Our Attachment to Meaning, and How it Blocks Us

We tend to attach meaning to everything. We are meaning making machines. 


When we are little, we are talk to speak, which is essentially an agreement of symbols representing our interpretation of the truth (I’m reading The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz - give it a read!). In other words, our vocabulary is based on a lineage of experience, and perspectives that create the full meaning behind a word; and, that meaning is distinct in each individual, family, culture, country, social class, etc. So, our ability to communicate and express the “truth” is deeply flawed and unreliable. 


Ok, so what? Well, if each of us attaches a slightly different meaning to the same word/concept/behavior, etc, we are in a constant state of, at least slightly, misunderstanding each other. What’s more, is if I am attached to my understanding of something, but I see evidence of something contrary to that, it becomes upsetting, and my mind has to work on overdrive to prove that it isn’t so. For example, if I have an idea of what it means to be a woman (from my mother, media, culture at the time of growing up, etc), and then I see myself or another female doing things other than what I know to be lady-like, I am now judgmental of that person. As in, they should be behaving one way, but they are not, and now they are no longer good enough for my description of what it means to be a woman. 


We do this to ourself, ALL THE TIME. I would say that’s where most of our judgement comes from. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend, who is also a dancer, about how being “not good enough” for a job or in a class for dance is like terrifying and emotional, but being “not good enough” for an acting job or something that we haven’t trained in our whole lives, is totally ok. Why is that? Because we have attached a deep meaning to what it is to be a dancer. We have been doing it for so long that it has become synonymous with our identity, to the point where, if I’m not good enough, it brings into question the entire concept of “I am a dancer”. It forces me to judge myself up against some impossible standard of what that means to me (and if I’m in that place, I’m of course going to do that to others as well). 


A few days ago, I was having a conversation with a family friend. I said something about my love life, and what I got in return was a lot of judgement. Luckily, we are both emotionally intelligent, and we pretty quickly talked about why that happened (also because I’m not one to stand for that…I pretty much stopped responding until we could get to the root of it!). So we discussed, and we quickly realized this: she sees me as a strong woman. Strong woman to her, comes with a specific set of behaviors, and what I had just said, in her mind, did not match that image or ideal. (This is sort of like the thing where when you meet your idol in person, they are not as good as you hoped, because they’re like…human. You know?). Now, my friend and I quickly resolved this, and we have a deeper understanding of each other, and we love each other very much, but here’s the problem with this stuff - if her and I hadn’t talked about it, we certainly would have started to take space from each other, if not totally split. Personally, that is not a space that I want to be in, so I would no longer put myself there. What’s happening when we do that is we are holding on to a view that is not only an impossible standard, but it’s hurting us and others because now we think that that’s the only way to be “strong”! Which is insane! Especially because, I know, that what I was describing to her, among other things that she may disagree with, are the epitome of what make me strong - my vulnerability, my willingness to trust others, my ability to set boundaries and love myself deeply, etc. And yet, those were the very things that immediately led to judgement. 


To go a little deeper, no longer talking about my friend, but all of us - when we judge something for not fitting into our personal idea of what we think something should be, we eliminate the possibility of us learning how to grow in that area. Part of it is a lack of understanding, because we hear a word or a phrase and we go “oh no, that’s not strength!” without fully understanding what that means. But if we start the conversation from that assumption, we leave no room to actually understand, because it’s already been placed into the “not strong” category in our heads. It’s not moving. We are feisty when it comes to being right, so as soon as it’s landed there, uuf. It’s there for a while. 


To give another example, I have been seeing this one a lot within relationships and in talking about relationships. Last night, I heard about someone highly respected in the dance community, who was cheating on his wife for years in secrecy, with another women who also had a husband. The news was devastating to a lot of the community. I found myself getting kind of upset. But let’s get clear. I’m not upset about the cheating itself, I’m upset about the lying. The lack of communication. The inability to address this early on, so it doesn’t become devastating. Not only because that’s hurtful to her, and their relationship (and so many people’s idea of what a good relationship looks like!), but because it spurs on some very yucky stereotypes of men and women, that just exacerbates this cycle of distrust, non-communication, and fear. 


Here’s the cycle (and I mentioned it briefly in another post, so you know I like this one lol): men are liars, women are crazy. Look, we are human, sometimes people sleep with other people. Sometimes people freak out and get overly emotional. Sometimes we say hateful things, and do things to hurt another person (often without even realizing we are doing it). But what cheating and lying about it does is it adds proof to our stereotype that men are liars. It’s literally building evidence for this meaning that comes with being a man. (Not saying that that’s not there for certain behaviors in women too, but generally speaking, this stigma comes up a lot with men). Now, not only does the ex-wife of this man have a skewed idea of all of his behaviors, even the good ones, but so do we as a society. We now see something similar in someone else, and we go “oh no! That means they must be lying!” We build up our walls. Women get more and more afraid that men will cheat, and men get more and more on the defensive of having to prove that they won’t, and we end up living in defense, instead of in truth. And YOU KNOW WHAT? That very defense is what causes in the inability to talk about it in the first place. That very defense is what causes the need to lie and cheat in the first place! AH! 


Look, I’m not saying it’s ok to cheat, but if that’s something you feel like you need to do, talk about it. NOW. To someone. Figure out how to communicate it. It’s OK to have needs. It’s ok to be unhappy and not know how to deal with it. It’s OK to be attracted to other humans. All of those things are ok. But as soon as we weigh it up against some standard of what we think monogamy is supposed to be, or some standard of don’t ask don’t tell, or some standard of what it means to be a “good man” or a good person, we block ourselves from having the ability to really listen to ourselves. Because if we are attracted to another human, does that really make us a bad person? I think no, but if we are unwilling to look at it, and instead we act on it in a way that hurts you and others? Definitely not rackin up points in my brain. 


Phew, ok. That was a lot. 


So what does this all mean for us (besides if you’re thinking of cheating, or telling your friend off about her personal life lol)? A couple things:

  1. COMMUNICATE. Be willing to let go of your definition of what it means to be a good person, or whatever it is, to actually listen (including and especially to yourself!). Be willing to see your truth, instead of what you think it should be. 
  2. We have the ability to create whatever we want. You know, in the example I shared about my friend, I wasn’t hurt at all, and I could have been. She was harsh with me, at times. But instead of getting hurt, I wasn’t because in this case, I was so confident that my choices were right for me right now, that they are “strong” choices for me, that her words didn’t affect me. Why is that? Because I’ve decided what it means to me to be a strong woman, and all that it comes with; and because that is a part of my ever-changing definition, I get to create my reality in each step I take. I get to decide how to be the strong woman I want to be at every moment. 


One more example: for 28 years, I’ve been a night person. Everyone knows, don’t talk to Jessie in the morning. Not a morning person. No no no no. On December 30, I decided I wanted to wake up early. It wasn’t like a new years goal, it wasn’t like I decided to force myself to do something against my will, it was like, “I’m gonna be the person that wakes up at 6 am”. So I did. And then I just kept doing it. I have woken up before 8 am pretty much every day since, minus a couple of days after late performances. Do you know what was stopping me before? My attachment to, “I am Jessie, and I am not a morning person.” That’s it. I was attached to that. It’s easier! haha. And then, I simply decided to change it. And now I have. That’s IT. 


You get to decide what meaning you put on things. If you let your attachment rule you, you never get to learn. You never get to actually see what you truly want, because you are blinded by these inauthentic rules that you’ve been accumulating since childhood. And you know, you hurt yourself and your loved ones :(. 


You guys - we are changing every day. BE PRESENT at every single moment. Be willing to change your perspective at every. Single. Moment. And watch yourself evolve into the person you really want to be. That’s within your power.