Three Principles Living

Judith A. Sedgeman, EdD

No Stress, No Matter What

No Stress, No Matter What

Does it seem like a fantastical pipe dream that people could go through life without chronic stress, no matter what was happening in the world around them? Regardless of turmoil, disappointment, loss, pain, horror, chaos? No chronic stress? None? Really?

Yes. No chronic stress. None. Really. And what a remarkably more comfortable world it might be! Despite circumstances, unpredictability, disaster, mayhem, people could quickly get over their initial reactions and respond with grace, dignity and wisdom. Grace: not falling apart in the face of things, but having quiet, clear perspective. Dignity: not losing touch with our true spiritual nature and our innate resiliency. Wisdom: Having insights into fresh, meaningful, simple solutions to life’s challenges, and recognizing how to put them in place.

How is that possible? It’s all around us, naturally occurring, but we write it off if we happen to be one of the millions of people haunted by chronic stress. When we’re mired in stress, calm people look unrealistic to us, or are simply invisible to us. We see the world through our own eyes, our own state of mind, so we tend to see what we’re thinking. It’s the old truism: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We know that we can’t get through life without experiencing acute stress, those moments in time when we realize something is wrong and we need to marshal our resources. That is a healthy human survival response. Our bodies are well-suited to ramp up all the resources we need right then and shut down the activities we don’t need — i.e., to make an internal chemical adjustment to how resources are allocated in the body. When the stress system is working as it is meant to, we depend on those enhanced resources, the emergency passes, and we return to an unstressed state of equilibrium. The body chemistry readjusts to normal operations, with our internal resources distributed for maximum well-being.

One of the best contemporary authors/speakers on this subject is Dr. Robert Sapolsky, whose Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers is a major contribution to the understanding of how and why chronic stress impacts all the major systems of the body and fundamentally contributes to disease states. Sapolsky clearly demonstrates that chronic stress, which amounts to taking negative, upsetting thinking seriously over time without relief or solutions, keeps that acute stress chemical imbalance in place, as though we were animals continuously in startle mode. Very simply, it misdirects the body’s internal resources. It’s as if we put the entire household budget into a car, and then had nothing left to take care of everything else in our life so all we could do is drive around. We put all of our bio-psycho-social resources into the experience of unremediated stress and have nothing left to expend on present-moment life experience, so all we can do is circular thinking — rumination.

The human capacity to hold thoughts, to keep going over the same worries or concerns or fears or upsets hour by hour, day by day, is both our enemy and our friend. Misunderstood, it is our enemy, the mechanism behind chronic, debilitating stress. Clearly understood, it is our friend, the early warning sign that we’re using our thinking against ourselves. When we feel ourselves stuck in the stress mode, it’s a wake-up call to leave that thinking alone, allow our minds to clear and quiet, and allow our internal chemistry to come back into balance so that we feel at ease.

What’s to understand? In the simplest possible terms: We’re making it up. The only way we can experience stress is through the thoughts we create, bring to mind, and hold in place. We use our very life energy, the ability to think, to define our moment-to-moment interaction with life, our own particular experience of reality. And we become conscious of our thinking, and thus can feel how we’re doing. When we feel stressed, it’s the internal messaging system that lets us know how we are holding and using our own thinking.

Only we can create stress. It’s a thought-created cycle, originating within our own minds. Only we can relieve our own stress. Relief comes from understanding how our thinking works and why we’re feeling tense. Once we’re onto ourselves, though, the game is up. People don’t deliberately choose to make themselves sick and upset, once they see for themselves how not to do it. The AHA! moment of seeing that chronic stress is an inside-out phenomenon, not an inevitable result of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, sets us free from chronic stress.

It’s our thoughts that get us into trouble, and our thoughts that get us out, as my exceptionally wise and dearly missed teacher, Sydney Banks, explains so clearly.

  • Weston


    How long were you aware of the principles before you felt that you were responding (or perhaps more accurately not responding) in this manner?

    I’ve read quite a bit about the principles and have viewed dozens of videos and listened to dozens of podcasts over the past month and a half. Yet when I’m under “turmoil, disappointment, loss,…” the stressful, anxious thoughts continue to keep reappearing even when I am aware that they are just thoughts that I am thinking and not reality.

    The frequency and intensity of these thoughts do not have seemed to have lessened despite the past six weeks that I have been familiar with the principles.

    I know that my experience will be different from yours and others. Just wondering what your individual experience was.


    August 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm
    • Time has nothing to do with insight, so anyone could have an insight at any time that would release them from the tyranny of taking the content of their thinking seriously. Not being in a state of chronic stress is a matter of, as you describe, being aware that “they are just thoughts that I am thinking and not reality.” This understanding allows a shift from focus on the content of those thoughts and reaction to the content towards the realization that the power TO think is the essence of our experience. Instead of suffering over WHAT we think, we find freedom in the fact THAT we think, that thinking arises from within and can change as soon as our minds turn elsewhere. As a good friend and wonderful Principles trainer once said, “the life of a thought is as long as YOU are thinking it and not a moment longer.”

      August 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm
  • Rob

    But how does one get this insight? I’ve been studying the principles for months and I am still tossed about by my thoughts. I’m starting to believe that this is just another teaching that promises much but delivers little. Its really discouraging.

    August 16, 2011 at 3:45 am
    • Rob, I don’t know where and how you have been “studying” the Principles, but I do know that the level of understanding of the facilitators of Principles groups can impact how deeply participants are touched so that they are quiet enough inside to have their own insights. Insights can be very “small,” but yet important as people start to see for themselves. This is not a “teaching” that is “studied” for content and application. What you are looking for is peace of mind that is the milieu for your own wisdom. This is a state of the spirit, not the intellect. In the stillness of a quiet mind, insights bubble up. The capacity for insight is not learned; it is innate. It is not that the content of your thought will change, but your relationship to all thought content changes as you see that your thoughts are created by your own mind. They have no life but the life that you give them. I would urge you to go directly to materials and tapes from Sydney Banks to pick up the deeper feeling and the spiritual nature of the Principles and allow your intellect to rest from the pursuit.

      August 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm
  • Rob

    What I meant by studying is the same as Weston said, watching videos, and for me, reading two of Bank’s books, plus article on the web. I understand at intellectually that its thought and thoughts that create my feelings, but I can’t seem to get any closer to the detachment from thought that others have described. Are some of us just harder to reach?

    August 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm
    • The direction we’re all looking is before thought is formed, to the realization that we are the thinkers and that our thoughts are created within our own minds, not imposed on us by the outside world. Realizing that opens us to seeing how illusory and malleable thoughts are, that they pass, that they are, as one of my colleagues once said, “like smoke, not like stone.” As we continually create thoughts, we can take them more or less seriously. It is a choice we are free to make as the artists of our own thinking.

      August 22, 2011 at 7:32 am
      • Rob

        I think I’m getting it, but I need to understand in a deeper way before I can have any peace; my understanding needs to be second nature.

        My thoughts are the narrative that continually loops in my mind, making me see the world and myself the way I now do (which is profoundly negative). My thoughts are not reality, but a representation. I need to get to a place where I don’t take my thoughts with the seriousness I now do. That is where my difficulty lies.

        Thank you for this interaction; your responses have been helpful, especially this last one.

        August 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm
        • Peace is our natural state of mind, before we think our own way out of it. That’s why sometimes it’s hard for people to believe it when they hear, “Leave your thinking alone. You don’t have to fight with it, or deal with it, or explain it, or figure it out. Unattended, it will pass.” A wonderful teacher in the prisons in California said one time, “You can’t imagine how relieved I was when I found out I was terrorizing myself with my own thinking.” The relief comes from knowing that we’re not living at the mercy of our circumstances or of our pasts, but of our present-moment thoughts, continually and innocently taken seriously. At times when we’re just allowing thoughts to pass through our minds (regardless of the content), we get quieter, and then increasingly the quality of our thinking moves in the direction of wisdom and common sense.

          August 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm

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