Setting Down the Hammer of Stress


A good friend of mine was talking to me about a problem at work.  He was thinking about the problem, the role other people were playing, and his experience dealing with this problem.  As he shifted from subject to subject I could see his feelings change accordingly.  He was disheartened. As he talked he went from feeling bother to frustration, to confusion, to anger, all of which are forms of stress.

The Principles are simple.  Understanding them reveals what is true in each moment.  For example, whatever we are thinking right now, we will feel.  We are free thinkers. We are free to think about any subject in the world.  But we will always feel the thoughts we are having about our subject. 

At any moment you could say that one of two things is going on for any of us.  Either we are aware of the Principles, e.g. right now I am feeling my thinking, or we are not aware of the Principles, e.g. right now I am so engrossed in the subject that I am thinking about that I am not aware that what I am thinking is creating a feeling.  In each moment we understand the Principles or we don’t.  This is true for me, for you, and for every one of us. 

As my friend talked to me about his problem, he was so engrossed in the subject that he was completely unaware that he was thinking up his own stress.  Consequently, he thought that his discomfort was because of what was happening at work.  He believed that whatever he was feeling was justified by the problem.  As he was analyzing he was unaware of the Principles and didn’t realize the way in which this thinking was creating more and more stress. 

Thinking up stress is like picking up a hammer and repeatedly hitting yourself on the head while talking about a problem.  You are in pain but you are oblivious to the hammer.  Thought recognition is seeing yourself hammering your head, realizing the connection between hammering and your pain, and then setting the hammer down.  Setting the hammer down is not a technique.  It is a built-in human response to realizing the true source of your present moment stress.

There are many times when I am thinking about a subject or an idea and I am so engrossed in the idea that I don’t see the fact of Thought creating my experience in that moment.  As I became  more aware of the Thought-feeling connection, my focus shifted from the subjects in my mind to the effect my thinking was having on me.  I was shocked to see how much of my thinking was creating stress, e.g. seriousness, discomfort, anxiety, uncertainty, and subtle tension.  When I see that I am thinking up this stress I don't tend to continue to think about the subject at hand.  With awareness it drops away.  More and more of my thinking has been dropping away leaving my head open and clear.

Being aware of the fact of Thought allows me to see the pain- inducing hammering I am doing.  This understanding allows the hammering to subside or stop.  I start to feel better and think better.  A mind free of stressful thoughts is the gateway for the automatic arising of fresh thinking. This creates feelings of well-being, higher level perspectives, and solutions to our problems.  This kind of thinking does not create stress. 

I reminded my friend of the role Thought was playing in his current stress and of the in-built potential for new thinking.  As he realized this, his stressful thinking fell away.  I saw him lighten up considerably.  Right away he started having his own insights into his problem.  He continued to have more insights the next day as well.

Stress is an invitation to wake up to the Thought-feeling connection.  Realizing the Principle-based foundation of our feelings results in more of our stress-producing thoughts dropping away.  And how rewarding it is when our well-being fills in the space left as this thinking clears away.  Every one of us can begin to wake up from the enchantment with the subjects we think about. As we do, we see and set down the hammer of our stressful thinking!

Breaking New Ground

Picture
One day it occurred to me: for EVERYTHING I've ever done, there was a time when I had never done it before. 

Obvious. Clearly. Yet this had never struck me as deeply before.

I was speaking to a client recently and we were talking about how we are all hard on ourselves, thinking that we should be further along than we are, or moving faster than we are moving.

It is so common in coaching and in consulting that clients downplay their progress with these kinds of comparisons, forgetting to look beyond events in order to see the underlying plate tectonics.

Take my client recently. In the middle of an argument with his spouse he had the idea to slow down, listen and try to understand what was being said instead of the defense/attack strategy that was in play at the time. 

As we talked about how this had happened it was obvious to me that he was underplaying the importance of what he had done. I wondered why.  "It really wasn't going very well" and "I could have done this sooner" were threatening to wipe out the significance of a momentous occasion: in the middle of a deep quagmire, he'd actually found his bearings, had a fresh idea flash before him, acted on it and turned the conversation in a more positive direction. 

Amazingly, with no provocation and in the worst possible conditions for a new idea to arise, it did. And he listened. Yet what I heard as a sign of success, he was viewing as a near-failure.

How was that possible?

Along the course of our lives we seem to have (most of us, me included) picked up a nasty habit of thinking we should be better than we are in any given moment.  This keeps us from knowing what to look for and from perceiving what is happening on a deeper level.

Ruminating over our performances we often judge them to be less than successful ("I could have prevented that" / "I never should have got there in the first place).  We compare ourselves to standards no one really ever lives up to: "I should have been able to create an open space of pure listening."

Really?  No you couldn't have done that, because you didn't.  Are you missing what did happen, however?

No wonder people head in the wrong direction -- thinking they need to double up their efforts, or be even harder on themselves, as if the point of life were to eventually be perfect. Or nearly.

That's not to say one can't do better next time, but surely we are missing the point. The point of self-awareness and self-observiation is self-understanding -- not self-condemnation.  Seek to understand and what you see will change.  Judge something and you cannot see it at all.

Let's give ourselves a break. This self-flaggelation thing has really run its course. There is so much research out there clearly showing that the carrot and the stick do not work.(Just watch Daniel Pink below on Motivation)

Personally speaking I think it is amazing that I can even have a change of perspective in the middle of a near-brawl, much less to act on it. Compared to the number of times I've ignored by own voice of reason!

Why not look at our lives from the gentler -- yet equally true --  perspective?

Not only does that mean recognizing the significance of our small triumphs, but realizing that they are not just one-off anomalies

Take our example as a case in point. Consider for a moment just the fact that he got this new idea in the midst of a bad moment between two people. What does that tell you about what human beings need to do to have new ideas?

If you or I, or my client, can have a new thought in the middle of an argument, then surely there are no conditions to be met for us to "get grounded" or "be good listeners" or anything of the sort. 

What it suggests is that our ability to hear afresh and to change is natural.   Or as my client put it, "something you can count on."

This implies you don't have to be "good" or spiritually advanced, deserving, forgiving, listening attentively or any of the other pre-conditions we sometimes set up.

Imagine. You can just be going about your business and you can count on your ability to see anew just being there.

Regardless then of how badly we think we are doing when we play the game film, there is always the basic movement from: "now you don't see it / now you do." And this movement is always happening in us. We aren't making it happen with our self-development programs.  Or better said: 

We might be becoming more aware of how it's working; but we are not making it happen.

I know it's common to consider the self development pathway as one in which we get progressively better at this thing we call life. But really, everything we will ever do will always be something that one day, perhaps just the day before, we could not do or had never thought of doing, so I think this whole notion of "progress" and preconditions only gets in the way of that natural flow.

Every person on the planet knows how to shift from not knowing something one moment to knowing it. We did it with walking, talking and eating with spoons.  We've been doing it for our whole lives and we'll continue doing it.

Let's start counting on it.

Breaking New Ground

Picture
One day it occurred to me: for EVERYTHING I've ever done, there was a time when I had never done it before. 

Obvious. Clearly. Yet this had never struck me as deeply before.

I was speaking to a client recently and we were talking about how we are all hard on ourselves, thinking that we should be further along than we are, or moving faster than we are moving.

It is so common in coaching and in consulting that clients downplay their progress with these kinds of comparisons, forgetting to look beyond events in order to see the underlying plate tectonics.

Take my client recently. In the middle of an argument with his spouse he had the idea to slow down, listen and try to understand what was being said instead of the defense/attack strategy that was in play at the time. 

As we talked about how this had happened it was obvious to me that he was underplaying the importance of what he had done. I wondered why.  "It really wasn't going very well" and "I could have done this sooner" were threatening to wipe out the significance of a momentous occasion: in the middle of a deep quagmire, he'd actually found his bearings, had a fresh idea flash before him, acted on it and turned the conversation in a more positive direction. 

Amazingly, with no provocation and in the worst possible conditions for a new idea to arise, it did. And he listened. Yet what I heard as a sign of success, he was viewing as a near-failure.

How was that possible?

Along the course of our lives we seem to have (most of us, me included) picked up a nasty habit of thinking we should be better than we are in any given moment.  This keeps us from knowing what to look for and from perceiving what is happening on a deeper level.

Ruminating over our performances we often judge them to be less than successful ("I could have prevented that" / "I never should have got there in the first place).  We compare ourselves to standards no one really ever lives up to: "I should have been able to create an open space of pure listening."

Really?  No you couldn't have done that, because you didn't.  Are you missing what did happen, however?

No wonder people head in the wrong direction -- thinking they need to double up their efforts, or be even harder on themselves, as if the point of life were to eventually be perfect. Or nearly.

That's not to say one can't do better next time, but surely we are missing the point. The point of self-awareness and self-observiation is self-understanding -- not self-condemnation.  Seek to understand and what you see will change.  Judge something and you cannot see it at all.

Let's give ourselves a break. This self-flaggelation thing has really run its course. There is so much research out there clearly showing that the carrot and the stick do not work.(Just watch Daniel Pink below on Motivation)

Personally speaking I think it is amazing that I can even have a change of perspective in the middle of a near-brawl, much less to act on it. Compared to the number of times I've ignored by own voice of reason!

Why not look at our lives from the gentler -- yet equally true --  perspective?

Not only does that mean recognizing the significance of our small triumphs, but realizing that they are not just one-off anomalies

Take our example as a case in point. Consider for a moment just the fact that he got this new idea in the midst of a bad moment between two people. What does that tell you about what human beings need to do to have new ideas?

If you or I, or my client, can have a new thought in the middle of an argument, then surely there are no conditions to be met for us to "get grounded" or "be good listeners" or anything of the sort. 

What it suggests is that our ability to hear afresh and to change is natural.   Or as my client put it, "something you can count on."

This implies you don't have to be "good" or spiritually advanced, deserving, forgiving, listening attentively or any of the other pre-conditions we sometimes set up.

Imagine. You can just be going about your business and you can count on your ability to see anew just being there.

Regardless then of how badly we think we are doing when we play the game film, there is always the basic movement from: "now you don't see it / now you do." And this movement is always happening in us. We aren't making it happen with our self-development programs.  Or better said: 

We might be becoming more aware of how it's working; but we are not making it happen.

I know it's common to consider the self development pathway as one in which we get progressively better at this thing we call life. But really, everything we will ever do will always be something that one day, perhaps just the day before, we could not do or had never thought of doing, so I think this whole notion of "progress" and preconditions only gets in the way of that natural flow.

Every person on the planet knows how to shift from not knowing something one moment to knowing it. We did it with walking, talking and eating with spoons.  We've been doing it for our whole lives and we'll continue doing it.

Let's start counting on it.

Peace and passion, powerful together

Here’s a great question one of my students asked me. “Is it really possible to have passion for life, passion for your ideals, passion for a cause, and still have peace of mind? Wouldn’t peace of mind make you dispassionate and uninvolved?”

The person who leaped to mind for me immediately is the Dalai Lama. I don’t think there is anyone on the public stage today with a consistently quieter mind than the Dalai Lama. Yet he is a  relentless crusader for peace and good will. He has a profound passion for improving the human condition. He does it from inner stillness, from his own certainty about his cause. People listen to him because they can “hear” the loving wisdom in him, even if they don’t agree with the philosophical foundations from which he speaks. He radiates kindness and authority simultaneously; he is not threatening, but touching. He speaks in measured, simple terms, and he is never off-message, yet he is at ease with people who are struggling with his message.

Contrast to him some of the political pundits who surface during election season, with wild-eyed rage for their ideals (on any side of  issues). Yes, they are passionate true believers. But only those who already agree with them can stand to listen to them. Their passion is to be right and inspire contempt for those who don’t think they are. They are agitated, aggressive and jumpy. They speak from the head, not the heart; from impassioned insecurity, not from a place of peace. They create argument and discomfort.

The essential quality of a peaceful state of mind is security. Security is a clear-headed feeling of being at ease in one’s own skin, nothing to prove, nothing to fear. In that state of mind, all of us have access to wisdom and an intuition for what to do in the moment, for the right word, the right action, to be our best at whatever we are doing. In that state of mind, we operate from insight and inspiration.

When I consider this, I recall some years ago when I was asked to speak to an environmental group well-known at the time for dramatic descriptions at their meetings of the perils to the next generations of dirty air, depleted water, shrinking resources. They presented horrifying images to support their tirades, believing that they could scare people into caring about the planet and changing their habits. They had big crowds at their events, but nothing much seemed to be changing. People would get all worked up during the presentations and leave exhausted — but then they would quiet down and not remember what it was they had committed to do in the heat of the moment.

When they invited me to speak, I tried to decline. I told them I did not match their style and did entirely different work with people. But a good friend of mine was part of the group and she kept insisting that they go with a new approach and she kept persisting with me. So finally, with some trepidation, I went to talk to a two-hour meeting about caring for the planet. At first, people were confused. I was speaking of how we change our minds, about anything, about the quiet state that opens the door to the unknown and makes the unknown and untried seem possible. I was pointing towards the natural state of security and love from which people make moral choices far different from the expedient choices we make out of fear and insecurity. I asked the group to break into small groups and address the question of when they made choices in life about which they feel really good, and the state of mind they were in when they made them. The reports out from the small groups produced some touching stories — for example, a brother who at first resented his sister who needed a kidney and got angry when his parents suggested he might be a match, but then, when sitting quietly in the hospital with his very ill sister, suddenly had the insight that he loved her so much it would be an honor, not a sacrifice, to donate a kidney to her. He called that “a moment of happy clarity from which I never turned back.” His sister was in the audience, beaming.

We talked some more about how we create very different ideas from the same neutral information in higher states of mind, and how those states of mind happen. Then I had the group break up again, this time to talk specifically about ideas that came to them when they reflected about small changes that could make a big difference to the environment.

Again, the reports from the small groups were touching and inspiring. They had a lot of creative ideas, and all of them seemed plausible and achievable to those who thought of them. They left laughing and chatting together about how maybe it wasn’t crazy to think one person at a time could make a difference. They even talked about getting together in a month or so to compare stories.

What is more powerful than passion expressed through a peaceful state of mind?


Incremental is infinite, too

Reading all the social media posts from people who are newly discovering the Principles at work behind life, I’ve been noticing how easily we become disappointed in ourselves, dropping quickly from gratitude for an insight to discouragement that we’re not where we want to be. What we forget is that gratitude and contentment nourish the rich soil in which further insights blossom; discouragement is the drought that turns the soil to dust where insights cannot flourish.

It is rare, though never impossible, that an individual experiences what we call an epiphany, an insight so profound and remarkable that the person is totally transformed in an instant. It is common, though often unappreciated, for all of us to experience life-improving insights as we go. Some are so ordinary as to pass with scarce notice. Some inspire new ideas about how our lives work. Some surprise us into major changes. The gift we have is the capacity to keep learning, keep changing, keep seeing life with more and more clarity. It’s one step at a time up the spiral staircase of insights, and we can’t see where, or if, it ends. Sometimes it feels as though we’re bounding up the steps two at a time; sometimes it feels like we’re barely moving; sometimes we seem to be stuck on a landing.

I learned this lesson first nearly 30 years ago, when I first became aware that I was experiencing life from the inside-out, creating my experience from whatever bits of my thinking I was taking to heart and seeing as real. Immediately after that first insight — the insight that I could let thoughts pass, or I could hold them in place — my moods no longer meant very much to me. Prior to that seemingly small shift in understanding, I would get mad at myself for being in a bad mood when I most needed to be on top of my game, not understanding that I was holding low moods in place by fighting them or wishing they would go away. I had learned the “so what” lesson — “So what if you’re in a bad mood? Thoughts come and go. Leave it alone and it will quickly pass.” But I hadn’t found gratitude for it because I was still judging myself for having bad moods at all. Wasn’t I supposed to be free of bad moods if I really understood the Principles that explain how thinking works?

Still discouraged with my seemingly small progress, I was  meeting with an employee who shared  an idea she had that, while it was out of the box, could save our company a lot of time and money. I randomly asked when she had first thought of it. “Months ago,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked. “Because you were so upset so much of the time, I just didn’t feel like bringing things up that might set you off,” she said. “Lately you seem calmer and more approachable.”

Wow! Maybe that little so-what insight was more important than I thought it was. We worked with my employee’s new idea and made a significant improvement in our operations — and our bottom line. I realized that being able to shrug off a low mood had made enough of a difference in my composure that I was easier to work with, and more open to others’ ideas. I started feeling thankful for even that one small insight — and then came another.

I had the insight that I had never had a creative idea at work. Not once. Every really fresh thought I had that had helped propel the business I started forward had come to me at Disney World. Disney World! What was that about? Did I have to visit Fantasyland to find ideas? My spirits fell. I was too busy to run off to Disney World (even if it was less than three hours from home) every time I needed a good idea. I almost wished I’d never had that ridiculous insight. Yet, based on my first experience, I let that disappointment pass and just waited to see what I didn’t understand.

Aha! It quickly dawned on me that fresh ideas had nothing to do with Disney World, but everything to do with the state of mind I was in while there, just having fun with my family. I would leave my work behind and find myself in the moment, taking things as they came. So that was directional. I could look for that free and clear state of mind and not indulge myself when I started to ruminate about problems. That led to another seemingly small change with huge results. When I found myself going round and round and round over issues, I’d get up and walk around, allowing my thinking to turn elsewhere and my head to clear. Solutions started popping up out of the blue.

I could go on, but the point is made. Over time, I’ve had spiritually uplifting  insights, silly little insights, wildly creative insights, helpful ordinary insights. I’ve come to be grateful that I can count on insights to brighten my experience, like wildflowers after rain in the desert, and lighten my life, like sun after the rain. Perfectly natural. Logically predictable, though always new. In my heart, I have learned to be grateful for gratitude, because it is the beautiful home where wisdom and insight dwell together and generate the life of our dreams.

As always, to quote Sydney Banks,

“Gratitude and satisfaction have wonderful effects on our souls. They open our minds, clearing the way for wisdom and contentment to eter. Once you become grateful, the prison bars of your mind will fall away. Peace and contentment will be yours.”

The Missing Link, p. 131.