The presence of meaning

We all tell ourselves stories – about everything: ourselves, other people, what others are thinking. Our stories all have morals to them, too. We give meaning to events. Events by themselves have no meaning. We ascribe meaning to them. We say “this happened and that means I am and/or others are (fill in the blank).” We even pronounce judgment upon our own thoughts and feelings that resulted from the event.

As I am meandering (and occasionally stumbling and downright falling on my ass) down the pathway of the past and not quite forgotten memories, I will come upon an incident that occurred over 40 years ago and still be able to recall the details including what was said and done, what I felt at the time, and what I was thinking. I also recall the meanings that I branded upon that incident, my thoughts, and my feelings. I can even recreate the feelings as well as think those same thoughts again. If I hang with the memory just a little while longer, I also discover the decisions that I made in those moments about how I was going to be from now on.

It is not a shock to discover that I am still living out those decisions over 40 years later.

It does not surprise me that when I think about changing a decision, I feel just a tad bit threatened and scared. After all, the child I was then made those decisions to survive the circumstances she was powerless over and remain as emotionally and mentally intact as she could. Now, looking back, I watch the child I was give myself a meaning based on what other people said or did even though clearly at the time my initial thoughts were, “that’s your problem.” I knew even as young as five years of age that what other people said and did was all about them, not me. But I gave meaning to that behavior. It meant I was responsible.

And, I took on responsibility for others because I had been told that my attitude was wrong, that I was making other people behave the way they did (all of us had adults who played this trick on us – remember the words “You make me so ________!”? They did that to manipulate us into behaving the way they wanted us to behave.)

This way of living pretty much strangled any growth of individuality. Instead, I became a puppet who thought she could rule the world if she just danced to everybody’s strings just the right way.

How nutty is that?

Let me reframe my nutty judgment. The skill and the insight are useful. I am living in a world where most of the population believes that other people control how they feel and, thus, what they do, including how they treat themselves and others. I know how to identify these people and thus limit my exposure to them. I appreciate the five-year-old in me who is wise enough to recognize the symptoms in others, and who took good care of herself way back then. At age five, she had neither the power nor the words to extricate herself from such people.

But now she does.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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15 Responses to “The presence of meaning”

  1. holessence Says:

    “… I am still living out those decisions over 40 years later.”

    Barbara, I see people every single day whose past still has a strangle-hold on their lives to this day. It controls many of their thoughts and actions. And amazingly, many of the people who were associated with their past are long since dead and gone — but their death-like grip is ever strong.

    Examining what serves us well — and what does not — is vital to a healthy life – body, mind, and spirit. Releasing what does not serve us well, and embracing what is positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing is key.

    Great insight — I’ll be reading your post again and again throughout the day!

  2. Barbara Kass Says:

    Hi, Laurie — there are plenty of decisions that I made as a child that I am glad I made and carry with me today: independence, pursuit of happiness, to treat others well, and to take care of myself. If I take responsibility for those decisions, I have to take responsibility for all my decisions. I am so very glad I made the decision as a young adult to examine my decisions and the process. I know that I am happier now than I have ever been before and that comes from releasing (as you say above) that which does not serve me well.

  3. Gil Says:

    “I am living in a world where most of the population believes that other people control how they feel and, thus, what they do, including how they treat themselves and others.” yes, me too… There is term for it, external locus of control. Disempowered. They expect somebody/something else to take responsibility for them. As a healer you cannot take responsibility only teach them how to take responsibility for themselves. I am so annoyed at the moment with what is going on in government in my country. They are behaving like a bunch of spoiled irresponsible brats. I just wish they would grow up, take responsibility for their chores, and stop stealing from the cookie jar!

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Gil — people who like to be in charge of governments are a very strange lot whether they inherit their positions or are elected. Most of them are not there because they believe in making a change for others. They are there because their egos told them to be there. Life is, essentially, all about “me” including the the collective “me.” If they realized that what they are doing to their people, they are also doing to themselves, they would behave a whole lot differently. Those of us out here in the land of tolerance are a little bit crazy, too. We keep allowing the same thing to happen over and over again and are so disappointed and angry when the outcome remains the same, too.

  4. jeffstroud Says:


    I read this yesterday… have come back to it this morning to give it another go.
    Once again I think you have a better grasp on your choices than most people. The fact that you can write about your past as past, as well as how it may effect your present, is healthy and growth.

    I have had a headache for 24 hours, so my brain and mind are a bit mushy, I have more to say about this but you get the idea…

    I am Love, Jeff

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Jeff — first, sorry about your headache 😦

      I appreciate your observation about how I know I have clear choices . . . often, the grown-up in me does not want to make the choice I know I need/should/must make!

      And as soon as I remind myself in any specific moment that I chose to be here now, life gets so much more present than I ever thought possible.

  5. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    At age five, she had neither the power nor the words to extricate herself from such people.

    Oh my dear friend this so resonates clearly…

    I think also of “Love is Blind”

    Great choices, great challenges, Deep in the soul….

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim, the children we once were are still so very wise. I often look back at my childhood knowing what I know now and how my life must have been and realize that I made absolutely the best choices I could have made for myself at that time. I very much appreciate the struggle my child went through to get me here.

  6. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I am putting a request out to the univers!!

    That someday I will be laying on a coach and chatting with you my friend….

    Struggles go hand in hand with getting us to different places….It is our job to adjust…

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      I might have a couch in my office, Kim . . . but mostly I anticipate having lots of large upholstered pillows and some smaller ones nestled here and there so we can sit on the floor and be more grounded 😀

  7. dadcraige Says:

    Alot is said… and I long to learn how to agree with your notions of the pasr/future. Donna awakened me for a fozen dinners for ne and our babysitter
    mre ronight by our 3 year old grand dayghtwe

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      you don’t have to agree — my beliefs and defintions of past/future (which don’t really exist . . . the only thing that really exists is the present moment) are simply that: my beliefs based on my ability to interpret life right now. I may be able to see more as more presence comes to me and that may cause me to change my beliefs; all is open to perception and interpretation.

  8. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I like that

  9. sandiwhite Says:

    Barbara, although my parents were loving and for the most part pretty stable, the loss of their first child, my older brother, put us in a situation where I wish we had had more freedom. You speak of taking on responsibility at an early age, when I got married I still didn’t know what responsibility was. It was a crash course. I am glad that although you went through such trying times you have been able to find the person at the core of yourself, claim her and celebrate her. You find things that I would not dream of looking for, for the fear of fear. I’ve said before, you have the courage of a lioness.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Your brother’s death was such a trauma to your family, Sandi. His absence made your parents vulnerable in a way they never had been before. You were their next target of vulnerability, so I am not surprised that they might have held you a little too tightly.

      I had an interesting experience this past weekend at the dreamwork workshop. in one of the exercises, I saw a vision of a Native American (Indian) woman holding a drum with an eagle’s head painted on it. I asked one of my teachers (a Navajo woman who lives in a pueblo) what message was I to get from this vision. She said that the woman is me in a prior lifetime, but during that lifetime, I became enamored with being white, envied white people, and in this life time, I chose to be born white. However, I did not have any skills to be white and the white people did not appreciate my native knowledge so I quickly forgot it to survive. She said that I need to reconnect with my innate knowledge that I know so well. I said that sometimes when I try, I feel my ego start rising and I back down because I don’t want to get all egotistical about reclaiming what I know so well. She said “that’s okay. Having an ego is the penalty for being white.” I am going to learn to be fully and authentically me along with my ego — that is my purpose. I guess that does take a little bit of courage.

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