Making Meaning


The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.

“Life is not inherently meaningful. We make meaning happen through the attention and care we express through our actions.” – Donna Farhi, from “Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness”


That first sentence stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. I found myself reading it through again, and again, and again, pouring over the words in an effort to gain some hold over them. I couldn’t get beyond the idea that our lives—at their very base—are utterly blank canvases. But as I began to consider the trajectory of a life—from infant to toddler on up—the varied and deep layering of intention and purpose in a life slowly struck me.


Having been dealt a largely fresh slate from the universe after a summer of bold decisions and equally weighted repercussions, I was met this fall with an opportunity to take action in such ways that could renew or redirect the steps along my life story. I knew that I wanted to commit to moving forward with raw candor, and I knew too that I endeavored to make and follow through with choices that lay outside my comfort zone. But to decipher what all this meant—how I could successfully meet my truest self—required much reflection, and through that consideration, an intense stripping down of layers that no longer served me. Our choices so expressively seal our identity, but are those choices ones we want to reinforce, or must they shift to meet us at our present?


For whatever reason, I imagined myself landing at a point where I was clear and streamlined in a certain sense; contradictions would fall away, and I’d be standing there so solidly as this one being. It hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve realized how unrealistic such a vision is, for we all exist as such complex creatures, full of disparities that are no less valid or true in spite of their variety. I’d walked the earth for years attempting to fully embody my differing roles in whatever environment I found myself in; dancer, teacher, student wasn’t even the tip of it. Was I a contemporary dancer or a musical theater performer? A dance teacher? A yoga teacher? A creator? A collaborator? The web of it all spun out for miles.


I’m discovering that trying to distinguish between all these pieces of ourselves becomes complicated and unnecessary when all these diverse parts of us already coexist; we are blended beings, rich and full of nuance. Our lives are not homogenous events, as Donna Farhi so poignantly notes. Life changes, and we too must adapt and change along with it.


So I’m drawn back to this question, or call to action: if our lives are not meaningful in and of themselves, how will we give them meaning? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with in this present moment?


With so much to tackle and pursue all at once, it seemingly becomes necessary to parse through all that surrounds us in order to choose and follow what is most valuable to our growth at a given time. I would use the word ‘prioritize’ to distinguish this act, but prioritizing sounds too black and white and too logical when such choices to follow certain goals over others emerge, I imagine, most sincerely from intuition and the depths of our souls. And in any case, regardless of what we do choose to pursue, we must recognize that our paths usually are not linear ones. The roads we set out on inevitably wind through experiences we couldn’t have even envisioned, and numerous forks in the road present themselves, or even force themselves, upon us.


One of the ethical principles of Yoga’s eight-limbed path is particularly relevant in considering these matters: aparigraha, or non-attachment. As much as we habitually seek out certainty and security, one unavoidable fact of our human existence is that impermanence permeates our lives. Impermanence serves as our one constant. Trying to hoard what we have only leads to suffering, as those people or objects or ideas will, in time, fade, or in some situations even vanish.


So then, how are we to acquire meaning if such uncertain transience exists as a base of our lives? I would extend the hope that we still plant seeds of growth in whatever arenas we aim to nurture, but perhaps as we harvest those same seeds, we can assess what is honestly in front of us, so as to recognize and interact with the reality that has presented itself to us, rather than the dream that lay in the backs of our minds or hearts. Because while we drive so much of what occurs in our day-to-day lives, there are countless variables that shift our actions and thoughts into unpredictable realms—and with all of that comes, I would suggest, even more meaning than we could have achieved on our own. I believe that it is that stark openness to our communities—those that are tangible and those that are less so—that enables us to transcend what superficial steps we take through our day and fills us with such a sense of connection and comprehension as to where we are in each moment.


Getting the chance to meet so many new people over the course of the summer embedded within me a desire to commune with strangers (in the safest of ways, Mom!). I have attempted to actually look at people I pass by and toss out a soft smile or converse with those who are serving me or surrounding me when it feels appropriate. What has been amazing in this experiment is the sense of intimacy and ease that has suddenly emerged in environments that otherwise had felt cold or purposeless. From this seed that I planted upon my return from time in a smaller town with a tightly bound community of friends and colleagues has come more curiosity and openness on my part, and the potential for even more growth in my interactions with those I don’t know. It has built meaning in my life, and simultaneously expanded my comprehension of the rich interconnectedness of our individual paths. It has reminded me too of how significantly our moods and mindsets can shift from acting upon one outwardly small but specific intention. There are so many choices to be molded, so many possibilities to choose from and subsequently learn from.


Just the other day, a friend of mine suggested that once she leaves New York City, she hopes to live an entirely different life—one set in a rural locale, where she can live not by a clock but by the ever-changing light of day and night, where she can focus less on survival and more on filling the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual potential that lives within her. Such a beautiful vision that I too similarly share. So many other layers of meaning that could come into being, a largely new iteration of a life’s story.


Dreaming of the future is a beautiful practice that serves to inspire and egg us on towards our utter fulfillment, but in light of all these thoughts—and to not get ahead of ourselves—what is it that we, in this very moment, aspire to pursue? What seeds can we plant to set such growth in motion, and how can we then step back, even as we nourish the seeds, to witness what actually emerges? As much as we seek to make meaning out of life, if we could be more present, giving more attention and care to what lives right in front of us, could we derive whole other layers of meaning and depth that we previously could not have conceived possible? Perhaps ‘making meaning’ in our lives need not be such an active endeavor; meaning will materialize effortlessly, if only we are brave and open enough to meet it in its truest forms.



– Liz Beres

3 Responses to “Making Meaning”
  1. Holly Ledbetter says:

    Tara Marie mentioned aparigraha in class last night and the notion has stuck in my conscious all day. The notion of not hoarding is especially poignant to me in relation to emotions in addition to people and things. It is all to easy to become comfortable with certain feelings, positive or negative, and dwell with them until they become familiar and easy. I relate this directly to asana in my mind. Often I like to practice at a very slow pace, hesitant to move out of a position that feels comfortable and juicy as well as hesitant to move away from more challenging ones before I feel like I have “accomplished” it. Your post has inspired me to be aware of this in my practice, allowing the posture to be whatever expression arises that day. I am excited to approach asana as planting the seed for what may come while keeping an eye open for what is there today. Allowing the transitions to be an opportunity to focus on another “seed”, not becoming too caught up in any one place, is a nice metaphor for the lack of necessity for focusing too much on any one role in our life.

  2. Nicholas Jon says:

    The past few months since graduation have been a total wake up call for me in many ways, but this post strikes a note that has been particularly prominent. Something that I had to realize quickly was that scheduling my life while working as a dancer in NYC is a total mess, and I generally can’t think more than a few days ahead. At first this was very confusing to me, but I began to realize that having a schedule that was completely set in stone for the first 21 years of my life actually detracted from my ability to stay present and focused. Of course I still believe it’s important to have goals, but the seeds that we plant along the way, as Liz discusses, are just as necessary. If we are too focused on what we desire down the road, we will lose sight of the steps we need to take to get there. Since my schedule has changed so drastically, I have found myself in more situations where I can actively choose what I want to do in the moment simply because my perception of time has moved closer to the present: there are things that I may desire for the future, but I have no choice but to focus on now and see where life takes me. In turn this has also allowed me to see a wider range of choices and understand how much is available in each moment. If we really consider the choices that we make based on our present mindset, these choices will likely become seeds for what we seek out in the future. There is also a chance that these considered choices in combination with unforeseen or uncontrollable occurrences in daily life will open our eyes to a future that we may never have anticipated.

  3. Alex says:

    Humans love to figure things out; endow moments with meaning. This is why aparigraha (non attachment) is such a valuable practice. The desire to cling to meaningful moments is entrapment. In reading the Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron, she talks about simply recognizing things for what they are as opposed to the feelings and ideas we fill things with. As a movement artist, I am constantly searching for meaning: within my art, with the gesture of an arm, or the tilt of a head, and my attempts to break from obsessing over any failure or praise is a daily struggle. But my art, my gesturing arm, and the tilt of my head are explicitly that and nothing more. They are not inherently good or bad, neither significant or insignificant. They are not things to be obsessed over. Outsiders may come to their own opinions about such things, but that really doesn’t directly reflect any meaning onto me. That is their meaning and not my reality…and that is ok. In trying to take the quest for meaning out of everything, we can then recognize life as it is and navigate it with genuine presence and awareness and not ego.

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