Each of us is born a frothy bubbling cauldron of biological soup with a relatively simple array of relationship needs. While this foundational need for specific relationships doesn’t change, the nature of the relationships does. There are a number of notable relationship dependencies we possess at life’s starting gate that don’t necessarily hold as the center of our being as we mature. Using the rear view mirror from adulthood as a point of reference, we can see that as babies, we are unashamed of who we are. We had no desire for status, nor did we care about the status of others. Our satisfaction stemmed from whether or not a nourishing relationship climate was met. Among these essentials were food, water, air and specific social contact. We didn’t feel the need to lay claim to objects. We didn’t feel the need to believe one thing or another or act a certain way in order be accepted. All of these qualities of being say that we were not yet separated. In other words; there was no self or other in many real senses. It didn’t occur to us to reject someone for failing to meet a particular set of ritualized social norms. Abstract notions such as “right” and “wrong” did not exist, only satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Somewhere along the way to maturity we accumulated these other things. What was the currency with which these things were bought into our identity?
What happened to this initial state of being that inspired us to be ashamed of ourselves, pick up the notions of property, authority, good and bad and in some cases to horribly mistreat each other? In simple terms the behaviors we absorb that are destructive to what would otherwise be a fully nourished state of being ride the crest of a wave of “meaning”. In large part we were told who we are by the communications going on in our developmental environment. The same way we suckle the nutrients that built our biological body in the womb, we suckled meaning from our environment that in large part formed what developed into our identity of self. Along with this self-identity we also developed a sense of other. Through this self-other perspective we then navigate through life.
It might not be important to recognize how this natural process of identity formation works if it were not for the fact that some of the meanings we pick up are non-nutritious, in fact; poison. They can hinder or destroy our capacity to realize our full potential. We also have to understand that many of these meanings are not communicated verbally. A mother who treats her child as excess baggage that must be lugged around like an unnecessary weight rarely, if ever sits the child down to give them lessons about their “unworthiness” and how much they interfere with Mama’s plans – or how they should do her a favor and just disappear under the radar as soon as possible. The process of communicating meaning through such things as the level and tone of frustration in a voice and various reactions to mundane circumstance combine to assert and cultivate our identity and our world view as children. We feed on the meaning conveyed through circumstance far more than we gather self-knowledge through words. Words are just a bit of foam on top of a vast emotional sea that holds the lion’s share of influence when it comes to our true identity and to what determines what we experience as life. As a result many of us are lost in an emotional wilderness that lurks out of reach of our verbal selves to see much less understand or influence intentionally.
So here we are as adults scarred by circumstance at the hands of those who were scarred themselves – lost in an identity that we may have never even wrapped a verbal understanding around, much less pondered how to influence. Many of us are riding like leaves the winds of a storm without so much as a wiggle to influence our path on the cultural currents. If we were to explore the reasons for our arrested and detoured development honestly we would find that if there was any blame to be had, that blame would run through people far more than it run to them.
— Okay, so with all this in mind, what, if anything can we do to carve out some kind of intentional path toward a fulfilling experience of life? First; without recognizing that we have the capacity to generate meaning rather than being solely subjects to it, we can do little. The most powerful life changing idea we can grasp is that we can become part of the narrative that defines our life. We do not have to unquestioningly accept the roles thrust on us by the dreary momentum of blind reason.
We also have to recognize that we are each a voice in a larger choir. We are part of a larger community of life which also has the capacity to define and promote meaning. Understanding that we have the capacity to generate our own meaning does not remove us from the strong currents of meaning generated throughout our interconnected body of life. Becoming an author of scripts rather than an actor merely enables us to flex the leaf in the midst of the storm. With this we gain some measure of steering capacity and more importantly, some measure of control over our local identity.
Recognizing that we are part of a larger community also calls us to become intentional to influence this larger arena as well. It means that if we do not engage in the process of actively influencing the entire social body toward a more nourishing relational climate, that we cannot fully realize our individual potential, neither can those we venture to care about. And when we honestly explore the depths of who we are we also discover how false the meaning on which the divisions between us were founded, and we recognize that to love fully we must embrace ourselves fully – and that cannot come without recognizing that we are in this together. The communities of relationships that compose a fully realized biological structure are defined by nourishing and caring for each other – which is the real meaning of life.