Three Principles Living

Judith A. Sedgeman, EdD

Who do you trust?

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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