Three Principles Living

Judith A. Sedgeman, EdD



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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