This is the question that could finally send us all into the abyss. (Sorry about that.)
Or into a breath-taking world of genuine purpose, possibility and expansion. (Better…)
I’ve been wondering about it a lot recently. If nothing meant anything what would I do?
Because if we are really honest and clear, nothing in our lives has any meaning other than the one we give it and this can change from one moment to another, from one thought to the next.
Even (or perhaps especially) the words that seem so fundamentally basic are loaded with meaning upon meaning. Take mother or father for instance.
Every thing I think about what it means to be a mother is based on the beliefs I have (from my culture, the media, my neighbours and friends, my own up-bringing, society, experts et etc). These beliefs tell me what I have to do to be a good mother, who are the role models to copy, what people think of me, what I should do vs what my husband should do, should I work or not, go out dancing or not, what I am responsible for… etc etc. And they are simply beliefs. Not facts. We know that because they vary across house-holds, social groups, cultures, countries, continents…
When I reach the inevitable conclusion that the meaning of the word ‘mother’, like all constructs, is simply made up then the question is: what is left?
A woman and two small people who spent some of their life in her body.
And with no beliefs about being a mother what would I do with these small people? Leave them? Neglect them?
Not a chance.
With no beliefs about being a mother I would simply live from the place of what is really true for me. The deep, pure, disinterested, intense love that I have for them. The absolute wonder and curiosity about the things they say and do. The sheer joy of being in their presence, of hearing their laughter, witnessing their growth and exploration. I would just do for them what it occurred to me from moment to moment to do.
What freedom that would be. And it is real. The beliefs and meaning about being a mother are not.
I can do this exercise with every aspect of my life. If being a coach meant nothing would I still coach? If being a wife meant nothing would I stay married? If being a daughter meant nothing would I still visit my Mum?
And what this exercise does is gets me to a place of the deepest clarity about where I act because I am moved from a force deep within to do something that is so utterly natural, simple and pure that it goes way beyond belief and meaning. Like loving the human in my study, the man I live with and the woman who gave birth to me.
Finding this clarity is, I believe, the ultimate aim of coaching, and, perhaps, life itself. People come to me to help them achieve what they want in their lives. A promotion. More money. More security. Better relationships. New job. A fitness habit. Healthier eating. These are important for them. Value, success, security and self-worth are attached to them. That is why they are in my study, paying me money to help them get it.
Bizarrely, the way I can really support them in achieving whatever they want is by helping them see that none of it means anything at all.
And even more bizarrely, it is the meaning they are creating around the issue and the importance they are giving it which is keeping the money, security, relationships, new job, whatever it is away from them.
As crazy as this seems, it is logical. It is my beliefs about being a good mother that get in the way of my deepest wisdom about how to be with these small beings. It is my beliefs about coaching that stop me from simply connecting with the person in my study. It is my beliefs about money and how much I need it that prevent me from realising the abundance I live in. It is my beliefs about being a daughter that stop my appreciating my mum fully as she is.
Take my client John for example. He wanted to move to a new country with his wife. He was applying for jobs and not getting any of them. I asked him why he had wanted the latest job that he didn’t get.
He said, “Well if I don’t get it, then we can’t move which means we can’t start a family because we won’t be settled, which means that time will be ticking on us and we’ll be stuck for years where we are in a place that neither of us like and we’ll end up childless.”
“OK… Aside from all that, why do you want the job?”
“The actual job? I don’t.”
Can you see what is happening there? He had attached so much meaning to getting the job that there was no possibility of showing anything in the interview other than his desperation. It was the job or nothing, do or die.
And as for communicating to the interviewers from the clear, simple place of ‘I’d really like this job’. He couldn’t. Because in his heart, he didn’t want it.
My role as a coach was to help him see how he was loading all his fears onto ‘getting a job’ and to see how much meaning he was inventing. This gave him the space to let his inner sense guide him to the jobs he really wanted. If no job meant anything other than what he was putting onto it himself then what felt right for him, deep down? What would he want from his heart? What seemed so right for him to do that no thinking was necessary?
Of course, the next interview he went for he got the job. Easy to see why.
Similarly, another client Frances is an artist. Except she’s not drawing or illustrating or creating in any way. She believes nothing she creates is good enough. That’s why she came to see me. It is exactly the same situation as with John. In her head, she has an idea of what it means to be an artist, of the standard of work she must create, of who she must impress and how she must have a signature style. When we take away that meaning-laden context, she creates from a place of total freedom.
When I started coaching, I desperately wanted to solve my clients problems for them. And in that desperation was so much meaning – about my value as a coach, about whether they would want to work with me or recommend me. And so I would be sitting with them in my study and it would all be about me and my performance. But any meaning I attach to my clients is arbitrary. Whatever I think about them and their problems is made up by me. Whatever they do or say has nothing to do with my value. When I realise that, I let everything go and just be with them.
Just as I can let everything go and just be with those two children for whom even the word ‘my’ is an illusion.
The fear is that when we take out the meaning, we will stop doing anything.
The opposite is true.
We will be unstoppable because we are doing what, when all the meaning dissolves, we simply know we want to do.
If nothing meant anything, what would you do?