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Posts Tagged “fearlessness”

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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Ask the deeper questions

A flood of questions follows horrifying actions like the Boston Marathon bombing. Who is to blame? How did it happen? Why? Could we have stopped it? Can we keep it from happening again? We analyze each incident with an excruciatingly complex compilation of details. We hope for answers from the accumulation of minutiae.

Shouldn’t we also ask the deeper questions, the questions that would generalize speexploding mindcific events to insights about the universal nature of fury, hatred, alienation, dissociation in human beings? Have we taken seriously the critical need to truly understand and address mental health, not only here, but across the globe? What erupts within the human heart and mind to inflame the rage to kill?  Could anything inhibit the rabidity that fuels terror? Could people ever see how to create and sustain peace and stability?

In order to fully prevent — to eradicate — anything, the source must be clearly identified. Until the root cause is certain, prevention is randomly effective and situational. For example, even though it had been known since the Roman Empire that sewage must be diverted to avoid widespread sickness in concentrated populations, no one knew what was intrinsic to sewage that was the actual cause of illness until the germ theory of disease was proven in the mid-1800’s. Then we knew how the primary source of illness could contaminate and disseminate in many ways. Solving the spread of the one true source was the answer that allowed us to begin to control diseases.

As we think about cruelty, violence, evil now, we are like the ancient Romans. We want to keep them away from populations, so we look after the fact to figure out how to do that better. We take it for granted that dealing with those dark aspects of human behavior is inevitable, so we keep looking for more ways to wall them off and push them farther from us — more security, more barricades, more restrictions, more suspicion, more weapons. We are especially dismayed in the face of obvious ambiguity, of situations like the Boston bombers and other youthful terrorists around the world.  Those who grew up around the perpetrators often tell us that they were good kids, good friends, happy guys. How could that be?  Does the potential for terror lurk even in the apparently nice people we generally like? Why would seemingly intelligent, athletic, friendly young men turn into ruthless, remorseless, mass killers? What is the contaminant? How do we keep it away?

In the more than 30 years I have been working to extend the reach of the Principles of an inside-out logic that explains the whole range of human experience, I have wondered  why some central questions have not generally registered with people. For example:

  1. If  the causes of human behavior are external, why wouldn’t the same external forces create the same reactions in everyone exposed to them?
  2. Since common sense shows us that people respond differently to the same external circumstances, why aren’t we looking for the mediator that explains that?

Questions that reach below the surface of our prevailing assumptions easily get lost. It is the history of humanity to live within the boundaries of the theories about life that are most widely accepted in our eras. So, before the discovery of germ theory, people accepted frequent contagion and widespread outbreaks of disease as normal “acts of nature”. Now, we see them as abnormal and we know what to look for to bring them under control.

At this point in our general understanding of human psychology, the prevailing theories all suggest that life happens to us, and everything we think and feel and do is generated by things outside ourselves. Without realizing it, we see ourselves as perpetual victims of circumstances, both good and bad. We consistently look for causes outside ourselves to explain effects within ourselves. Who or what should we blame or thank for our experience of life? He made me mad. You make me cheerful. I’ll be happy if … Of course, he or she is this or that — look at his or her family/schooling/background/environment/friends/religion… Because we empower all the stuff in our life, we are always struggling with things outside of our control.

What if we are missing a crucial link in our understanding of ourselves? What if we generate our experience from within, by the thoughts that flow through us, mediated by the level of awareness we have that we are the thinkers of our own thoughts and thus the creators of our own experience of reality? What if the power is within each person on earth to recognize how thinking works and see how to discriminate wise thinking from destructive thinking? What if this knowledge is intrinsic, but not always understood, and therefore easily awakened? What if the universal source of all of our responses to the external world is the way we hold and use our own thinking about it?

Reflect for a moment. A mind at peace does not, could not, conceive violence as a viable action. A mind at peace creates ease, connection to other people, compassion and engagement in life. A mind in turmoil will conceive and act on whatever thoughts seem to offer relief from inner torment. A mind in turmoil creates insecurity, righteous self-absorption, alienation, hatred and disregard for life.

If part of early education, just as ordinary as math and reading, were a true understanding of how our own minds, how all human minds, work to create our experience, young people would know early on how to use their feeling state to navigate their own thinking. They would recognize which thoughts make sense to guide them into action, and which thoughts to leave alone. They would not be frightened by any of their thinking, regardless of how bizarre or destructive, because they would understand that all thoughts are fleeting images created within our own minds that have no meaning beyond our level of commitment to them. They would live at peace within themselves. When we are at peace inside, there will be peace in the world.

Cut off from innate wisdom, a lost thinker experiences isolation, fear and confusion. This is why there are so many atrocities throughout the world.  Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p 83.                                                                 

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What Price Insecurity?

ImageWhen we say we all have ups and downs, we’re really saying that we are more or less insecure. What is insecurity? As a feeling state, it is uncertainty, discomfort, anxiety. It is  out of sorts, out of synch, out of control. We try to ease insecurity by clinging to the familiar, asserting whatever control we can, avoiding risk, rejecting change, blaming others or circumstances.

Where does insecurity come from? It comes from negative, fearful, unsettling, self-conscious thinking taken seriously. More importantly, where does it appear to come from? It appears to come from a scary, unsettled, threatening world that is beyond our power to influence.

We pay a personal price for misunderstood insecurity because it is an unpleasant, unproductive, unhappy state in which to spend time. It is a detriment to health and well-being. But, to the point here, the whole world pays a huge price for unrelieved, misunderstood insecurity spreading across populations because it generates intense resistance to change, desperate attachment to the past, and irrational commitment to defending the known, keeping the unknown at bay at all costs.

The same insecure thinking that keeps a young person from signing up for a challenging math or science class keeps organizations and institutions from changing direction when old ideas stop working. It keeps whole populations from supporting innovation or getting behind new solutions with as-yet unknown outcomes. It keeps nations from choosing strategies that work for all peoples, rather than strategies that only protect themselves, regardless of the consequences. Misunderstood insecurity is not only unwilling, but unable, to enter the unknown to fearlessly embrace change and look to resolve differences.

The answer is not to eradicate insecurity. The answer is to understand it for what it is, and thus deprive it of any power over us whatsoever except fleeting distress. The difference between misunderstood insecurity and understood insecurity is like the difference between a child being terrified by loud noises coming from a home she passes every day, imagining horrible things happening there, and the child discovering that the man who lives there uses noisy power tools to build heavy furniture in his garage. Until she understood the logical explanation for the dreadful noises coming from the house, she made up scary theories to explain them and generated fears. As soon as she understood the logical explanation, she lost all fear of the house and the noises, although they were the same noises as before. Knowing where they were coming from protected her from fear.

The logic of insecure thinking is that it arises in the same way that all thinking arises. We are always creating thoughts, becoming conscious of our own thoughts so that what is on our mind appears to be the way it is out there in the world.  Insecurity has no life of its own, no stranglehold on our future. It could dissolve in a moment as we realized that it is a thought-created experience, not an experience-created thought. Once we see that logic for ourselves, insecure thinking looks no different from any other thinking — silly thoughts, cheerful thoughts, sad thoughts, fantasy thoughts. In every case, we see that we are simply making it up and seeing it as real, and that the experience lasts only as long as we hang onto the thinking. We can allow insecure thinking to pass as easily as any other thinking. The thing that stops us is that insecure thinking looks and feels dark and serious, so we are more inclined to try to fight it or analyze it or deal with it somehow, rather than simply accepting it and letting it pass as our minds naturally turn elsewhere. With understanding comes wisdom, with wisdom comes perspective on all our thinking and a sense of being OK to let our minds work as they will and just know that all thinking comes and goes.

In the words of Sydney Banks, from The Missing Link, p. 134:

“Wisdom cleans the channels of your mind and brings sanity into your life.”

I recommend that whole chapter on Wisdom, pp. 137-142. I recommend it to the world. We can no longer afford the human price of insecurity.

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