Feeling Our Way through Life

Keyboard close-up with three smiley keys (emoticons)

Keyboard close-up with three smiley keys (emoticons)

People seek help from counselors when they feel bad. No one has ever come into a session with me to complain about their thinking. They come in to say, “I’m really depressed.” “I’m sad and I can’t seem to get over it.” “I am so anxious that I can’t concentrate.” “I get so angry I feel like hitting my children.” That kind of statement.

So, intuitively, we know that bad feelings are a sign that we need help. But we believe the bad feelings are coming from the events, people and circumstances in our life. The expectation people usually start with is that a mentor or counselor will help them to “deal with” their feelings.
They don’t anticipate actually feeling that much better, just coping much better with how bad they feel. They’re usually looking for techniques or strategies, eager to tell me about all the things they’ve already tried that haven’t worked over time. Yoga. Meditation. Art therapy. Long walks. Medication. Massage.

Here’s the thing. If you make a recipe that doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to taste any better if you eat it by candlelight, or eat slowly, or serve bread with it, or use better cutlery, or put flowers on the table. You cooked it. You don’t like it. Smart money says you toss it aside take the recipe out of your recipe file, and stop making it.

Our feelings are the experiences we cook up with the thoughts we bring to mind. If we don’t like them, getting over them is no more of a big deal than scraping a plate into the garbage, avoiding that recipe, and moving on. If you keep cooking up the same combination of stuff, you’’ll keep getting the same unpleasant results. We don’t do that with food. Why do it we do it with ourselves?

For me, it was simply not knowing where my feelings were actually coming from. Until someone pointed it out to me, I never noticed that the same people, events and circumstances did not always produce the same feelings, that I often felt completely differently about things at different times. I had just accepted the prevailing view I grew up with that we were always reacting to life, that life could and would make us feel bad or good.

It was a revelation to me that my thinking had anything to do with it. I rejected the whole idea at first. What? I was making myself miserable? I would never do that on purpose! How dare anyone suggest that? But it very quickly dawned on me that if I had the power to make myself miserable, I had the power to make myself anything. Maybe that was actually good news; I could change even if people, events and circumstances around me did not change. Wow!

The only thing in life we really do have any control over is ourselves. We can’t force other people to change; we can’t prevent life events; we can’t pick the historical or demographic circumstances into which we’re born. But we come fully equipped to make the most of our lives, whatever they are. Again, Wow!

We’ve learned to go over and over our same old thinking, trying to understand ourselves, or figure out why we think this or that, or resolve our past traumas by re-living them, hoping they’ll look different to us. As we do this, we feel worse and worse. In my experience of working with people, though, the hardest part of my work is to get them to stop talking about all the negative thoughts they have. “No, but let me explain. You have to see how awful …”

Stop! I’ll stipulate that it’s awful, and I will win the bet every time that if you continue to bring it to mind, you’ll continue to feel awful. I will suggest that as soon as you mind calms and turns elsewhere, you’ll feel different.

This is very clear to me because I stumbled into the Principles that describe how we create our experience of life, the Principles that show us that experience doesn’t create us. We use the energy of life to generate thoughts, constantly. Our mental activity begins when we come into this world and ends when we leave. We constantly create thoughts, which, when they form in our minds, sets a whole bio-psycho-spiritual chain of events in motion, affecting our chemistry, and thus our feeling state. Bad feelings are not our enemies; they are our navigation system. As soon as our feeling state starts to drop, we can be 100% certain that our thinking is not healthy, wise or functional. Whatever we’re bringing to mind, it’s taking us in a direction we don’t want to go. So bad feelings are not something to cope with; they are something to appreciate and use as a guide to slow our minds down. We can just let our thinking pass without paying a lot of attention to the details, until our minds quiet and better feelings return. They always will. And it happens very quickly because thoughts unexamined pass quickly. We are naturally self-righting, but we also have the free will to keep ourselves off balance. As soon as we let go of trying to figure out, organize or control our thoughts, our innate resiliency brings us right back into balance.

Better feelings, good feelings tell us to trust the thoughts we’re having. Once we are operating from a clear head and a quiet mind, the very “problems” that looked so horrible come into perspective. The past takes its place as the past. Present troubles seem more like situations than insoluble problems, and we start coming up with solutions, rather than frustration and upset.

It’s great to know that we are set up to enjoy life. Yes, we can disrupt that by using our power to think against ourselves. Enjoyment and optimism return quickly when we navigate by our feelings, and recognize when to leave our thinking alone.

The post Feeling Our Way through Life appeared first on Three Principles Living.

Feeling Our Way through Life

People seek help from counselors when they feel bad. No one has ever come into a session with me to complain about their thinking. They come in to say, “I’m really depressed.” “I’m sad and I can’t seem to get over it.” “I am so anxious that I can’t concentrate.” “I get so angry I feel like hitting my children.” That kind of statement.

So, intuitively, we know that bad feelings are a sign that we need help. But we believe the bad feelings are coming from the events, people and circumstances in our life. The expectation people usually start with is that a mentor or counselor will help them to “deal with” their feelings.

They don’t anticipate actually feeling that much better, just coping much better with how bad they feel. They’re usually looking for techniques or strategies, eager to tell me about all the things they’ve already tried that haven’t worked over time. Yoga. Meditation. Art therapy. Long walks. Medication. Massage.

Here’s the thing. If you make a recipe that doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to taste any better if you eat it by candlelight, or eat slowly, or serve bread with it, or use better cutlery, or put flowers on the table. You cooked it. You don’t like it. Smart money says you toss it aside take the recipe out of your recipe file, and stop making it.

Our feelings are the experiences we cook up with the thoughts we bring to mind. If we don’t like them, getting over them is no more of a big deal than scraping a plate into the garbage, avoiding that recipe, and moving on. If you keep cooking up the same combination of stuff, you’ll keep getting the same unpleasant results. We don’t do that with food. Why do it we do it with ourselves?

For me, it was simply not knowing where my feelings were actually coming from. Until someone pointed it out to me, I never noticed that the same people, events and circumstances did not always produce the same feelings, that I often felt completely differently about things at different times. I had just accepted the prevailing view I grew up with that we were always reacting to life, that life could and would make us feel bad or good.

It was a revelation to me that my thinking had anything to do with it. I rejected the whole idea at first. What? I was making myself miserable? I would never do that on purpose! How dare anyone suggest that? But it very quickly dawned on me that if I had the power to make myself miserable, I had the power to make myself anything. Maybe that was actually good news; I could change even if people, events and circumstances around me did not change. Wow!

The only thing in life we really do have any control over is ourselves. We can’t force other people to change; we can’t prevent life events; we can’t pick the historical or demographic circumstances into which we’re born. But we come fully equipped to make the most of our lives, whatever they are. Again, Wow!

We’ve learned to go over and over our same old thinking, trying to understand ourselves, or figure out why we think this or that, or resolve our past traumas by re-living them, hoping they’ll look different to us. As we do this, we feel worse and worse. In my experience of working with people, though, the hardest part of my work is to get them to stop talking about all the negative thoughts they have. “No, but let me explain. You have to see how awful …”

Stop! I’ll stipulate that it’s awful, and I will win the bet every time that if you continue to bring it to mind, you’ll continue to feel awful. I will suggest that as soon as your mind calms and turns elsewhere, you’ll feel different.

This is very clear to me because I stumbled into the Principles that describe how we create our experience of life, the Principles that show us that experience doesn’t create us. We use the energy of life to generate thoughts, constantly. Our mental activity begins when we come into this world and ends when we leave. We constantly create thoughts, which, when they form in our minds, sets a whole bio-psycho-spiritual chain of events in motion, affecting our chemistry, and thus our feeling state. Bad feelings are not our enemies; they are our navigation system. As soon as our feeling state starts to drop, we can be 100% certain that our thinking is not healthy, wise or functional. Whatever we’re bringing to mind, it’s taking us in a direction we don’t want to go. So bad feelings are not something to cope with; they are something to appreciate and use as a guide to slow our minds down. We can just let our thinking pass without paying a lot of attention to the details, until our minds quiet and better feelings return. They always will. And it happens very quickly because thoughts unexamined pass quickly. We are naturally self-righting, but we also have the free will to keep ourselves off balance. As soon as we let go of trying to figure out, organize or control our thoughts, our innate resiliency brings us right back into balance.

Better feelings, good feelings tell us to trust the thoughts we’re having. Once we are operating from a clear head and a quiet mind, the very “problems” that looked so horrible come into perspective. The past takes its place as the past. Present troubles seem more like situations than insoluble problems, and we start coming up with solutions, rather than frustration and upset.

It’s great to know that we are set up to enjoy life. Yes, we can disrupt that by using our power to think against ourselves. Enjoyment and optimism return quickly when we navigate by our feelings, and recognize when to leave our thinking alone.

The post Feeling Our Way through Life appeared first on Three Principles Living.

Feeling Our Way through Life

People seek help from counselors when they feel bad. No one has ever come into a session with me to complain about their thinking. They come in to say, “I’m really depressed.” “I’m sad and I can’t seem to get over it.” “I am so anxious that I can’t concentrate.” “I get so angry I feel like hitting my children.” That kind of statement.

So, intuitively, we know that bad feelings are a sign that we need help. But we believe the bad feelings are coming from the events, people and circumstances in our life. The expectation people usually start with is that a mentor or counselor will help them to “deal with” their feelings.

They don’t anticipate actually feeling that much better, just coping much better with how bad they feel. They’re usually looking for techniques or strategies, eager to tell me about all the things they’ve already tried that haven’t worked over time. Yoga. Meditation. Art therapy. Long walks. Medication. Massage.

Here’s the thing. If you make a recipe that doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to taste any better if you eat it by candlelight, or eat slowly, or serve bread with it, or use better cutlery, or put flowers on the table. You cooked it. You don’t like it. Smart money says you toss it aside take the recipe out of your recipe file, and stop making it.

Our feelings are the experiences we cook up with the thoughts we bring to mind. If we don’t like them, getting over them is no more of a big deal than scraping a plate into the garbage, avoiding that recipe, and moving on. If you keep cooking up the same combination of stuff, you’ll keep getting the same unpleasant results. We don’t do that with food. Why do it we do it with ourselves?

For me, it was simply not knowing where my feelings were actually coming from. Until someone pointed it out to me, I never noticed that the same people, events and circumstances did not always produce the same feelings, that I often felt completely differently about things at different times. I had just accepted the prevailing view I grew up with that we were always reacting to life, that life could and would make us feel bad or good.

It was a revelation to me that my thinking had anything to do with it. I rejected the whole idea at first. What? I was making myself miserable? I would never do that on purpose! How dare anyone suggest that? But it very quickly dawned on me that if I had the power to make myself miserable, I had the power to make myself anything. Maybe that was actually good news; I could change even if people, events and circumstances around me did not change. Wow!

The only thing in life we really do have any control over is ourselves. We can’t force other people to change; we can’t prevent life events; we can’t pick the historical or demographic circumstances into which we’re born. But we come fully equipped to make the most of our lives, whatever they are. Again, Wow!

We’ve learned to go over and over our same old thinking, trying to understand ourselves, or figure out why we think this or that, or resolve our past traumas by re-living them, hoping they’ll look different to us. As we do this, we feel worse and worse. In my experience of working with people, though, the hardest part of my work is to get them to stop talking about all the negative thoughts they have. “No, but let me explain. You have to see how awful …”

Stop! I’ll stipulate that it’s awful, and I will win the bet every time that if you continue to bring it to mind, you’ll continue to feel awful. I will suggest that as soon as your mind calms and turns elsewhere, you’ll feel different.

This is very clear to me because I stumbled into the Principles that describe how we create our experience of life, the Principles that show us that experience doesn’t create us. We use the energy of life to generate thoughts, constantly. Our mental activity begins when we come into this world and ends when we leave. We constantly create thoughts, which, when they form in our minds, sets a whole bio-psycho-spiritual chain of events in motion, affecting our chemistry, and thus our feeling state. Bad feelings are not our enemies; they are our navigation system. As soon as our feeling state starts to drop, we can be 100% certain that our thinking is not healthy, wise or functional. Whatever we’re bringing to mind, it’s taking us in a direction we don’t want to go. So bad feelings are not something to cope with; they are something to appreciate and use as a guide to slow our minds down. We can just let our thinking pass without paying a lot of attention to the details, until our minds quiet and better feelings return. They always will. And it happens very quickly because thoughts unexamined pass quickly. We are naturally self-righting, but we also have the free will to keep ourselves off balance. As soon as we let go of trying to figure out, organize or control our thoughts, our innate resiliency brings us right back into balance.

Better feelings, good feelings tell us to trust the thoughts we’re having. Once we are operating from a clear head and a quiet mind, the very “problems” that looked so horrible come into perspective. The past takes its place as the past. Present troubles seem more like situations than insoluble problems, and we start coming up with solutions, rather than frustration and upset.

It’s great to know that we are set up to enjoy life. Yes, we can disrupt that by using our power to think against ourselves. Enjoyment and optimism return quickly when we navigate by our feelings, and recognize when to leave our thinking alone.

The post Feeling Our Way through Life appeared first on Three Principles Living.

Do you ever get upset?

Upset smiley face“I never see you upset. Do you ever get upset?” At least once or twice a week, someone asks me that question, as if they are expecting that someone who truly understood how the mind works must never be anything but calm and happy.

So sorry, that’s not how it works. There is no way to anticipate what might come into our minds, and sometimes, the thoughts we bring to our minds carry with them upset, angry, frustrated, negative feelings. Of course, I get upset, just like every other human being on the planet.

The difference between me getting upset before I learned how thinking works, and me getting upset now is that now I don’t care if I’m upset. It doesn’t feel important to me. It feels like a passing experience, sort of like a thundershower. And I know not to take it seriously because I know what it is — just a torrent of negative thoughts passing through.

The reason people don’t see me upset now is that I keep it to myself and don’t pay much attention to it, whereas in the past, feeling upset used to be my go-go-go!-signal to take action and, by golly, track down that person and give them a piece of my mind, or write that nasty letter and let someone know they couldn’t take advantage of me, or speak harshly to people I perceived as letting me down, or call a friend to seek commiseration.

Understanding how our minds work, and the nature of thought and experience, does not make us immune to upset. It just makes us disinclined to pay much attention to it. So what? It’s just my own thoughts creating the temporary experience of being upset. Let those thoughts go and different thoughts will come to mind. Then I’ll feel different. I know better, now, than to take seriously or act on upsetting thinking because doing anything in a low state of mind does not work out well at all. (Have you ever actually solved a problem by yelling at someone, or sending a nasty letter?) And I don’t need to burden my friends with my negative thoughts because it’s up to me to see them for what they are and let them pass. Talking about them just holds them in place. And among my friends, there’s no one who would actually discuss them anyway. I know the look — the look that says, “You must be kidding me? That makes sense to you?” In the world I live in, we’d both be laughing in a matter of seconds because it’s absolutely silly to get all worked up about the smoke and mirrors of up-and-down thinking.

So, sure, I have the feeling of upset, sometimes several times a day. But I see it as a signal to slow down, quiet my mind, and wait for a minute. When I get that tight, tense feeling that signals a droopy mood, I don’t try to figure out what’s up. I know what’s up. I am thinking myself into a lower mood. No need to feed that cycle. I turn away from it, rather than indulging it. And then, at the speed of thought, it goes away as other things come to mind, and I start feeling more like myself again.

Often, I ask my clients, “How cheaply are you willing to sell your peace of mind?” Usually, it has never occurred to them that they have to sell it or give it away to lose it, even for a second. Peace of mind is the natural default setting we fall back to as soon as we let go of what pulls us away from it. The only thing that can pull us away from it is our very own negative thinking that we’re making up, all by ourselves, seeing as real, and taking seriously.

The gift of understanding the Three Principles that explain how we create our own experience is that we’re always in the driver’s seat. We get to decide whether to stay upset, or leave it alone. We get to decide whether to take the risk the quick relief of yelling or hurting ourselves or someone else, or get the reward of the quick relief of quietly seeing our thoughts/moods for what they are: Nothing. Images on the screen of our minds. If they’re worthwhile, helpful and uplifting, we can hold onto them and build on them, enjoy working with them. If they’re petty and discouraging and gloom-inducing, we can turn our backs on them.

Of all the gifts I have received in life, the most precious to me is the deep realization is that I am in charge of me. Life is not in charge of me. Nothing can bring me down but me. If I don’t think my way into stress and sadness, I can handle anything life brings me with wisdom, insight and good will. I can get upset and get over it, and do no harm.

What could be better than that?

The post Do you ever get upset? appeared first on Three Principles Living.

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:

 

The post Common Sense or Fear? Our choice. appeared first on Three Principles Living.

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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Just being happy

I’ll bet you can’t watch a few seconds of the above video without breaking into a smile, and if you keep watching, I’ll bet you start to laugh, too. Laughter is contagious. People who are laughing together aren’t thinking about their differences, but joining each other in the common human experience of just enjoying the moment. Laughter is an expression of happiness, a beautiful ordinary feeling that arises within us readily when we aren’t focused on thinking that keeps it at bay.

It didn’t take much research to find out there is a worldwide practice of Laughter Yoga, and there is a World Laughter Day organized by that group to promote world peace. The popular health literature is filled with articles about how laughter contributes to physical healing, improves the long-term outcomes for cardiac patients, helps ease depression and other chronic mental distress, even helps migraine patients. But the serious medical literature is also filled with research about the health benefits of laughter.  Laughter is good for us; no doubt about that.

The only thing that stands between us and having a good laugh is seriousness — taking our own thinking, taking others’ thinking, taking life really seriously. I know, I know. Some of you are cringing at that statement. I did, the first time I heard someone working in the Three Principles say “Life is too important to take seriously,” a quote originally attributed to the Victorian Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. At that time, I thought seriousness was tantamount to responsibility, which was a hallmark of maturity. Laughter and silliness were for the very young. Of course, I was suffering from all that seriousness, but I also thought suffering was good, a sign of respect for the significance of problems. I remember that time well. Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was enjoying the same degree of public enthusiasm that Pharrell Williams’ Happy is enjoying now. (Skip the ads, watch them both, I guarantee smiles and laughter.) Back then, I was so intense that I really thought all the people humming Don’t Worry, Be Happy to themselves were just plain out of touch! I would grumble, “They don’t get it! Life is difficult.”

How did I get over it? I started hanging around with happy people and I “caught” it. I discovered the state of mind that opened the door to everything I wanted: new ideas, warm feelings towards people I had previously considered “difficult,” the ability to bounce back from disappointment, feeling secure in the face of the unknown, success in things that had seemed out of reach for me before. I looked out at the world that had seemed gray and hopeless to me only months before and I saw color and possibility and solutions instead of problems. All of a sudden, challenges no longer looked daunting, but looked like learning opportunities. I saw the humor in things again, and was shocked to discover that I could create laughter in serious business settings and things would get done more easily.

So, for the past 30 years, give or take some gloomy thinking that crept into my mind from time to time, I’ve been a devotee of happiness. It’s a fun place to visit, but, honestly, it’s a fabulous place to live.

Once you see that you are in charge of the direction your thinking takes, you can’t help but choose the path to Happiness. It comes naturally to us and feels more like home. If more and more people moved in that direction, the world would be different because happy people just can’t hate or fight or hang onto a lot of serious thinking about what other people should be doing. Happiness comes with contentment, compassion, love, joy and hope. Try it, you’ll like it!

 

 

 

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Who do you trust?

The wonderful thing about knowledge is it is not absolute. Throughout a life of learning, we think one thing is true, and then we learn more, see more, understand more — and we change our thinking. Again and again. When I was little, I thought there was a man in the moon. By the time I was in 4th grade, I knew that the moon was a hunk of space dust and rock and that the “man” was an accident of its geography. By the time I was in college, I knew a lot about how moons and  planets and stars and galaxies were formed, and about gravity that held astronomincal systems together. By the time I was a young woman teaching in college, I  saw a little spacecraft land on the moon and men from earth walk upon its barren surface, and describe the experience, and I knew a whole other dimension of the moon. By now, I know the moon is an untapped resource of various minerals and even possibly water that eventually could lead to competition on earth among those who wish to exploit it.  Who knows what I may learn about it before I die?

The point is, nothing we think we know is the final possibillity. Our life is all about allowing one set of assumptions to fade as another comes into form, and then letting those fade — and so on and so on. There’s no end to what more we could yet see and understand about anything.

OK, you’re thinking, that’s all pretty obvious. What’s your point?

My point is, yes, that’s obvious. Except when it isn’t.  I am noticing it isn’t obvious to people that just because they think something about themselves, it doesn’t make it true. In the past several weeks, I’ve started seeing individual clients for mental health mentoring. They generally are people I’ve never met until the day of their first appointment, and the common thread for all of them is that they’re suffering psychologically in one way or another and they want relief. Many of them have a lot of experience with the mental health system — over time they have seen a number of professionals. They have learned a lot about mental illness, and it has not occurred to them to ask what that has to do with mental health. So I sometimes find myself in a kind of dance. The clients want to talk in great detail about the past and all that has gone wrong to contribute to their suffering and how many previous professionals have assured them they are doomed to suffer. I want to talk about the present, and what insight might do for them to take the sting out of all of that and set them free.

Here’s a typical example of that dance:

Client: My Mother was abusive to me; I had a horrible childhood. Nothing I ever did was good enough. She pushed me away from things I loved to do to force me to do things I hated. She was trying to make me over in her image;. she never saw me as a person. Let me tell you some of the stuff I went through…

Me: Let’s just stipulate that you did not enjoy your childhood. How old are you now? And where is your mother?

Client: I’m 30 and my mother has been dead for five years. But she did a number on me…

Me: That was in the past. What about now? You’re a grown up with a life of your own and she is no longer in this world. How is she hurting you NOW?

Client: My last therapist told me it would take years to recover from all that abuse, if I ever did. It scarred me for lifsad cliente.

Me: What if that’s not true?

Client: It would be great if that’s not true, but that’s ridiculous! Of course it’s true! Counselors have been telling me that for years. I’ve read a lot of books about childhood abuse and what it does to people.

Me: Experts told everyone in Europe that the earth was flat for years, too. But it turned out it wasn’t.

Client: That’s different. That was a long time ago. People are smarter now.

Me: So you’re suggesting that all expert opinion you hear now is true? What about when experts disagree? What if you’ve only heard from a tiny sample of “experts” and there are lots of people in the world who would tell you different things?

Client: OK. So maybe I’m not really scarred for my whole life. Then explain to me why I’ve been suffering all these years and when it’s going to stop. If it was going to get better, wouldn’t it be getting better by now?

Me: That has more to do with your understanding than with “it”.

Client:  What do you mean by “understanding”?

Me: In all your life — and please stop and really reflect on this before you leap to answer it — in all your life, have you never had even one moment where you knew, deep down, that you were OK, that you were stronger than your circumstances? Where something occurred to you that lifted you out of some situation, even briefly?

Client: Well, yes, but my counselor told me that was just Denial. That I needed to work out my problems, not set them aside.

Me: What did you make of that?

Client: I was sad about it because I was hoping maybe it was a turning point, but I don’t have any training in mental health, so I had to assume he was right. And as we kept talking, I felt bad again, so he was proven right.

Me: What if I could explain that whole scenario to you in a simple way that helped you to see that you really know a lot, innately, about your mental health — we all do — and you might have to reconsider who to trust when it comes to your own good feelings?

At that point, the door cracks open to explain how we use our life energy to create thoughts or entertain the thoughts we’ve adopted and then experience them as reality. In this client’s case, she did not know that she was holding her “scars” in place with a long history of thinking, talking, complaining and feeling bitter and sad about her childhood. She had no understanding of the inside-out logic of thinking — that we use our energy to create thinking and ruminate about it and try to figure it out, with no recognition of the link between that thinking and how bad we continue to feel. Once we start to understand how thinking works, we can allow thoughts that bring our feeling state down to pass, and think again. And that’s how we learn. We can trust our own wisdom, not the experts, to learn about ourselves.

Consider this. It’s all too easy to adopt ideas from people who are supposed to know a lot, without any consideration of our own intuition about those ideas. If something occurs to us in a moment of quiet and it feels uplifting, could that be a prelude to learning something new? Why are we so quick to doubt, then abandon, our own wisdom and insight?

I love how Sydney Banks put it:

“There is an enormous difference between finding your own inner wisdom and adopting someone else’s beliefs. If you take on someone else’s belief to replace a belief of your own, you may experience a temporary placebo effect, but you have not found a lasting answer. However, if you replace an old belief with a realization from your own inner wisdom, the effect and results are superior and permanent.” The Missing Link, pp. 92-93.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Depression Fairy is Imaginary

depression fairyDespite the protests of several of my clients recently, I must insist  there is no Depression Fairy who randomly visits us and sprinkles dreadful thoughts in our minds. Oh, I know she seems very real, and powerful, and quick to alight out of nowhere. But she is imaginary, as are her close friends, like the Anxiety Fairy and the Anger Fairy.

As much as that might be good news, for many people who have struggled with Depression for decades, it is initially distressing news.  What’s wrong, then, if there’s no invisible outside force causing depression?  For people who are depressed, believing they just can’t help it  because it “happens” to them and they have to do the best they can to forge on anyway  becomes a kind of familiar comfort. They look at cheerful, energetic people as either lucky or out of touch with “real” life. They become resigned to existence in the gray spectrum: colorless, unemotional, exhausting in its grim monotony. They feel helpless and hopeless.

I had a client tell me recently that she hardly gotten out of bed at all for three months. She just couldn’t. I asked if there was ever even once in that time when she did, when she got up and got dressed and did something anyway. There was. Her cat got very sick and she rallied to take the cat to the vet. I asked her what she thought it was that  gave her the energy to move then. She said, “I love that cat. I couldn’t bear to see her suffer. I had to stop thinking about myself and take care of her.”

That is a profound statement about the source, and the relief, for depression. Over the years, so many people have told me similar stories. They had never stopped to reflect on the significance of their brief interludes of sufficient energy to do something. Yet in every case, their little surges of energy started with a compelling thought that interrupted a relentless torrent of self-concern and turned their mind elsewhere. They reconnected with life beyond their self-absorption, even if briefly. I do not use “self-absorption” judgmentally. It is the very definition of depression: a focus on one’s own internal stresses, fears, terrors, insecurities to the exclusion of all else.

Whether they realize it or not, they can turn their own thinking elsewhere, and often they do. Without understanding of the power to do that, though, it doesn’t register as meaningful. It just seems to them that every once in a while they manage to feel a little stronger, a little better, a little more engaged in something. But, as one of my clients put it, “I know it won’t last.”

That thought alone — “It won’t last” — triggers the downward spiral back to depression. But it’s nothing more than a habitual thought. The power to slip down into the cave again does not belong to those words, but to the life we give them. We always get to be right because our thinking comes to life via our consciousness and creates a temporary reality, no matter what it is. Just knowing that — knowing for sure that we are the thinkers creating from within our own minds the reality we see — is the antidote to depression. We don’t have to “clean up” our thinking or replace bleak thoughts with bright ones, or do anything at all with the thoughts we’ve already formed. As soon as we have the realization that the power of thought does not reside in the content of what we bring to mind, but in ourselves, who continually make it up from nothing, we let upsetting thoughts pass and keep on allowing new thoughts to come to mind. Understanding how thought works naturally results in letting go of thoughts that aren’t helpful and are taking us down. No one wants to feel bad; without seeing that the feeling is a byproduct of the thoughts we are innocently creating, though, it doesn’t seem like we have a choice.  We come out of the shadows of our own thinking as soon as we own our power to think.

As a colleague of mine often says, “The power of a thought lasts as long as you think it, and not a moment longer.” There’s no Depression Fairy sprinkling us with her yucky fairy dust. We chart our own course via the thinking we do; we can change direction at any time. We made up the Depression Fairy, too. Isn’t the human imagination amazing?

“Hate, jealousy, insecurity. phobias and feelings of depression are all compounds of negative thoughts.

All feelings derive and become alive, whether negative or positive, from the power of Thought. …

Even if you disagree with what I say, it’s your thought.”

                                                                                                           Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, pp. 24-25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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