Whenever good or bad fortune strikes, most of us spend some time pondering why it happened. We do this because the conditioned mind reasons there must be some meaning to it, just as it seeks to find meaning behind all of life’s events. The mind always looks for meaning in everything.
In fact, it is not the event itself, but the meaning that the mind attaches to an event, that brings either pleasure or suffering. The event may also be thought to reflect either God’s favor or disfavor, which further divides our thinking into a sense of pride or of guilt.
However, the meaning that we attach to a situation is by no means an indication of its true content. We see this principle perhaps most clearly demonstrated at a sports event where the winning team’s fans respond to the score with loud cheers, while the supporters of the losing team respond to the same score with alarm, anger, or frustration. Same score, different responses based on the meaning attached to it by the spectators.
The meaning that we attach to events also brings a value judgment into the picture. No longer do we see the game score simply as a score; we now look for why it happened. Sports commentators spend hours discussing the game to determine who did what to whom. “Whose fault was it that the Lakers lost?,” we ask. “Is that good or bad?”
By labeling what has happened, we think that we can deal with it better: it will justify our becoming defensive, or angry, or hurt, or victimized. So it is the meaning that we attach to the passing parade of life’s events that pulls us into emotional turbulence.
It drives us toward separation, from where we no longer respond to the event, but we react to the meaning we have attached to the event. No longer is it just another event; it now becomes personalized as a me and a you; a winner and a loser; a victimizer and a victim; my suffering because of your actions.
And because we have attached a value judgment to the event, we now feel justified to react to it. This is the classic cycle of duality that leads to ever more suffering, anger and despair.
Meaning is a product of dualistic existence. The human ego does not like feeling that it has no control and will look for anything to give it a sense of power. When something happens, then, our minds attempt to attach some meaning to it in order to feel some sense of control. In fact, the entire self-help industry is fueled by that desire for personal power and our aversion to suffering. To summarize, we suffer because not everything goes our way. We suffer because we dread doing the things we don’t want to do but have to do. And we suffer because we can’t have or do the things we want to have or do. We see ourselves as individual personalities with desires that conflict with our circumstances and responsibilities, causing untold pain and suffering.
How do we turn this around? Spiritual practice is the ancient, proven way to undo the conditioning of the mind and align with higher Truth. We’ll address that in part 2 of this article.