide-open absorbing everything around you, while trying to once again establish safe ground? It is in these moments that we are fully alive, open and receptive to what is unfolding. There cannot be any meaning to the events in life as they are unforeseen, sudden and a surprise. In these moments, we are present to witnessing what is.
We don’t have to create traumatic moments of upheaval in our lives to live without imputed meaning. Training ourselves to be more present in each moment, open and receptive to what is unfolding will create greater joy and bliss. Just like exercise for your bodies, regular mediation for your mind will allow you to slow down, be more present and open to whatever is unfolding in the here and now. Using your breath as a means to center and focus yourself at any time throughout your day is a great way to create calm, peace and openness. Thich Hnat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, uses a very simple but powerful mindfulness breathing technique to bring us back to the present moment. Sitting quietly, with eyes open or closed, notice your in and out breath. Repeat the following words for four or more breaths on the inhale and exhale.
• Breathing in, breathing out
• Calm, Ease
• Deep, Slow
• Smile, Release
Use this technique at any time but in particular before engaging with others, such as in conversation or before meetings. This will help you be more present, calm and focused with whatever is unfolding for you in the moment.
May you be fully open and present to each moment,
May you be aware of the bliss of freedom,
May you be aware of your enlightment.