Meaning Making

When situations or events occur that do not "make sense" with reason, our mind automatically searches for meaning, incessantly. Last month the Boston Marathon commenced without a hitch but ended in a terrorist attack, causing untold trauma and harm to the runners, family, friends, community and worldwide humanity. The attack continued for a week as law enforcement, SWAT teams, CIA, FBI, National security and a host of other trackers pursued the brothers who planned and ignited the terror.

This event blows our mind and we are all searching for meaning in the aftermath. The surviving attacker will undergo a scrutiny of interrogation unlike anything we could fathom, to find the meaning behind his actions. We simply cannot understand this kind of behavior; we continue to ask why did they do this? Will we ever know "the truth"? Can we ever know "the truth"? Our heart breaks and our mind searches for meaning.

Loss, grief and trauma are the most urgent triggers for meaning making. The incessant searching of our mind for meaning can perpetuate our suffering, as it will continue to form and crystallize in our physical, emotional and mental systems.

Over the years in trainings and workshops, from teachers drawing from Western and Buddhist psychology, I have gleaned a sketch of a path that can assist the mind in the process of finding meaning and moving forward. My distillation of the path, in three stages, is emotional movement, confusion-to-clarity, and moving on. Laying it out in three stages may seem simple, but I am not saying it is easy. Within all of the emotions, stuck debris and beliefs, it is possible to access a hidden truth, or meaning. This paves the way to healing, and ultimately, it can build the bridge to moving on.

The Boston bombing is fresh and we can all relate to the depth of this suffering. Other trauma is more specific to individuals, yet is suffering that we all share at times: the loss of a child, a spouse, a career, mobility, and even money. In these situations our mind searches for answers. Our mind searches for meaning.

To begin to face the loss, using the three stages, try to allow yourself some emotional movement. Any emotion arising as a response to a situation is real, alive and birthed. It wants to be felt fully and completely. Emotion moves through us; it is not stagnant. If we cling to needing-to-know, from our mind's desire, we slow or halt the process to fully feel the emotion moving. Very often these feelings are stuck in our bodies for years, decades, even lifetimes.

Each stage requires willingness, openness and letting go. Each stage touches a particular aspect of our personality that resists opening formed at a time that called for survival. So opening can be terrifying for some; but ultimately, it is liberating for all. For emotional movement, openness manifests as surrendering control to feeling emotions that have been locked up in our body.

Once the emotion moves through the body by experiencing the sadness, the anger, and the fear, the mind and body feel freer. There is a direct felt sense of liberation and freedom; not a "cure" per say but more space to begin to bring clarity to our confusion. We become able to let go of why, and instead wonder into the space, with opened-ended questions, of how, and what. We soften into the inquiry, and insight emerges as the new opening. Accessing professional guides (therapists, psychologists, coaches, healers - aligned with your unique needs and desires) can support the journey and the deepening of awareness.

Let me note here, you don't stop moving - ever. It is quite likely that as you gain insight, more emotions will arise in the process. In fact, movement releases emotion and expands insight. With awareness and practice, movement, releasing and insights happen simultaneously.

The openness required in the confusion to clarity stage is a willingness to be in the unknown and sourcing safety in trusted guides, your "heart and body knowing", and indestructible interior wisdom.

Moving on is the final stage of integration and it's the place where you are strong enough, clear enough, and resourceful enough to take action toward the life you desire. The gifts of the loss are now embodied (integrated into your way of being) and these gifts support the direction you choose to take toward meaning. In this final stage openness is courage, courage to feel, courage to see and gain insight, and courage to take action.

In my own journey of meaning-making with the Boston bombings, I immediately began to cry and my heart continues at times to ache with sadness. I also recognize that there will never be any satisfactory answers for my mind as to why this happened. My step of confusion-to-clarity offered this insight: cherishing a depth of gratitude for life, relationships, nature and precious human birth. And, how will I move forward with this realization? That is my gift, my opening.

Investigate your meaning-making desire. See if your mind searches for meaning about a particular topic or event that has caused you suffering. Try activating this three-stage process and see what you discover for yourself. It is simple; not necessarily easy.

Moving, releasing, clarifying,

Be Moved...
Empty Your Mind of All Thoughts
Lao-tzu, Poet

Empty your mind of all thoughts. 
Let your heart be at peace. 
Watch the turmoil of beings, 
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe 
returns to the common source. 
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don't realize the source, 
you stumble in confusion and sorrow. 
When you realize where you come from, 
you naturally become tolerant, 
disinterested, amused, 
kindhearted as a grandmother, 
dignified as a king. 
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, 
you can deal with whatever life brings you, 
and when death comes, you are ready.

[Source:  The Enlightened Heart - An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, Edited by Stephen Mitchell]