It is not the events of life, but the meaning that we attach to these events, that brings either pleasure or suffering. And that meaning is driven by our deepest fears and desires. We suffer whenever life seems to be in conflict with these desires.
How do we turn this around?
If we want this suffering to end, we need to move our perspective out of identification with our human personality with its ego-based thinking mind and toward identification with our true nature as souls. For emotional suffering to end, we need to turn inward toward the Source of our being, where happiness is independent of external things.
Indian teacher Ramesh Balsekar stated this process eloquently in A Net of Jewels, where he says, “Essentially, what the average person wants out of life is just one thing: happiness. It is in this quest that he goes through life day after day, believing that he will somehow, someday find final satisfaction through the things and circumstances of his world.
“There comes a time, however, when man gets utterly tired, physically and mentally, of this constant search because he finds that it never ends. He comes to the startling discovery that every kind of satisfaction has within itself the roots of pain and torment. At this stage his search cannot but take the turn inwards toward that happiness which is independent of external things.”
The essence of manifest existence is continuous change from birth to death. With physical existence comes the will to live, to survive, to resist threat – and this will resides in the ego. The human ego drives the thinking mind and all our misery in the ensuing attempts to avoid the inevitable.
Life presents problems because our ego nature resists the process of life; we don’t accept what is there in the present moment. We want to become something other than what we now are, have something other than what we now have and so on.
Suffering, then, is a consequence of identification with the ego self and its physical domain. If we feel that we are limited bodies of protoplasma, we will feel a need to have control over what happens to us.
When we shift our perspective back to our true nature as eternal souls, we realize that we are limitless. We do not need to control or resist what is happening because what is happening out there, cannot threaten our true nature within.
As a result, we also don’t need to label, react or judge anything that happens out there any longer. Birth, life, good fortune, misfortune, and death simply happen, and have no meaning of their own. Any thought about their meaning is just a thought that has no more meaning than any other thought.
The Course in Miracles teaches this principle because if we want to find inner peace, it is important to learn to distinguish between what happens out there, and the meaning we attach to it. When we can detach from the meaning we have allocated to any given event, we are able to find a place of neutrality.
In the world of spirituality or non-duality, life no longer requires labels to give it meaning. In non-duality, the essence shows forth its truth and requires no meaning or labels. What it is, is self-evident. It makes no sense to ask what the meaning is of Love, Being, Presence, or Awareness. The very essence of non-duality is Love, Being, Presence and Awareness, so the notion of meaning is superfluous.
Spiritual practice is the discipline of undoing the conditioning of the ego and the thinking mind, and learning to align with higher Truth, the principles that guide our souls. A healthy spiritual practice will consist of learning, devotion (prayer, meditation or contemplation), practice (ways in which you implement what you are learning to integrate it) and interaction with like-minded individuals.
You may find a fulfilling spiritual practice within a specific religion, order or teaching; or your practice may be more eclectic and ecumenical. Your practice may look different than that of another; and it is not important. What is vitally important, however, is that you commit to some form of spiritual practice consistently over time.
Effective spiritual practice relieves suffering by quieting the thinking mind. This is necessary for the efficient functioning of the working mind. A quiet mind is also an end in itself since it is always accompanied by the peace of pure Awareness.
In fact, this can be a guide to distinguish between effective and ineffective practices. If suffering is relieved by a practice, it is worth continuing. If it does not, and especially if suffering increases, it is better to discontinue it.
Effective practices further help us detach from all forms of conditioning. A quieter thinking mind allows unconscious conditioning to rise to the awareness of the conscious mind from where it can be cleared.
The thinking mind ordinarily represses unwanted thoughts, urges, and desires, which are the dark side of the ego (the shadow). When repression ceases, the shadow emerges into awareness. The Indian sage Papaji described this process by saying that, when you begin to awaken, all the gods and demons of your past come to reclaim you.
The potential of these forms of old conditioning to destroy one’s peace is minimized by the deepening realization that their release represents the dissolution of the ego-based thinking mind. It is also helpful to keep in mind that these emerging forms are finite in number, even when it feels as if the stack of emotions that arises is endless.
As we continue the work of becoming aware of and clearing limiting patterns of conditioning, we grow in understanding of our true nature. The journey of spiritual awareness requires us to be vigilant and earnest in our commitment to Truth, trusting the flow of life wherever it takes us so we can learn.
This is the kind of learning that supports the soul to realize its highest potential and give true meaning to life.