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. They asked him, “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. 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 Noble Truth is the method of doing so).

The Four Noble Truths are based on an obvious, often overlooked, but fundamental reality of human existence: all things exist “in time” and eventually pass away. Not getting what you want involves suffering, but it’s equally true that getting what you want also involves suffering because the thing you wanted is, like everything else, transitory.

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 that being overly attached to particular outcomes causes pain and suffering. 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 the things we do and own.

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 so often direct our attention to what we should care about and what we should strive for that the truth of our own power escapes us.

I want to suggest another idea basic to transformational mystical teachings like Buddhism. 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 the 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 have consciously chosen our own meanings if we had 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, and 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 culture and society, 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, you can paint anything you like. What you are painting is as ephemeral as anything else in life, but the lines you draw, the shapes you form, and the colors you choose are what give your life meaning.

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 are 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 that 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.

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. However, if you’re going to place a meaning on what is happening, which would you want, the happiness meaning or the unhappiness meaning? Again, it’s your choice.

The idea that you could really choose to be happy and peaceful may sound very utopian and unrealistic. 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 it 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.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit

Author's Bio: 

Bill is frequently invited to speak at scientific and transformational forums and conferences across the United States, and over the years he has taught a wide range of workshops and seminars. In the past he has conducted his own private therapy practice, utilizing cognitive psychology and neurolinguistic programming. Bill is currently President and Director of Centerpointe Research Institute, started in 1989, and creator of The Holosync Solution™ program and The Life Principles Integration Process™. As of 2004, over 200,000 people in 172 countries have used Centerpointe programs to improve their lives.