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"Nine Principles for Happiness and Healing"
Series by Bill Harris

 
#9: The Principle of the Neutral Universe

There is a Zen story of a great enlightened master who, upon hearing of his own master's death, began to cry uncontrollably. His followers were shocked to see him cry. "Why are you crying? You're enlightened. You're supposed to be beyond suffering. What will people think?"

He composed himself as best he could, and turning to them he said, "What can I do? My eyes are crying. They are so sad that they will never again see this teacher I loved so much."

As this story so poignantly points out, sorrow upon experiencing loss is a normal part of being human - even if we are an "enlightened" master and supposedly not subject to desires and attachments and the suffering they can create. The "Four Noble Truths" of Buddhism point out that all life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire, or attachment, and that suffering can be ended by giving up attachment (the fourth Nobel Truth is the method of doing so).

The Four Nobel Truths are based on an obvious, often overlooked, but fundamental reality of human existence: all things exist "in time" and eventually pass away. It's pretty obvious that not getting what you want (or getting what you don't want) involves suffering, but it's equally true that getting what you want involves suffering. Why? Because the thing you wanted is, like everything else, transitory. This month you're Employee of the Month, but next month you aren't. You love playing with your baby daughter, but she will grow up. You are alive now, but someday you will die.

I vividly remember the first time I experienced this truth. I was four years old and my mother had bought me an ice cream cone. As I began licking the sweet and creamy ice cream off the top of the cone, I was in heaven. But when I'd eaten about half the ice cream, the realization hit me that this wonderful experience was going to end. While I certainly enjoyed the rest, the experience was definitely tainted by the fact that I knew the experience would soon be over. Even in the midst of my pleasure, I suffered.

The fact is, being overly attached to particular outcomes (like the ice cream cone lasting forever) causes pain and suffering. And yet, we are trained to believe that happiness is tied to specific events or, especially in our culture, to specific things. All around us are messages that connect positive emotions to things we do and own. The children playing with this year's hot toys are happy. The couple standing beside their new car are in love. The extended family sitting around the dinner table eating canned pasta sauce are united in their humor and affection. The women just given the diamond is young and beautiful.

Because we live in a mass culture where meaning is centralized, we are used to having others interpret our lives for us. We have become passive observers of our own experience, waiting for other people to tell us what it means. Outside influences direct our attention to what we should care about and what we should strive for so often that the truth of our own power escapes us.

You are the Author and the Artist
I want to suggest another idea. It's not original with me. It is basic to the transformational mystical teachings of most cultures (Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Zen, Native American, Sufi, and others). Instead of believing that there is an absolute value and meaning to reality, a "reality code" that young people learn to decipher, I want you to consider an alternative view:

As a conscious human being you give your world, and each event that happens, any and all the meaning it has.
There is no intrinsic meaning to anything. In most cases, we did not consciously choose these meanings we give to things. Rather, they were taught to us, according to the conventions of our culture and our family, when we were too small to know any better. The great news is that we could consciously choose these meanings if we wanted to, and that, in fact, is just what people who are continually happy and peaceful have learned to do.

This means, of course, that you are the creator of your own reality. In contrast to how you may have been conditioned to think, you assign meaning and significance (for most people, based on unconscious programming) to what happens to you and then, based on that meaning, choose (again, usually unconsciously) what your response will be.

This principle has a corollary: you will be able to make wise and resourceful choices to the extent that you live consciously rather than unconsciously. If you have become an automatic response mechanism, unthinkingly adopting those responses chosen for you by your cultural, societal, family, and species background, then your inner journey will be stalled. Your individuality and creativity will remain stillborn. What is more, you will spend a lot of time suffering.

If, on the other hand, you are able to wake up and become more aware of what moves and motivates you, you will see that you have picked up the paintbrush; you are painting the shapes of your feelings on that blank canvas. Because you are the artist and the author, you can paint anything you like. What you are painting is as ephemeral as anything else in life, but the lines your draw, the shapes you form, and the colors you choose are what give your life meaning. While we are all influenced by the cultural and personal settings in which we live, some people are able to become independent artists who can express the dictates of their own heart, and some become proponents of schools run by others.

The implications of living this way as a conscious being are staggering. Here is one of them: since you create the world you inhabit, pain and suffering really can be optional.

Only when you acknowledge your role in your life - and understand your own power - is there the possibility of improving your situation or creating a different story. If you see yourself as a passive character who is acted upon by (and then reacts to) external forces you can neither understand nor control, then you become a helpless victim.

Along with this idea of self-agency comes another one. What is, is. You have some ability to change what is, but there are real limits to what you can do. Your power instead comes from how you respond to what is, not from misguided attempts to control what is. How things are for you is to a great extent the product of how you feel about what is happening - and how you feel is the result of the meaning you have placed on what is happening.

And most of the time, if you are living with conscious awareness, you will be happy and peaceful because you have consciously placed a meaning on what it happening that creates happiness and inner peace.

It is a very interesting exercise to stop whenever you feel other than happy and peaceful and ask yourself what meaning you have placed on the people or events that seem to be causing your suffering, and then to consider what meaning you could give things that would allow you to be happy. Are you so attached to a meaning that causes suffering that you are unwilling to let it go and change it to one that creates happiness and peace? If so, that is your choice, but do realize that it is a choice, not something thrust upon you.

This new meaning (the one leading to happiness) is no more real or intrinsic to the situation than the first meaning (the one leading to suffering). This is, again, because nothing has any intrinsic meaning. But if you're going to place a meaning on what is happening, which would you want, the happiness meaning, or the unhappiness meaning? It's your choice, though most people don't realize it's a choice.

This whole discussion, and the idea that you could really choose to be happy and peaceful, may sound very utopian and unrealistic to you. Becoming conscious enough to notice when you are suffering, to notice what meaning you have placed on a situation, and to consciously change that meaning, does not come easily. Those who can do this have generally spent years meditating, or pursuing some other arduous spiritual practice, to gain this degree of conscious awareness. One of the incredible benefits to the Centerpointe program is that it creates this kind of awareness in those who use it, and does so in a relatively short period of time. Using Holosync offers you a view from a higher spot on the mountain, one allowing you to consciously make new and more resourceful choices.

When I first bring up this idea, that nothing has any intrinsic meaning, people often think I'm saying life is "meaningless." That's not at all what I'm saying. Whatever meaning your life has now, you created it, whether you consciously realize it or not. The people and situations of your life did not come pre-packaged with meaning. You placed these meanings on things in your life, based on programming you for the most part did not choose. If you're ecstatically happy with your life and the meanings all the things in it have for you, terrific. If not, you could give everything in your life any meaning you want, at any time.

If you find that hard to do, well, keep listening to those Holosync soundtracks, and the conscious awareness necessary to do so will come. I promise.

Be well.

Bill Harris,
Director, Centerpointe Research Institute

Centerpointe Research Institute

 
Previous articles in this series...

Overview
#1: Letting Whatever Happens Be Okay
#2: Threshold
#3: Chaos & Reorganization
#4: The Map is NOT the Territory
#5: Responsibility as Empowerment
#6: Conscious Change
#7: Witnessing
#8: "Good & Bad" Generalizations
#9: The Neutral Universe
Addendum: How to Let Whatever Happens Be OK

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