The late Scottish born philosopher Sydney Banks once said: “Someone once said to me, ‘Are you telling me that chair isn’t real, that it’s only thought?’ I said ‘Of course the chair is real. But it comes to you via Thought’.” Banks went onto discover The Three Principles of Mind which influenced the practice of psychology and psychiatry in the years to follow. The Three Principles of Mind are:
1. Mind: The universal intelligence behind life which is the source of all.
2. Consciousness: The awareness of life unfolding and what we create.
3. Thought: The ability to create, through thinking.
How does this relate to you? Stay with me a moment as I unpack this further. Many people subscribe to the outside-in paradigm that circumstances outside of them are responsible for the way they feel. And it makes sense. I don’t disagree because I’ve experienced such moments until I became aware of my thoughts. The point is: we create our experience of life from inside-out, not the other way around. No one or no event can make us feel what we don’t already believe. I may try to impose my thoughts or reality on you, but if you don’t believe it at the level of thought, you don’t experience it emotionally. For example, the Cuban born essayist Anaïs Nin once said: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Our reality is the sum of our past conditioning. It has to be, because no two people share the same view of reality, even twins differ in the way they perceive the world. This is empowering for several reasons because it confirms we are in control of how we respond to life’s circumstances. Are you content with this idea that our response and thoughts about life determine our happiness, not the other way round? I realise you may find it difficult at first because we have been conditioned to believe what happens outside of us is the cause of our suffering.
Life doesn’t happen to us, but takes place through us. Moreover, life is happening for us. I know it may not seem that way and I didn’t believe it until my perception of reality improved. When we allow life to be what it is without attaching a narrative to it, suffering is diminished because we cease to oppose what is. Consider life being akin to water which is malleable, it will flow around a rock and erode it to find its own level. By embracing this attitude, we abandon our storyline of how life should unfold and allow life to advance in its own way. Our thinking is a mind-made narrative and not the reality we experience. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami expressed this idea in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when he wrote: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Pain and suffering are important tenets espoused in Buddhism and encapsulated in The Four Noble Truths:
1. The Truth Of Suffering
2. The Truth Of The Cause Of Suffering
3. The Truth Of The End Of Suffering
4. The Truth Of The Path That Frees Us From Suffering
The point worth emphasising is that suffering is a state of mind. I’m not referring to physical suffering but the emotional pain and suffering we experience. This is illustrated in Viktor Frankl’s personal experience as a Holocaust survivor in a German concentration camp in which he wrote in Man’s Search For Meaning: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Similarly, Charles Swindoll once said: “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I’ve come to believe that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it.” The connecting theme lies in our response to events outside of us, not the circumstances themselves.
I often hear my young nephews cry out when playing together turns sour: “He made me feel this way.” In that instance, I’m reminded how naïve their perception is, albeit given their age. However, I’ve heard the same conversations in adults who subscribe to the same thinking. Curiously, these same people endure intense pain and suffering, since they concede other people or life’s circumstances are the cause of their suffering. They are not wrong, nor are they right. They are simply unaware of the inside-out paradigm and respond to life based on their level of awareness. Can you see how misleading and painful this line of thinking can be? No one outside of you is responsible for the way you think and feel, if you don’t already act that way for the most part. They may try to impose their beliefs on you and succeed because you already have the seeds of those thoughts present within you and so they become active.
You also needn’t follow the Buddhist Eightfold Path to overcome suffering, but realise you live in the feeling of your thoughts. When you become aware and awake to your thoughts, you are less attached to the meaning they carry. You become an outsider looking in on your thoughts. You are the witnesser and observer, rather than the person whose thoughts are being imposed upon them. With this in mind, I’d like you to witness your thoughts over the coming weeks when you judge a situation as unfair or wrong. Look within you to see where the resistance is coming from. To make it interesting, relate the situation to three people close to you and observe their feedback. Rarely is the situation itself the sole cause of our pain, rather it is the way in which we perceive it and that according to Charles Swindoll constitutes 90% of how we respond to it.