At the heart of all the work I do is the understanding that we live in the feeling of our thinking – that things like excitement and concern are no different than amusement and frustration or longing and disgust. They all seem to be directly connected to the outside world, but in truth they are simply reflections of whatever thoughts are passing through our mind in the moment that we feel them.
The energy of Thought is constant; the volume and content of our individual thoughts is a constant variable.
Most people think, not illogically, that since our experience of life is really an experience of the flow of our own thoughts, learning to control or manage that flow is the most important thing we could learn to do. Indeed, much of my time between the ages of 20 – 40 was spent doing just that – learning every technique I could to change the content of my thinking (affirmation), the structure of my thinking (NLP), or the volume of my thinking (meditation).
But what I’ve seen since that time is that trying to control our thinking is like working 24/7 in a sewage treatment facility – we’re never going to run out of sewage to treat and it’s really difficult to come away from that kind of work smelling of roses.
Instead, I’ve realized that far more impactful than controlling the content of my thinking or even the volume of thoughts that pass through my head is recognizing two things:
1. How the system works
Everyone in my family learned to ski not long after learning to walk. Most winter weekends were spent in the mountains, freezing our way up New England chairlifts before skiing our way down the icy slopes. One of my fondest memories from that time was not actually spent skiing but at the movies.
My Aunt has always been of limited mobility due to childhood polio, but she would often come up with the family and hang out in the ski lodge during the day to enjoy the winter sun and whatever novel happened to catch her fancy. One evening, we went to a nearby IMAX theatre to watch a movie about skiing, taken from the perspective of the skier.
Watching my Aunt grip the sides of her seat as for the first time she experienced the adrenaline rush of skiing down a steep hill with fresh powder flying by her face was a sight to behold. She looked exhilarated, and commented after that it was the first time she really understood why we all did this.
This is the human system in action – projecting thought onto consciousness and enabling us to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the comfort of our own mind.
It is as pointless to try to change our experience in mid-flow as it would be to try to prevent Godzilla from destroying Tokyo by shooting a flamethrower at a movie screen. You might be able to mess up the theatre, but to what effect? Left alone, the movie will play out, and nothing real will have been created or destroyed. Not to mention the fact that there’ll always be another movie showing in a minute.
This is not to suggest that there is no real world, or that people don’t get hurt or sick or lose their possessions and even die. But their experience of all those things will be an experience of their own mental movies – and their understanding of how movies work will enable them to enjoy the highs and lows of their experience while doing what there is to be done about the world.
2. The energy and intelligence behind life
It surprises me from time to time that along with the love of my wife and children, the thing I am most consistently grateful for in my life is that I am not in charge of the universe. The fact that I was born into a world where the sun already shines, the earth already spins, and my body already breathes without the need for my conscious interference seems to me to be the equivalent of winning the universal lottery.
What I didn’t realize until much later in life was that the same force that spins the planet and breathes my body thinks my thoughts and will guide me through life if I let it.
It has always seemed to me to be an impersonal energy, in that it works no differently for the saint than the sinner. In the physical world, nobody gets any more or less gravity. And in the inner world, everybody gets the same universal gifts to work with – the endlessly creative energy of thought, the limitless awareness of consciousness, and the hidden spark of life that is spiritual in nature but animates every living thing in the world of form.
This divine spark is that which is alive in all things. I experience it most often as a feeling of peace within me – a twinkle in my eye and a tingle in my body. But I also experience it as a sense of knowing that all is well, regardless of how crazy the movies in my mind make things appear.
In my quieter moments, I recognize that the world is, as it says in the Desiderata, “unfolding exactly as it should”. And when it feels like it isn’t and my insides are in turmoil, as often as not I recognize that what I really need in that moment is not to change the world, but rather more quieter moments.
We can change the world. On the outside, by creating better conditions in which seven billion of us can live; on the inside, by waking up to the miracle of life we were born into through no fault or merit of our own.
It’s just that when we change the world in an attempt to alleviate our own discomfort, things rarely work out as we might have hoped. And when we change the world as a natural expression of the love and compassion we have inside us, we create a more loving, compassionate world to live inside of.
With all my love,
PS – I will be leading an “Advanced Course” in the Three Principles this June – if you’d like to learn more, please visit www.michaelneill.org/advanced
Some more Caffeine for the Soul
Today’s blog is excerpted from my book Creating the Impossible: A 90 day program to get your dreams out of your head and into the world…The week I began working on this book, I read a distressing (to me) article about how Mahatma Gandhi was estranged from his eldest son, Harilal, throughout his adult life. I immediately called my own first born, Oliver…read more
Today, I want to share a third thing that I have come to see over a nearly 30 year career as a teacher and coach. It impacts how I do everything I do with students and clients, and is perhaps best summed up in this story I first heard in a dialogue between Anthony de Mello, an enlightened Jesuit priest, and one of his students….read more
In part one, I shared a simple truth about human beings that flies in the face of a lot of self-help ideologies and neo-cognitive therapies:
We aren’t in control of our thoughts and feelings. Today, I want to point to what may seem an even odder piece of good news…