Dr. Evelyn Bilias Lolis
On Making Room for Meaning
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
Twenty-three months. We are rounding the corner on twenty-three months. Exhausted.
We are simultaneously running on fumes while ignoring the gas tank light that reflects red on the dashboard.
"Just a little bit more…please just let me get home.”
Anyone who has ever driven on an empty tank knows this game all too well—you pray for two things: (1) that the gauge is honest/accurate; and (2) that you make it home before the car stalls. It is the ultimate game of chicken-- your mind vs. your vehicle. And here we are friends so many of us staring at our own red gauge and betting on it like we would a roulette table.
How has it been 23 months? Twenty-three months of life paused, reclaimed, altered, back-pedaled, and now just adrift. I can see the shore. Yes, I see it. Yet I just lay here floating, hoping that the tide will drift me because my arms are too tired to move.
You see human physiology in the face of adverse life events is nothing short of marvel—your body and mind kick into crisis mode which is the ultimate autopilot of survival. This is how we as humans are wired to persist in the face of challenge. However, our central nervous system is not meant to stay in this fight, flight, or freeze zone for more than a short duration of time. And, FYI, 23 months is not a short duration.
Hikes, nature walks, bike rides, and even getaways cannot fully restore the depletion. I equate these activities with being a teenager and putting $5 of gas in the car because that is all you could afford. Do you remember? You would put in $5 at a time until the gauge lit up red and then you would replenish it again with $5 more.
This is how I picture us now-- each with our $5 bill in hand. And what does it buy us? About $5 worth of peace for roughly $5 worth of time. Does this sound about right?
Now let’s shift gears because this strategy is just infantile.
How can we experience deeper levels of meaning when our bodies are tired, bored, and cruising in survival mode? The answer is one: intentionally.
If I asked you to not blink for 45 seconds you would have to force your body to go against the automatic (i.e., its involuntary control response) in order to do so. Actors know this level of altered awareness all too well. If you have to challenge your body to do something against its grain, you need to train it to do so. This here is no different. It is like my expecting you to not blink when it is something that is so automatic for you. And let's not forget that blinking is meant to be a perpetual involuntary bodily response, fight, flight, or freeze is not.
So, we must to retrain. And retraining does not mean going on a five day vacation in the tropics and escaping for a short while (although this sounds blissful, too). That would be the equivalent of a $5 joy ride.
How do we retrain?
We can start by following this short inventory:
1. Ask yourself what brings meaning into your life. What feeds you personally? Just you. Think of 1-2 activities or projects that bring you meaning and call them to your awareness.
2. Isolate a meaningful project you can start feasibly within the next week. What is an activity or project that opens up your soul, fires you passion, or makes your feel more connected to your core and to the world around you?
3. Elicit support. Tell a friend or partner about your project and your intent to start it.
4. Carve out a standing time. You heard me, schedule it. Schedule time in your week to devote to it and keep that time protected and sacred. You are busy then. Period.
5. Share your progress. Tell someone you love, post about it, or share about its progress one week at a time (if not 2X a week).
6. Express gratitude related to this work at least once a day.
7. Celebrate its completion.
Making room for meaning in your life will connect you to your purpose and ground you. In positive psychology, "meaning" is not associated with hedonic (temporary) flashes of pleasure that bring insta-joy. That is, meaning is not a quick-fix happiness hack like eating a Snickers bar or going on a getaway.
"Meaning" is scientifically associated with deeper levels of well-being and connectedness--the kind of activities that sustain you well beyond the pleasure itself. It is where your soul meets part it of its purpose in real time.
Meaning is a fountain. It will fill and replenish you. It will also slow you down and center you.
It will, without a doubt, give you life.
So, are you ready to make room for the meaningful? I am. Putting it in my agenda now.