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Posts Tagged “happiness”

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 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.

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War and Peace

It is ultimately a matter of war and peace whether people across the world come to understand the role of their own and others’ thinking and fluctuating states of mind.

Security:InsecurityOne person at a time, when someone comes to understand how thought works and what is creating their experience of reality, they become increasingly secure. When a person feels secure, not living at the mercy of external factors, life does not look threatening. Secure people remain calm and exercise judgment, and look for insight and wisdom, rather than reacting or over-reacting without perspective. They recognize the power of beliefs within the context of knowing that each person becomes committed in their own way to their own beliefs, and nothing but their own insights will change their minds. They see with increasing clarity that people are all the same deep down: all people are constantly creating thoughts and then experiencing those thoughts as “reality”. Reality changes as our thoughts change. Knowing that, we lose our attachment to particular thoughts and gain awe for the very ability to keep thinking, to see beyond what we’ve thought so far. Respect for the shared human power to change keeps hope alive and allows us to see possibilities. It allows us peace within ourselves.

On the other hand, those who have no idea where thoughts come from and why reality looks different to different people are always prone to feel insecure, and cling to their thinking to ward off worsening insecurity. It is an either/or. Either we see the fluidity and creativity of thinking and understand that thoughts come and go and reality “shifts” as our thinking/feeling shifts — or we don’t see the fluidity of thinking and believe that thoughts have a life of their own and we have to hang onto our habitual thinking or fall prey to outside forces. Insecurity pushes people farther and farther away from tolerating differences and encourages the creation of elaborate systems of thought to make their own closely-held points of view feel/seem superior. It introduces the need to defend one’s position at all costs.

Two things are important to realize. Things that make absolute sense to us and seem quite obvious when we are insecure do not make any sense to us whatsoever when we are feeling secure. And the reverse is also true; things that seem quite appropriate and clear to us when we’re secure don’t make any sense at all when we are insecure. So as our states of mind change, the things we say, do and pursue are very different. A child who is angry and frustrated will stomp on and break a brand-new toy. In a quiet state, the child would pick up the toy and play with it.

What does this have to do with war and peace? War doesn’t come out  of the blue. War starts to make more and more sense to people who  are frightened and insecure and have no room in their thinking for “others”.  People who are calm and secure experience peace in their hearts and  minds, and thus seek and nurture peace.

Nations are assemblies of people who share a prevailing state of mind and perspective about the world. When people generally feel hopeful and optimistic, they make choices that reflect their level of security. They are inclusive and generous-spirited, and look for solutions that will do the least harm. When people start feeling frightened and pessimistic, they make choices that reflect their need to protect themselves and ward off enemies. They are exclusive and small-minded, and look for solutions that will keep them safe no matter if others experience harm. Out of a world dominated by leaders who live in fear and insecurity come many wars. The more brutal the fights, the more frightened people become, so they become trapped in a downward spiral of pain and despair. Nothing but war and more war makes sense to them — in that state of mind. In a moment of security, it would make no sense to them at all.

It is innocent because no one would choose killing and destruction if it appeared to them they actually had a choice. The key is understanding the illusion of that downward spiral, that insecurity breeds further insecurity until the moment we understand that all of it is built from our own thoughts. Stepping back, allowing the fear to pass and getting a fresh look can change everything.

Every human being on earth wants to have a happy life, but every human being on earth does not — yet — realize that that happiness is internally generated. No one has to suffer so that I will not suffer. When we realize that all people are creating their own thinking within the context of their own variable states of mind, we truly understand what creates human experience and behavior. We know not to pay attention to the thinking that comes to mind when we’re in an insecure, upset state of mind. And we know we can count on our thinking when our thoughts change and we feel calm and secure again. We navigate by the feeling of security. With the knowledge of how life is created from the inside out, we know that an instant of quiet into which one new thought comes can change everything. With that clarity about life, we know that peace is never more than a thought away, and we simply allow the thoughts that take us in the other direction to pass through our minds, just as we would watch a train cross the tracks, knowing that no matter how long it is, every train has a caboose!

“Thought, like the rudder of a ship, steers us to the safety of open waters or to the doom of rocky shores.”  Sydney Banks, The Missing Link, p. 56.

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Is It Easy to Be Happy?

Recently I saw a new client who sobbed at the outset, “I don’t see how I will ever be happy again!” An hour later, as she left, she was laughing. “I’ve sure been a big drama queen with all that serious thinking, haven’t I?” she said.

How does a shift like that happen? In the simplest terms, it is the natural outcome of what Principles practitioners do that is new to treatment. We don’t take unhappiness seriously. We point people to the true, constant, unfailing, spiritual source of human happiness that nothing can touch. We teach people what mental well-being is, and where it comes from, and how we lose and regain our faith in it. They see the universal logic of it and realize what they’ve been doing to themselves with the innocent misuse of their own power. They “wake up” to the truth that, no matter what, deep down we are born to be at peace.

I write about these cases a lot, but it seems like we can’t tell this story enough. The way traditional therapy addresses psychological distress is not working effectively enough to stem the increase in stress, anxiety, and depression, the afflictions of the so-called “functional mentally ill,” because almost all approaches are attempting to give people tools to solve their problems or drugs to dull them. But the “problems” are slippery. They are the variable artifacts of the way people are thinking about them. And the more people and their therapists talk about them and dwell on them and take them seriously, the worse they appear. Principles practitioners realize we should not be treating people’s problems as though they have a reality of their own. We should be addressing people’s understanding of their states of mind, of the nature of thought, of the spiritual power we all have to create thought and take it more or less seriously. We should be helping them to understand when to take their own thinking to heart and when to let it pass and allow their minds to quiet.

We all take for granted without question the way our minds work on ordinary things. I go into a store and see an item I just love, but I don’t think I should spend the money. So I walk away. A few days later, I go back and think, “OK, if I love it that much, I should really buy it.” But when I look at it again, I don’t love it that much. Did the item change? No. My thinking about the item changed. I read recipes right before I go to the grocery store and I start thinking I really should try some of those exotic vegetables. I buy them. Two days later, I get ready to make dinner and I look at them and think, “Too much trouble. I’ll just make a salad.” Are the vegetables any less nutritious? Any less appealing? No. But my thinking about how much effort I’m willing to make to cook them has changed. No one would argue with examples like this.

But what about “serious problems?” That’s when we lose our perspective on the fact that things look different in different states of mind.  In the depth of seriousness, it really does look like there is no other way to see the problem. We forget that life is filled with ups and downs for all people, all the time. There are a lot of serious downs for everyone: we lose dear friends and loved ones; relationships fall apart; arguments escalate; bad things happen in the world; we lose homes and businesses to weather events; things break down just when we need them to work, investments fail; we fall victim to crime or violence. Everyone’s life can change in any moment. And in the midst of the worst things, we feel deeply painful emotions.

But here’s the thing about problems. You can’t change them.  You can only change how you approach them, how you think about them, how much of your peace of mind you are willing to give to them. The “drama” we suffer around problems is not a present moment, creative response.  The only way we experience drama is through dwelling on memories and regrets about what has happened, or dwelling on fear of what might happen next. In the present moment, with a clear head and a quiet mind, we just see how to move forward, one step at a time.

Here’s an example. I once worked with a client who, after years of what can only be called torture, finally escaped an abusive relationship and got far away from her abuser, to a place he would never find her or think to look for her. In a moment of clarity, she had an insight about how to do this and acted on it. For a few weeks, she was exhilarated in her new, free state. She found a job, found a place to live, started a new life. But then she started believing that her abuser would find her because she had let an old friend know that she was OK. What if the friend told him? What if the friend told someone else who told him? She couldn’t sleep nights. She was afraid every time she heard a footstep. She became, as she described, “a bunch of jangling nerves that never shut up.” She was just as terrified as she had been when she was living under the abuser’s roof. She started our conversation trembling, in tears, saying she would never, ever be free of him, no matter where she went. She insisted on closing the blinds to the room where we were meeting so no one could look in and see her. She had made her appointment under a false name and she arrived at the appointment wearing huge sunglasses with her long hair stuffed up under a wide-brimmed hat.

She wanted to talk to me about strategy. Should she move again? Should she chop off and dye her hair and have surgery to change her appearance? Should she change her name? Should she go to another country? She had thousands of thoughts about what she should or could do racing through her mind.

I wanted to talk to her about the beautiful feeling she had when she got the powerful insight about how to escape. She only needed to reconnect to that feeling, to that sense of peace and freedom and certainty, because in that feeling state, she would know what to do now.

I had no idea if any of her fears were justified, or if any of her ideas would work for her. It’s not my place to give advice to people because, in a calm state of mind, they are the experts on their own life choices. My job was to bring her back to the present moment and help her to quiet her frantic thinking and get calm. From that state, she would recognize the idea that would work out for her because her next insight would also come with an uplifting feeling in a moment of calm.

After a few sessions, she called me. She had read The Missing Link that I had shared with her, focusing on the passages about wisdom. She had done her best to quiet down and look in the direction I was pointing in our sessions. The morning she called me, it had dawned on her that she was working for a national corporation, a large big box store with thousands of locations all over the county, and she could ask her human resources department if there were any similar opportunities in different locations. She went right in to talk with them, and found out she could transfer to another state within a couple of weeks, if she was willing to move herself. She was making her plans to move. She had confided in her human resources advisor what her situation was, and the woman had a lot of compassion for her and was very helpful.

“This was such an obvious answer,” she said. “It was right in front of me the whole time. I just didn’t see it. Isn’t that weird? All of a sudden, it just popped into my head.”

Not weird at all, I assured her. It’s the guarantee of the human operating system. If we don’t over-ride the thinking that is natural to us, the easy flow of thought in the present moment, we keep getting the answers that make sense for us.

Did she really need to move? Was this the very best possible solution? It doesn’t matter. She found an answer she felt good about that made sense to her, and she found the understanding of where the answers come from that will continue to keep her safe. She found her happiness, and she knew where to look if she lost it again.

Was it easy?

To me, it’s the simple path to take. Trust that you have innate wisdom. See disquiet and insecurity as a sign you need to let your mind settle. Follow quiet and good feelings. They lead directly to happiness. When we are happy, “problems” fit into the tapestry of our lives and fade from the moment as understanding and solutions come to mind.

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Join me and my colleagues Dr. Bill Pettit and Christine Heath in June for a wonderful retreat, Awaken Joy!        We will share the incredible power of happiness and peace of mind to change our lives, and the world around us.

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