- Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)
What Meaning Are You Assigning To Your Life?
When my brother had three small boys, he would take his family out to a store or a friend’s house or to a restaurant. As he walked in the door he would look around and say, “there that chair is the time out chair.” He didn’t need to say more than that. His boys knew that it they were good they could roam around doing what they wanted and if they were bad they would be sitting in THAT chair.
The funny thing was, that they might sit in any number of chairs but unless forced would never sit in the time out chair. Even though that chair was physically no different than any other chair in the place. My brother’s words irrevocably changed the chair by assigning it a certain meaning to it.
In medicine a diagnosis is a way of assigning meaning to a certain set of symptoms. When we feel a pain, we often assign a meaning to it. At some point perhaps thousands of years ago, someone assigned a meaning to a point on the body saying, “this point on the bottom of the foot is kidney one, the first point on the kidney’s acupuncture meridian.”
There is an acupuncture point on the web space of the hand known as large intestine four and is used by acupuncturists, acupressure practitioners, massage therapists and integrative manual therapists to help people with headaches and digestive system problems. So what does this reflex point in the web space of the hand have to do with the large intestine? Why would someone assign this meaning to it?
We don’t know the exact connections, which are described in terms of energy flow or stagnation or are described in terms of connective tissue relationships with the nervous system. Ultimately what we know is that millions of people have used acupuncture to feel and function better.
Does this make it real? No, not necessarily. Does it provide scientific evidence? No, not necessarily. Does it make it foolish for anyone with a headache to dismiss acupuncture as an option because of a lack of evidence or understanding? Yes, absolutely.
The exact mechanism of aspirin, which originated from willow bark is not really any better understood by most people.
What is Real?
My favorite definition of reality comes from the Skin Horse, in the Velveteen Rabbit written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson, “He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The Value of Insight and Assigning Meaning
Trying to make judgments about what is real or good, without enough information about our place in the world and our relationship to others, is not only foolish but anxiety producing.
There is a story about a farmer in a poor rural area. All his neighbors thought him very lucky because he owned a horse. One day the horse ran away and the neighbors all said, “oh, you have such bad luck. “To which he replied, “maybe so, maybe not.” The next day the horse came home and with it was a wild horse. The neighbors all said, “such good luck you have.” The farmer said “maybe so, maybe not.” While training the wild horse his son fell and broke his leg. The neighbors shook their heads saying, “such bad luck.” To which the farmer replied, “maybe so, maybe not.” The next week the army came through and conscripted all of the young men except for his son, who had a broken leg. The story, of course, can go on and on.
What we can learn from this is that most of the time we simply don’t have enough information to judge whether something is good or bad. Lately instead of trying to figure out if something is good or bad, true or false, I try to see whether it is useful or not.
If it is useful I use it to improve the quality of my life, speed up healing in myself and others, feel better, move better, learn, grow and contribute more fully to my community. Each day I am using my ability to consciously perceive my environment and use the information I gather to live an amazing life. In this context of healing, information, the information I assign to people and things in my life can be a kind of medicine —Information Medicine.
About the Author
Kimberly Burnham, PhD, The Nerve Whisperer, recovered her vision despite an ophthalmologist’s curse when she was 28 and working as a professional photographer. He said, “You have keratoconus, which is genetic so there is nothing you can do about it. ” With complementary and alternative medicine, Kim assigned a new meaning and today at 55 she has better vision than when she was 28 or 40 for that matter. Kim helps people improve their eyesight, gain new insights and create a more beautiful vision of their life. She has just started a yearlong blog series, That Intersection Point, to help you improve your vision.