True Change: Beyond the Illusion

We all change a lot over time. We grow from babyhood through childhood and adulthood to old age, with all the physical and mental changes that accompany life stages. We gain and lose weight. We get in shape; we get out of shape. We change our hair. We adopt new styles. We change locations. We change relationships. We change professions. We change financial status. We change our preferences. We change our politics. We change our reading habits. We change our minds in the face of new information.

Those “changes” are all illusions of reality we experience as we think our way through life. They have nothing to do with the spiritual change inspired by the Three Principles. So it is all too easy for people to say, “I heard so-and-so speak, and now I’ve changed my mind about …” Or “I listened to a Syd Banks tape and it changed me from being all stressed out to being really calmed down.” None of those represent the change we are looking for from an ever-clearer understanding of the Principles that are the essence of life. Any time change appears to result  from some external interaction — with a person, an event, an incident, a book, a lecture, a tape — it is temporary and illusory. Even if it takes us in a better direction than we were heading, it is not true change.

True change is suddenly seeing a different world. It happens in an instant, from insight, and once it has happened, there is no going back. It is looking out through your own mind and eyes at the very same things or ideas you were just looking at and realizing they all look completely different to you. It is a realization of something suddenly so obvious that you can’t even imagine that you ever missed it. It is a surge of feeling, a sense of clarity and certainty that brings with it peace and freedom and hope beyond the limits of your intellectual knowledge of life.

Many people first engage with the Principles and immediately grasp the common sense of the idea that we create our experience of reality via thought. I couldn’t begin to count the number of clients who have sat across from me, nodding, and saying, “Uh-huh. Yup. That makes sense. I’ve thought that before.” — and they feel just the same as they did when they walked in the door. They were hearing and analyzing  the intellectual content of the logic, without any connection to the spiritual truth of it. They are thinking about thought as content, missing the power of Thought as a Principle, the absolute freedom to create anything from nothing. What they’re agreeing to won’t make any difference at that point because the missing piece is the unfathomable experience of spiritual change, which is both ordinary and amazing at the same time. When clients aren’t listening in neutral but are engaging the gears of the intellect, I stop talking about the Principles immediately. Whatever they take from that conversation at that level will just make it harder to hear their own wisdom. (If I stop talking about the Principles, what DO I talk about? It doesn’t matter — anything that comes to mind that seems right in the moment to just put the client’s mind to rest and allow them to clear their heads and stop trying to figure out what I’m saying.)

It is a fact that the Three Principles, described and defined, are a logical, explanatory framework. They even seem linear to people — mind powers thought which powers consciousness —  although the very idea of timeless, formless, immutable truths being linear, which is a time and space concept, is incomprehensible. People teach them like addition, or subtraction, or evaporation, or a million other simple things. It doesn’t take much for everyone to learn them. But then what? Big deal. When you keep adding items or taking items away, you get bigger or smaller numbers. If you leave a bowl of water out, it will eventually dry up. That kind of knowledge doesn’t do anything for anyone until something DAWNS on them — yes, just like the sun rising to illuminate the shadowy darkness — what it really means. It doesn’t awaken understanding that leads to peace, wisdom and freedom, until we SEE something deeper than the facts and the logic.

Remember when you were little and you learned to count? At first, the only point was you could delight your family by correctly telling them “how many.” But then when you saw the deeper implications of knowing “how many” — how that knowledge empowered you to interact with the world — counting meant something to you. It allowed you to discover things for yourself and see the world through fresh eyes.

Sydney Banks talks about (his capital letters intended) SEEING. When I first encountered that, in Second Chance (p. 15), I was totally baffled by it,  and even a little annoyed because when the word SEE was first uttered, Jonathan, the wise figure in the book, says, “I can’t tell you what I mean by SEEING. It is something you must experience for yourself.”  The intellect wants a definition and a chart. I was thinking my way through a book that was never intended to be analyzed like a regular book. The best advice I ever got was to stop wondering about it and trying to figure it out, and just leave my thinking alone. That’s what “reflection” means; turning to internal quietude and simply allowing new ideas to emerge from nowhere. That “nowhere” is the spiritual power of the Principles, the formless energy from which we are formed with everything we need to create the experience of our lives.

My first experience of SEEING was the realization of how many times I had already SEEN and truly changed in my life, when a new idea took form in my mind and completely eradicated everything I had previously thought about that subject. One example. At the age of 29, after 12 years of trying and  to quit smoking because I completely understood all the medical and scientific evidenced that it was bad for me and especially bad for ME because I was prone to bronchial infections, I SAW smoking differently. I had not been able to smoke while I was pregnant; it was one of those things that made me sick during that time. I couldn’t wait until after the baby was born so I could smoke again. When I was first home from the hospital with my beautiful baby girl, a friend brought me cigarettes. I was so excited! I sat down with her to have a smoke, and I looked down at my sweet baby in her little lacy bassinette, and I SAW: “I am in charge of the air she breathes. She has no choice.” Suddenly, the whole idea of me, or anyone else, smoking anywhere near my baby was unconscionable to me. It looked entirely different. I never smoked again and I never gave it a second thought. That insight, in a moment, completely erased all the struggles and efforts of quitting. Why would I even think about it? It simply made no sense to smoke.

We all have moments like that, again and again, but we rarely pause to reflect on what they mean, on how deeply true change affects us and how it simplifies our life. We expend a huge amount of time and effort figuring out strategies for change, when all that is needed is quietude and insight. Sometimes the change is small, and sometimes it is a hugely significant turning point. — Always it is clarifying, refreshing. Always it is a reminder of the spiritual power that is our birthright; the extraordinary gift of the Principles at work behind all of life.

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Listen for a feeling

I will never forget the first time I sat in a big conference where Sydney Banks was speaking and heard him say, “Don’t listen to my words; listen for a feeling.” It was very early on in my exposure to the Principles, and I came close to fleeing the room.  As a hard-working, hard-charging business person in a service business, who had been a tough-minded newspaper reporter, I was highly educated and well-trained to listen to and pay close attention to words. Every word mattered. Getting people’s words “right” mattered.  I had a Master’s Degree with a focus on Linguistics, for heaven’s sake, and that was all about words. If you didn’t focus closely on words, you could end up being sued in my work. Feelings!? Huh???

I probably would have fled, except that I was seated in the middle of a row. I glanced around me; everyone was sitting quietly, unconcerned about what Syd had just said, just taking things in. I would have embarrassed the person who had brought me if I clambered over a bunch of quiet people to rush for an exit, and I was also trained to be courteous. So I sat there, trying not to display my restless confusion, wondering what the heck it meant to “listen for a feeling.” I didn’t hear much else that day because, of course, I could not figure that out. So I was still puzzling over it on the drive home.

On the way, I asked the person who had brought me. The ambiguous answer infuriated me, but I kept that to myself, too, for the sake of politeness. “I imagine it means something different to each person who hears it. You have to see it for yourself.” I turned on the radio, hoping to mask how annoyed I was.  That night, I lay in bed in turmoil. “Listen for a feeling,” just four ordinary little words, and they were so outside of my world when strung together that I could make no sense of them at all. I had spent more than an hour in the audience of the talk of a self-confessed uneducated person, and I had no idea of the meaning of what I had heard. Yet hundreds of other people in the room seemed to think it was wonderful. During the break, I didn’t hear a single other soul complain about being perplexed.

When I confessed my fear that whatever this was, it just wasn’t for me — too weird and airy-fairy — to my mentor, he just laughed and said, “Let it go. Just relax. It will all come together for you when you stop trying so hard.”

“But, but,” I spluttered. “I run a business. You guys are trying to turn my brain to mush.”

“Sorry,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of power. You can only do that to yourself. But don’t worry about it. It won’t last. How about we go get some lunch?”

Oh, I tell you, in the beginning these people were maddening! The more agitated I became, the less interested they were in talking about it (unlike most of my friends). But I admit that lunch and a few jokes and some trivial conversation that day cheered me up.

OK, I was at a turning point. I could walk away from a group of people who seemed to me to be uncommonly happy, contented, productive and kind, who seemed to really enjoy their lives, and thereby lose any chance of learning what they knew that I didn’t. Or I could just stop worrying about it and hang out with them, as they suggested, and see what happened if I wasn’t analyzing every single word they said to me.  It was not actually a tough choice. What person who aspired to sanity would walk away from people who clearly cared, had my best interests at heart, and really wanted things to work out well for me? Despite my prickly attitude, they actually seemed to like me; they were immune to taking offense.

Fast forward a year, a wonderful year of soaking in the experience of spending a lot of time with high-spirited, high-minded, compassionate people who just loved their work and life in general. I took the advice to “thank my brain for sharing” when a bunch of questions would start popping up in my head, and I discovered quietude. I discovered having no need whatsoever to keep talking when I had nothing contributory to say. Everyone noticed how much calmer I was.

And then, one magical day, I “heard” the feeling. I can remember that moment with the exactness of a perfectly enlarged and preserved photograph. I was holding a staff meeting with my employees. We had been struggling for a while with how to handle a particularly difficult — all right, abusive — client who was also a major contributor to our income. That afternoon, I just “saw” that I had to put an end to our contract with that client, no matter the financial implications. I had an insight of total moral and ethical clarity; it served no one to go along with abuse for the sake of money. I gathered my staff, after notifying the client, and I told them what I had done. They immediately launched a barrage of technical questions, but instead of hearing their questions, what I heard was, “they are all feeling insecure about this.” The feeling of insecurity loomed in my mind much larger than any specific question.

“You know what,” I said, “we don’t need to worry about all these details right now. We will work it out. And I have tremendous confidence in all of us staying together, working together, and doing just great together. This is just a moment in time. We have no idea, yet, what we might be able to accomplish without spending so much time on a negative situation, so let’s just have our coffee and cookies and enjoy some free time together.”

There was zero precedent for that in my previous work life. The “old” me, the one who couldn’t even imagine listening for a feeling and following that, instead of my intellect, would have forged on, trying to answer each and every question, getting into the weeds of what it would be like to extricate ourselves from a contract, keeping the meeting going until every last question was discussed for as long as people wanted to keep talking about it. I would have been drawing charts and lists up on the board, sending people out to find certain files for reference, calling our attorney and our accountant, focusing on the words people were saying as though, if I really got to the bottom of everyone’s concerns, it would all work out just great.

The “new” me, the one who heard the feeling, simply realized that what my staff needed was reassurance and getting their minds off their fearful questions until they could enjoy their freedom and think fresh. And you know what? That was absolutely perfect. We chatted and had coffee and the cookies someone always brought to our meetings, then went back to work. Within a few days, I had reviewed the dissolution with our attorney and our accountant and I had a game plan. We had a brief meeting; everyone saw what they needed to do, and it turned into a routine business transaction. No biggie.

The big surprise, though, was that my staff relaxed so much once that was behind us that they actually became ambassadors for our work. Our existing clients started telling their friends and colleagues how much they were enjoying working with us, and how pleasant our staff was. Within a year, we had nearly doubled our business.

And from that one meeting forward, that one time I was so fortunate that my head had cleared and my heart had heard, I lost my attachment to my intellect, and I lived in a world of feelings and responded to them with love and care, just as my mentors had responded to me.

Oh, wow! It was so simple, when I let it be simple.

I don’t mean to suggest that I turned into a lifelong model of great leadership with that one big insight. We’re all human; we drop into insecurity before we even see it coming; we do things we regret; we second-guess our own wisdom. But there was one permanent change in my life. That anxious, analytical, revved-up state did not, I repeat, did not feel normal to me, did not feel good to me. It wasn’t my baseline any more. I saw it as a warning sign to slow down and try to weather it until it passed, rather than a green light to create a lot of activity around me. My intent was to regain my good feelings as soon as I could. I did my best not to pay much attention to my own complicated thinking at those times. And I always knew that the quieter, calmer more insightful me was the real me, the true me, the core me that could be sidelined but would always be ready to step back into the game.

Once any of us sees that, we cannot be tricked by our own minds. We know where we are, and we find our way as long as we listen for a feeling.

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Joy to the World!

I wish Joy to the world, not only during this holiday season, but always.

Joy is the deeply beautiful feeling that connects us to all of life, beyond our differences and before our fears. It is innate to all people, and readily accessible, but, like a rainbow peeking through storm clouds, easily obscured or overlooked. It is born of quietude, a mind at peace, immersed in the present. We fall into joy naturally. The feeling wells up from within our spirit as we simply allow our minds to come to rest. Regardless of turbulence around us, joy elicits calm, certainty, wisdom, understanding and unconditional love. It lifts us away from anxiety and towards transcendent responses to all of life’s challenges. The power of joy is far greater than the pressure of distress.

For a few years now, I have offered programs at the Women’s Resource Center in Bradenton, Florida, that have the word “Joy” in their titles, most recently, “Get Your Joy Back!” On the first night, I ask participants what drew them to the program. Most often, the responses are something like, “I had forgotten all about joy. It seems like something for little children that we don’t have as adults. But I saw the title and I realized I really would love to have joy back in my life. I just didn’t think it was possible.”

Why not? Once we awaken to the way the human mind works, anything is possible. The very same power that brings us worry, upset, stress, despair can also generate joy when we recognize it and see how we use it to create our reality. We leave joy behind when we get into the habit of thinking too much about everything, trying to rely solely on our intellect to arrive at answers. In my mind, the reason little children are so filled with joy is that their whole world is about discovery, about a constant flow of insights, one Aha! moment after another. Every new experience is a delight, a learning, a chance to see and know something fresh. Children don’t overthink. They don’t know, and that’s OK with them; they wonder and they realize. They live in the moment; untroubled by the past and unafraid of the future. They’re sad, they’re happy, they’re silly, they’re serious. they’re angry, they’re loving — they just move through whatever they’re feeling and let it go when new feelings arise, without any judgment or effort to hold onto one or drop another. They are humble; they don’t have a lot of ideas about what they should be or should be able to do. They jump into life and live it to the fullest!

The only reason growing up brings an end to that is that we learn to take our thinking seriously and we lose that graceful ease of moving from one thought to another, moment to moment. Instead of thought serving our curiosity and bringing us ever more insights about life, thought takes on weight and volume and we learn to bear it like a burden and try to take charge of it.

It’s pointless to try to figure out how and why that happens. But it makes sense to understand that we all have within us the power to stop it from happening, no matter how long it’s been going on.  We never lose the capacity for joy; we’re born with it and it is as much a part of us as the beating of our hearts. We never lose the ability to dance with life, moving effortlessly through the darkness and the light.

We rediscover our intrinsic joy when we see for ourselves the remarkable gifts we were given to lead our lives, the gifts of Mind, Consciousness and Thought. We don’t have to “do” anything to use them to create a joyful life. All we need is to recognize when we are overriding the natural flow of thoughts and turn away, leaving our thinking alone to right itself. Those gifts are spiritual, not actual. They are creation. They bring us into creation. We are parts of the infinitude of creation, just as molecules of water are part of the ocean, and there could be no ocean without them, nor could they be without the ocean. Mind is universal energy, life itself. Thought is the power we have to use that energy to create our personal ideas, to navigate our own way. Consciousness is the power we have to be aware of what we are thinking, to see and feel life in action. These forces are, like gravity, eternally true and always at work, whether we know it or not. When we do know it, we know better than to interfere by using our power to think against ourselves. Knowing that we are creating reality, knowing that we are the thinkers of our own thoughts, we can see that our moment-to-moment thinking creates moment-to-moment changes in our feelings about life. When we cling to thinking that brings bad feelings in an effort to overcome it, or fix it, or change it, we just hold those feelings in place. When we see it is the nature of thought to flow and change, we can use bad feelings as reminders that we are thinking too hard, filling our heads with extraneous thoughts, interrupting the spiritual flow of the present moment. We can take bad feelings as a signal to slow down, turn to quiet.

Joy is the wise and lovely state we enter as soon as we find faith and gratitude that, although we were given the power to think our way into anything, we can use that power to clear our heads and start fresh. Now. No thought has power over us; we’re making all of them up for ourselves. We can discard any thought in an instant, as readily as we created it.

So, look to joy. A river of answers to all our perceived problems flows through that precious state of being.

 

P.S. If you are interested in a deeper exploration of Joy, please consider joining me and my wonderful colleagues Bill Pettit and Christine Heath for a four-day retreat in June, 2015:

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Life is spiritual

For years, as a member of the faculty of a medical school, I would answer doctors’ objections to talking about the spiritual with this question: Can you tell the difference between the living and the dead? Of course they could! That difference is the spiritual. The dead body has all the parts that make up the form of a living person; it is missing the formless, spiritual energy that gives it “life.”

The Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought explain and describe that energy, placing our focus on the power of creating our life moment-to-moment, rather than living at the mercy of thinking we have created without realizing it. It’s really very simple, and although those of us who are dedicated to sharing the Principles have certain ways of putting it, we are hardly the first people in the world to point in that direction. The idea of formless spirituquote-spiritual-energy-flows-in-and-produces-effects-in-the-phenomenal-world-william-james-345060al energy underlies the philosophies and spiritual practices of all of mankind. The insights we share, which arose with the profound moment of truth experienced by Sydney Banks, simplify, clarify and offer the logic of the obvious.

Without spiritual energy, we would not be participants in the movement of life. Because we are alive, we are filled with potential to create and experience anything we can bring to life through our imagination. Because we are using that spiritual energy to create our own personal journey, we can change, we can evolve, we can transcend, or we can descend into a trap of our own making. The point is, we have the gift of life and the free will to use it however we see to use it.

People seem to back away from discussing the spiritual because they confuse the idea of spirituality with a belief system. Spiritual energy is both before beliefs and beyond beliefs. Without that gift, there would be no beliefs. But the beliefs different people create with the energy of life are completely arbitrary; we can use our power to create thought and see it as real to create anything.

If we sidestep the truth that life is spiritual, whatever we are talking about has nothing to do with the Principles, and with the true nature of the human experience. The profound explanation for everything that appears in our lives that is offered by the spiritual Principles is the breakthrough that lifts us beyond all the cognitive teaching in the world today. Once we understand where our thoughts come from, that they arise from our own power to create, it doesn’t matter what we think. It doesn’t matter what we think. That is crucial. As we glimpse the spiritual Principles at work within us, we can no longer frighten ourselves with our own thinking. We are free.

When we see the Principles more and more clearly, we always know what we are doing. When we use our power to think to bring bad memories to mind, we know we don’t have to hold them there, but we can use that same power to allow them to pass and bring new thoughts to mind. When we use our power to think to bring cravings and habits to mind, we know they are just our thinking and they will pass if we don’t take them seriously. When we use our thinking to bring negative emotions to mind, we know they will affect us for only as long as we continue to think them. That is the point. With understanding comes the power to live at peace, recognizing that our thinking is variable but our understanding that we are thinking is the constant recognition of all the thoughts we create as temporary illusions. We live from spirituality, not from the aftereffects of misunderstood thinking.

Mental health is the unconditional realization that our thoughts have no power; we are the power behind them.

The life force beyond all things has no form, yet it gives form to all things.

Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p. 68.   sydney-banks

 

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Common Sense or Fear? Our choice.

 

Every time we get new information, we have a choice what to make of it. That choice has nothing to do with the information. It has to do with whether we understand how we bring our own thinking to life as reality. We don’t choose the first thought that comes to mind. But every subsequent related thought and what we make of it is strictly up to us.

fork in road

The more deeply we understand our own spiritual nature, that we are generating our life experience by bringing thoughts to mind and then taking them more or less seriously, the more easily we make common sense choices.

Example:  I am walking my dog as usual and I see another person, also walking a dog, fall down. This is not something I expected, nor is it something I can simply not allow into my mind. So I am at a crossroads. My next thought could be anything. It could be to rush up to help the person; to stay away in case that person is contagious;  to stand there and shout for help; to turn my back on the situation and figure someone else will come along — and so on. That next thought sets a direction. If my first thought was to rush up to help, my next thought might be caution. Or my next thought might be the checklist I know to determine if the person is having a stroke. Or my next thought might be to secure my dog so she would not interfere with the other dog while I was trying to help. And so on. On the other hand, if my first thought was to turn my back, my next thought might be the formation of a justification for turning away, or it might be to decide the person probably tripped and got right up and I spared him embarrassment, or it might be regret for being uncaring, and so on.

We don’t break our thinking down this way, but that’s how it works. We take in information and then we create our own thoughts about it. We do not act on the information; we act on our own thoughts about it. The direction our thoughts go has a lot to do with our knowledge of what is going on in our minds, and the depth of our own recognition that when the train of thought is leading to anxiety, self-doubt, fear or darkness, we can change direction. The types of thoughts that continue to come to mind are defined by the state of mind in which we are thinking. If we are calm and confident, we’ll continue to think of increasingly constructive things. If we are stressed and fearful, we’ll think of increasingly less constructive things. If we don’t like the feeling state our thinking is leading us through, we can change our our minds.

There is one and only one reason for thoughts of anxiety breeding thoughts of fear breeding thoughts of panic breeding hysteria. That reason is upsetting thoughts taken increasingly seriously. For those who understand that their rising levels of tension are being produced by their own thinking, not by events or circumstances, this doesn’t happen. They know they have a choice, and one choice is to pause, let the flow of negative thoughts pass and allow their minds to quiet. A whole different quality of thinking will arise from a calmer state of mind. Vivid examples of this choice arose in my life this past week.

First, I watched in astonishment as the U.S. whipped itself into a state of panic over the Ebola virus because one case occurred in a man from Liberia, where the virus is rampant, and infected at least two nurses in exactly the way we understand this virus spreads, through direct contact with bodily fluids of a sick person. There is a lot to learn about how we manage health care institutions and how we train health care providers from this case, but there is no reason to extrapolate that everyone in the US is now in imminent danger. But somehow, within days, response escalated into reaction, which escalated into over-reaction, which escalated into national blaming and widespread panic. The increasingly dire thinking about what could happen has spread like wildfire. It doesn’t matter how it started. It spread because people simply are not aware of what they are doing with their own thinking. The first fearful thought brings a little tension, and opens the door to increasingly fearful thoughts and more tension and the race is on. Once people have worked themselves into a frenzy of concern, all common sense is out the window. Unless we know that we have the power to turn it around, our thinking can run wild.

Second, I received the news that one of my dear friends, Dr. Jamie Shumway, had succumbed to ALS after six years of decline. Jamie was a colleague at West Virginia University School of Medicine. He really saw for himself the profound meaning and import of the message of hope I and my colleagues were working to impart: we create our own reality by using the gift of thought to enliven our consciousness of what we perceive as real. When I first met Jamie, he was an irrepressible outdoorsman. He white-water kayaked. He hiked. He fished, He snowshoed. He skied. He was in love with high energy activity. Some years later, he had heart surgery and he had to give up many of his strenuous undertakings. Did he mourn that loss? No, he decided to take piano lessons, and spent hours quietly practicing and coming to appreciate music. He even took part in a recital with a group of youngsters who were taking lessons from the same teacher! He got a huge kick out of that. Just as I was leaving WVU to move to Florida, he began having unexplained weakness in his legs. He served with great grace and wit as the moderator for the beautiful farewell party given for me and my colleague Dr. Bill Pettit, even as he leaned heavily on a podium because he had discovered that he couldn’t stand for very long without support. At that time, he was having neurological tests.

Then came the news, ALS. For the next several years, Jamie did every single thing he could do within his increasing limitations. He moved from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair, but he kept on  going to WVU sports events, going down to the dock to fish, attending parties and events. He continued to work as long as he possibly could. After he retired, he continued to teach, his huge smile quickly helping students forget his voice was strained and his movements very small as he negotiated his motorized wheelchair with the last of his strength. He spent his final months working with a collaborator to finish a book about his life. He died at home. All along the way, he never talked about what he couldn’t do; he reveled in what he still could do, and made the most of it. Even in his last years, many of us had lively conversations with him about the things he had always enjoyed talking about.

He could have spiraled into fearful thinking and regret and recrimination and anger. Certainly, some terminally ill patients facing a long, slow, irreversible decline do that. But he knew how to use his thinking to keep his bearings. He knew how to ignore fear. He knew how to live in the present moment in gratitude for what he had, without wasting precious time stewing about what he didn’t have. He put his energy into ordinary, common sense thinking about making the most of life.

Those who have followed their thinking into a state of agitation about Ebola are not wrong or bad. They are innocently unaware of the simple logic underlying life. We are making up our own interpretations of what is happening and living through them as though they were reality. Jamie knew and felt the power in that. It is a power we all have.

Sydney Banks says it beautifully here:

 

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No need to fix everything!

Lately I’ve talked with several clients who are sure that “fixing” something in their circumstances will bring them happiness. One is determined to find a job in a bigger city, where she thinks it will be “more fun” to live. One is trying to find a new set of room-mates and a new apartment because she thinks she needs to be with people who are nicer to her to be comfortable at home. Another is worried about the danger of living within 100 miles of a major US military installation and wants to move with her children to the wilderness because she thinks that’s the only way to be safe from terror.  Another is trying to change schools because he thinks campus life at his college is dumb and boring. You get the idea. If I can just change this or that thing in my life, then I’ll be happy.Fixing thing

It doesn’t work that way. Or, in the words of one of my early mentors in the Three Principles, “No matter where you go or what you do, you take your head with you.”

  • People who are searching for happiness from places, things or other people will never find just the right ones; nothing, no matter how wonderful, can create happiness for someone who thinks it will come from circumstances.
  • People who are insecure and feel judged will think they are put down no matter how nice others are to them; self-doubt is consistently suspicious of kindness.
  • Worriers will always find something to worry about; worry is like playing endless whack-a-mole.
  • People who are dissatisfied can’t be satisfied by changing their situation; there’s something wrong no matter where they look.

Trying to fix things outside of ourselves is a fool’s errand. It keeps us really busy, in some cases it runs us ragged, to keep looking, looking, looking for that perfect whatever, that moment when we finally get everything right. all pretty and polished. It’s a lifetime of hard work that is destined to fail because the real source of what looks wrong to us is not “out there” at all. We joke about it (see chart), but even our jokes seem misdirected; tea and movies won’t “fix” anything, either, aside from providing brief distraction from the need to fix. Because, irony of ironies, the “fault” is in our understanding of ourselves, not in the world.

Now I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t make changes in their lives if it makes sense to do so. There are plenty of good reasons to move or to make new friends or to shift from one school to another, and so on. The problem is that none of those good reasons come to light when we’re in a low state of mind. They emerge as insights from wisdom when we are at peace, not when we are invested in “fixing,” but rather in seeing opportunity in change. This may seem like a subtle point, but it isn’t.

When I first was exposed to the Principles, I was just like those clients I described, probably worse. I thought all my stress, anxiety, worry and depression was “caused” by the business I was in and the life I was leading. I dreamed of a Nirvana, somewhere, where I could find peace, but running off to some paradise was an impossibility; I had a family; I had civic obligations; I had business responsibilities.  I was a wreck because I thought the only way to fix my life was to change everything, but I couldn’t change anything. So on top of everything else, I was frustrated because I thought I knew what the “fix” was but it was out of my reach. A basket case, indeed. In that state, when I first heard that I could change my life from within without changing a single iota of the external details, I thought it was ridiculous.

But I was a business person and a pragmatist. I knew that when something you’re doing is not producing the result you want, you can’t succeed by closing your mind to alternatives.  You’ve got to listen to new ideas, try new directions. You’ve got to look at “best practices,” things that others are doing that are working. The more “Principles people” I met, the more I realized they were not overwhelmed, discouraged or disgruntled in the face of disappointment. Nothing seemed to bother them, and yet a lot of them were facing far greater challenges in life than anything I had. They were all at the front end of something brand new in the world that was generally greeted with negativity, suspicion. rejection, insults and mockery. Yet they happily persevered. They fearlessly took risks and they gracefully accepted the consequences when things didn’t work out. When things did work out, they were grateful, but not prideful. And they had a lot of fun.

It wasn’t really difficult for me to answer this question: Do you want to go on doing what you’re doing, exhausted, sad, crying every morning, blaming your business, losing your youth and vibrant health to the erosion of depression and stress — or do you want to enjoy your life and your work, embrace things the way they are, be unafraid to try things if you have a clearly wise idea, and have a great time?   Hmmm. It would be hard to call that a tough one.

What did it take? It was as easy as discovering you’re heading the wrong way on a road and just turning around. As soon as I was willing to admit that there was another way to understand life and started looking in that direction, I felt hopeful and calmed down. I stopped fighting my circumstances and started appreciating internal quietude. I discovered that when I didn’t engage circular thinking from the outset, it faded away. I defaulted to moments of peace of mind and started having insights that were real solutions to so-called problems. I began to see the logic of the Principles at work behind life and find great comfort in the face that every “reality” generated by my thinking was just an illusion of the moment.

All it took was the decision that it was worth looking away from the chaotic thinking that had dominated my waking hours and realizing that when I wasn’t trapped in it,  it disappeared from view and grew less and less visible even when I looked in the rear view mirror.

Peace of mind, it turns out, really is one thought away. Not any one particular thought. Just the one thought that works for you when you decide to stop trying to fix all the stuff in your life and look deep instead of far and wide. From a quiet mind, all the answers we need flow effortlessly.

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What ever happened to peace and love?

 

peace and love

What ever happened to peace and love? The answer is nothing has ever happened to peace and love. Peace and love are constants of the nature of all mankind.  Peace and love are the spiritual essence of humanity.

Then how do we explain the murderous rage, the boiling resentment, the hatred of “others” spreading across the world? Those things have nothing to do with our spiritual nature. They are the products of insecure thinking unrestrained, misleading multitudes into vortices of fear.

It looks hopeless to many that mankind will ever live at peace, that people who don’t see eye to eye will work together constructively to find common ground, that “others” will be appreciated for their differences and understood as part of the family of man. It doesn’t look hopeless to me. Yes, it is painful to be a witness to widespread human suffering. But it only strengthens my determination to keep on working to share the underlying logic of the human psyche, the simple Principles that explain the creation of both peace and war and describe the power each person on earth has to choose a new direction.

Let’s look at a simple chart of the spectrum of states of mind:

state of mind chart.001

As we understand how our thinking works, we find more and more inner peace and see life from gratitude and joy, free from fear and judgment. Without understanding, we become entrapped in insecure thinking and fall prey to feelings of alienation and despair.

The words could be different, but pick up on the feelings implied. Above the red line, people are in relatively calm states, with wisdom and insight accessible to them. The higher their level of calm, the more they are at peace and their minds are free and clear. Below the line, people are in relatively stressed states, increasingly caught up in personal, habitual thinking. The deeper they fall into distress, the more they cling to their thinking and lash out in self-protection.

We are always in some state of mind, but we are oblivious to it. Whatever our state of mind, our thinking looks like reality to us. If we are living in a chronic state of anger and upset, we are feeling insecure, off-balance, and fearful of protecting ourselves and our own view of things. When we are living in a constant state of ease and calm, we are feeling secure, confident within ourselves, and able to access insight and creative solutions to problems.

The ups and downs of our states of minds play out in the worldly realm, like weather on the surface of the ocean. But below the active, ever-changing surface is the steady flow of the current of life.  The Principles describe that current. The current is not the weather; but without the current, the weather would not have a way to play itself out. The current brings the ocean to life. The Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought describe how experience enters our awareness. Mind is the intelligent energy, the breath of life, that infuses our spirit. Thought is the way we use that energy to create ideas and images within our own heads. Consciousness is the way we become aware of what we have created and have a sensory experience of it.

Most people have no recognition that this process is constantly at work, generating our experience. When we awaken to how our thinking and our states of mind work, we understand our present experience and we know that if we do not like it, we can change it as we find deeper calm and wisdom. When we innocently believe that the thoughts we are having and our reactions to them are being caused by things outside ourselves, we are at war with the circumstances of life. We can never win because we cannot force others to fit our thinking about how life should be. We can only come to the realization that everyone is the same, and just like us, they are looking at life through their own thoughts.  When we all realize that our own thinking is creating our experience of what is happening, the power to change is ours, and we are one insight away from a completely different experience of the same world.

Pain arises from all our “if-then” thinking: If this changes, then I’ll feel better. If that group would go away, I could enjoy my community more. If those people weren’t bothering me, I wouldn’t have to kill them. Peace arises from the insight that each one of us is looking at the same circumstances through their own unique thinking and states of mind. One person’s good outcome is another person’s nightmare.

How would understanding this help? We would stop fighting each other’s insecure thinking and instead look to generate calm and security before we took action. There are examples of this in the world. One of the most touching in recent history is the Forgiveness Project. All of us have had moments in which a healing insight has transcended resentments or anger, and given us a fresh start with someone or something. Large or small, those are the moments which turn us towards the light of our spiritual nature, the capacity to be at peace

Love and understanding harmonize the mind of humanity to its true inner nature.

What you give in life is what you receive. 

To give love is to receive love.

A mind full of love and good feelings can never go wrong.

Love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. Without them, life is encumbered by ill feelings and unhappiness.

Judging your own faults or the faults of others leads to unhappiness. A mind that dwells in non-judgment is a contented mind.

A heart full of love is void of all judgment and is filled with divine spirit.

Sydney Banks, The Missing Link

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Seriously?

Consider this story: Not long ago, I was meeting with a person who started our conversation in tears, feeling hopeless because of a family situation that was outside of her control, but involved her children in a way that she could not think about without more tears and more pain. As she tried to explain it to me in gasps crying girlbetween the sobs, she grasped her head in her hands and said, “This is so serious. Sometimes I just want to kill myself. I can’t do anything about it.”

Before I understood how human psychology actually works and where our thoughts come from and how we connect to deeper wisdom, I would have felt equally helpless to do anything but comfort her the best I could and listen to the whole story as long as she wanted to talk about it. We’ve all done that — tried to be the best shoulder to cry on that we could be and take people’s problems seriously.

Now, though, that makes no sense to me. I do not indulge seriousness because it is a dreadful, heavy feeling that pulls us away from creativity, wisdom and optimism. When we are in a state of seriousness, we cannot even trust that we are seeing situations clearly because a cloud of gloom falls over our thinking. I know that I have made the worst decisions of my life in a state of seriousness, and I know that I have never once solved a problem that I was taking seriously.

Still, people get confused between respect and seriousness. To those who do not see unconditional innate health and resiliency in everyone, regardless of circumstances and regardless of their current state of mind, it seems right and kind to delve into people’s problems, to get them to talk about them a lot, to help them to “get it all out,” to indulge the pain and to treat it as important. This is so engrained into our mental health system that seriousness is dominant and pervasive, among providers and patients alike. We have lost sight of the idea that people have a psychological immune system just as powerful as their physical immune system: the ability to see their own thinking for what it is and to leave it alone and allow it to pass when it is hurtful. It is a tough sell to tell helpers that the worst thing we can possibly do for those we want to help is to hold their pain in place by continually encouraging them to think more about it when they are distressed and serious.

But wouldn’t it be unprofessional, rude and thoughtless to try to lighten the mood of a person who has “serious” problems? Don’t they have every reason to be sad, and shouldn’t we take their pain to heart? Well, it would be if they were stuck in seriousness for life and the best we could do is to ease their misery. But once we understand how our minds work, it’s clear that we are never “stuck” in any feeling state or way of using our thinking. Seriousness, like all other feelings, comes and goes, and the only way we can make it “stay” is to keep thinking and thinking in circles when we don’t have an answer and feel hopeless about it.

So, in the recent example I just shared, I looked at that person and my heart went out to her because I knew, in that instant, she was really hurting. But I also knew that she was only a momentary thought away from a shift, from her spirits lifting, her thinking clearing, and her innate wisdom coming to mind. I knew she could never clear a space for that momentary thought if I leaped with her into the maelstrom of her upsetting thinking. So I listened a little and then I said, “I know this looks hopeless to you now and it’s very upsetting to you to keep thinking about it. Honestly, it would help us to sort things out together when you feel a little more calm and clear-headed.”

“That’s true,” she said. “It’s hard for me to keep going over and over this situation and never have an answer or a new idea.”

How would she come to that conclusion? Because wisdom is always right there for us, waiting for the tiniest opening, and maybe a little beam of hope slipped in when I introduced the idea that she would and could feel more calm and clear-headed. We fixed some coffee together and sat by a window, looking out at a grassy area, as we sipped it. The sobbing stopped. She managed a small smile and thanked me for the coffee.

As she quieted down, she suddenly said, “You know, I don’t know why I get so upset about this. I think it’s because my ex-husband is in control of the kids’ lives now and I don’t see enough of them to matter much. I realize I’m doing everything I can to change my life so I can be a better mother, and this will change in time. Sometimes I just forget that. I put myself in a bad situation and now I’m pulling myself out of it. Getting so wrapped up in what’s wrong is just slowing my progress, isn’t it?”

We talked about her children and she showed me some cute pictures, and we even laughed at a couple of her stories of things they had said and done. After a while, she thanked me profusely. “I’m back on track,” she said.

“Would you like me to explain to you what just happened so you can feel more confident about getting back on track in the future,” I asked. And she said yes. So now, she was in the state of mind that allowed her to listen and take in the simple, powerful idea of Innate Health.

Our thinking is not created by our circumstances. Our thinking creates the way we experience life circumstances. When we’re in a low mood and a high state of tension, our thinking is habitual and dark and reactive, and circumstances feel daunting to us. As our mood lifts and our tension subsides, our thinking is fresh and clear and responsive, and circumstances feel malleable to us.

The ability to think arises from the formless, spiritual energy of life. It is a natural part of our humanity, just as our heartbeat is innate and built into us. Thoughts take form in our minds as life flows through us. To the degree we see ourselves as the source of our own thinking, the creators of our own thoughts, we know we can take any thoughts more or less seriously, but no thought has a life beyond the life we give it. We can turn away from our thoughts when they begin to cascade into craters of unhappiness. We can see them for what they are, ideas and images we are creating in a “down” state of mind that will form and look different to us in a higher state of mind.  When we’re onto ourselves about our thinking, there is no way we can take ourselves seriously.

So, seriously? Yes, seriously. Give it up. The thinking that helps us and guides us and uplifts us is always available to us. We can lose touch with it for a while, but we can never lose it. When seriousness passes, clarity, wisdom and happiness unfold their wings and soar into our minds, just as the birds emerge from the trees when a storm has passed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Underestimating yourself?

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Do you underestimate yourself?  It's kinda sneaky how that happens.

We underestimate ourselves when we accept limitations and don't notice. Our assumptions go invisible on us. They stop looking like assumptions and simply look like the truth. We then act accordingly.

Personally I know that I have at times hugely underestimated myself. I only saw how invisible this was when kind friends pointed it out to me. But it's not easy to hear. Ever witnessed someone defending their limitations? Maybe you even tried to talk them out of it when they asserted they aren't "the kind of person who..." or "tried but can't..."  

I don't have any trouble calling to mind someone I know who can't quite see for themselves just how attractive, strong, capable, loving or giving they are.  

A quote attributed to Henry Ford is

Whether you think you can
or whether you think you can't
either way
you are right
A nice way of saying we LIVE what we think and we do not realize that we are the thinker. This is why we become blind to our constructs, assume whatever we think is true and why we hate being challenged about it.  

The whole package that makes up what I call "myself" is only a mystery to one person: Me. And it's amazing how wrong we can be about our own base assumptions of who we are. 

Underestimating yourself always arises from who you assume you are.

The question "who am I?" deserves more airplay than we give it. Not only are we not entertaining the question, we seem to be moving away from contemplative traditions in which these kinds of questions mattered. We no longer engage in pure inquiry. Are we so intolerant of mystery that we would rather be wrong than not know something.

The price we pay for this is to be overly-engaged in our assumptions. And from the assumption that there is something fundamentally limited about us arises the desire to improve who we are. 

Why improve who you think you are when you can simply look to see who you really are "before" the personality arrived that you call YOU. 

"Who am I" or better said, "What is I?"  are invitations to peek underneath the construct of ourselves, beyond the false self that we made up and just see. What came before the thoughts of "I."

I have come to appreciate these contemplations, and to enjoy following where they lead. 

Are you the limited person you think you are?  What if you are not?

This self I call me seems nothing more than a bouquet of thoughts, rather than facts. I call them me, but really they are air. They are concepts -- ideas that have nothing to do with who I am or what I am capable of  -- if I weren't so interested in what I think about myself.

Transcend Trauma

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Many of us are troubled by things that have happened to us. In some cases we hold deep secrets about these things, so awful that even our close loved ones are unaware of our pain.

Yet even while these are hidden in the recesses of our minds, we seek ways to release ourselves from the past.

As one who had a violent marriage to a heroin addict, I was such a person. I would have given everything I had to someone who could have helped me transcend my own trauma. But shedding it looked impossible to me. For a long time I could not count a single day when I was not terrified.

Being in that wilderness without an exit was the lowest point in my life.  As time passed I had good days when I forgot about it all. I had fewer bad days. I longed for, but wasn't quite able to find what I really wanted: my complete freedom.  

Then the way to freedom showed itself. Not in a blaze of light, but a small parting of a curtain. And as I persisted in finding out what was behind that curtain I found my own way.  

Sydney Banks, a great teacher of kindness wrote "The Missing Link" and in it he said:

There is no way to guarantee a trouble-free life.

Life is like any other contact sport. 
You may encounter hardships of one sort or another.

Wise people find happiness 
not in the absence of such hardships,
but in their ability to understand 
them when they occur.
 
The "ability to understand" is they key I was looking for.  I spent a lot of time rummaging in the drawers of the past looking for my answer, my freedom, but didn't find it until I found out something deeper about myself and my true nature. 

To me, Syd is suggesting we all allow our own deeper nature to show us the way forward through love and understanding.  He is inviting us to look away from the searing pain and toward the spiritual, formless side of life -- not to ignore what is happening now -- but to look behind it.  To look to something more.

During the time I looked for my answers, I read many spiritual books. Among them, "A Course In Miracles." I even worked helping to translate the Course in the very early years before any translations had yet been published. The Course has been in my life for 30 years now, off and on, and I must admit it has both comforted me and confounded me. 

I came across this on page 591 today:
You need no healing to be healed.

The miracle comes quietly into the mind that stops an instant and is still.
I almost missed the great importance of this.  I wished I had really seen this those many years ago when I was struggling to let go of all the painful memories I carried with me.  

It comforts me to know that these messages of help are everywhere, although we may miss them or not understand them. But even more than this, what truly helps me today is to know that there is a spiritual, or formless life that is me, and remains unchanged regardless of what happens to me.

How can we turn to the remembrance of what we are, within the formless nature of life itself, and know that it is inviolate? 

How can we be in acknowledgement of the events and yet separate and untouched by their consequences?

It seems impossible. Yet, it is not.  That is all I know. For so it has been for me.  


More books that have helped me on my way.