My wife and I just did something tough. Don’t worry, it’s not detrimental or fatal— everyone’s fine healthy, and together. It was regarding our daughter and her school and possibly having to switch schools mid-year as a kindergartner.
Ugh… The anxiety of a parent is unceasing.
We really thought she was in the right place. During her short five years on this planet, we’ve moved her so much from town to town and from school to school. We wanted this school to be the one she could stay at for a long time. We saw her growing roots and finding friends and all the good things.
And we really like the people there. The founder’s heart is in the right place. But it just hasn’t been a great fit. It’s a great school, just maybe not… for her. And so, here we go, looking to uproot her again.
She’s resilient. She’s kinda looking forward to a move (though it’s hard to say). But were we throwing in the towel too soon? Should she (and us) learn resilience by sticking it out? Was this decision fear-based or faith-based?
Right when I pressed ‘send’ on a very pivotal email in the process, all the emotions rolled in.
As good as we felt about this decision to make a switch, I also felt… Sad. And nervous. And guilty. And confused.
I hate change. I hate conflict. And this move brought an intensity of both.
Immediately, I wanted to distract myself.
Reach for the phone. Jump into those emails that have been sitting there. Check the Instagram feed. Anything but feel this…
(And my story here is mild — think about the really heavy stuff that befalls us in life. The temptation to distract ourselves from our emotions are all the more present in the midst of great external turmoil and upheaval.)
I had to be with this as it moved through. I had to head into the inner desert and sit there for a while.
I resisted the urge to grab the phone and instead, I laid on the sofa and tried to let go of trying to figure it out. Instead, I just let it all show up — any emotion was welcome.
It was so uncomfortable, but oh so necessary.
How often do we do this? I sure don’t do it enough. Our modern world is wrought with so many distractions.
That thing in your pocket has an endless number of seemingly urgent things to easily address and resolve rather than tending to the swirling energies of your emotional landscape in the moment.
We don’t give ourselves time to just… sit. To rewind through our day — through our week or year — and process what we’ve been too distracted and busy to process. To tie up whatever loose ends lie unattended to and release to God what needs to be released.
Please, give that time to yourself. Yes, you’ll want to fill it instead with screen time or addressing the extraneous drama of the moment that fills your need to be busy. So be kind to yourself if you give in to these temptations. But it’s worth the emotional labor to resist checking off those boxes and tending to those notifications so you can just sit with the stuff swirling around in your belly.
On the other end is a nice, deep breath that cleanses the soul and brings new life.
I want to share a little snippet of my day the other day with you. Although it’s from a specific instance, this story describes what happens quite frequently. Maybe you can relate.
Picture me walking the dog... Moments earlier, I got an email. You know, one of those emails. I was pissed. It had to do with work and money and lack and stress and pressure and disappointment and all of it. I won’t belabor you with the details, but you may have been there a time or two.
The best I can signify my feeling state in that moment is with a red-face-of-anger emoji 😡. Actually, more fitting would be the purple-horned-devil one 👿.
Because in that moment, I was straight up Satanic. Possessed.
So there I was, walking along my beautifully quiet street on a Sunday morning murmuring in tongues of anger and insecurity. I started tying it back to my late father (because who doesn’t love dad issues) and how I’m going down the same path of disappointment, blah, blah, blah.
This was the narrative. I was inundated. Flooded with emotion.
The thing was, as someone who’s in this work of spiritual development, I knew it. I fully called myself on it in the moment.
That still small voice knew better. (Always does.) It whispered, wait… I could hear it.
But it didn’t help. This feeling was still alive. The mood was upon me like a lead blanket. I felt justified this time.
After my walk, I walked up to my apartment and went on about my day. I got distracted. I did some chores around the house. Played with Rory. Chatted with Alex. Had some food.
Soon, I noticed the clouds had parted. Like they do every time.
This is mundane grace.
God didn’t appear in the sky with a scroll. Butterflies and birds didn’t flock to me as a choir rang out Oh, Happy Day.
Mundane grace shows up when we get out of our heads just long enough for something new to appear in mind.
The thing about this phenomena is that it’s 100% reliable, but 98% unpredictable. We have no idea when God shows up, we just know she does.
God doesn’t live in the head. She speaks a different language. She speaks the language of the heart. When that rambling voice(s) in our heads can quiet down, then we find communion. We find grace.
When we drop out of our heads into our hearts, grace appears.
When I brought my attention back to the situation, I saw it from a much calmer, more centered place. Did I still want to do something about it? Sure.
But what I decided to do under grace was far more effective than the ‘solution’ that had shown up just a few hours earlier.
I know that divine grace is present in every moment. It’s mundane, not epic. It’s infinite in nature and can never be wasted.
Even when I’m caught up in my story, I know that as soon as my personal thinking dies down, it will tire itself out and get replaced with something new when I step aside and allow it to.
I know that, as a human, I will write narratives of my own. Narratives of dragons and evil spirits and devious schemes from others. Without those things, it’s hard to be a hero.
But there’s always a greater narrative than my ego’s own epic tale. One that doesn’t seem so exciting for the ego, but always provides a higher view. One that understands the hero and loves it into submission.
Finding myself in the middle of my own narrative isn’t a bad thing. I’m human. I feel my thinking moment to moment. Nothing is wrong with me when I find myself in the eye of a thought storm that I’ve written. The emotions I experience are only an indicator that I’ve gotten so caught up in it that I’ve drifted away from home. That I’ve loaded up my headspace with too much fear, doubt, and worry.
The next time, I’ll know that I loaded up on these thoughts because I thought they’d protect me. But I see clearly now that they’re only drowning me.
As soon as I surrender them, I can float.
Ahhhhhhh…. Mundane grace is an inextinguishable blessing that never leaves.
It’s often perceived that meditation is supposed to help us ‘quiet the mind’, right? I mean, that’s often the draw.
I have a noisy mind. So I’m gonna meditate.
And we do. And it feels cool. And sometimes it gets quieter.
But there’s always something going on up there.
It can be frustrating banging our head against a wall trying to get our thinking to quiet down because those voices and images and imagined dragons (no, not the band) just keep… Coming.
But I want to offer you a different way of looking at it. Maybe you’ll be able to let go of this possibly impossible goal of entirely quieting the mind.
What if mental quiet wasn’t supposed to be silent?
Here’s what I gather…
The quiet is the space within which we hear the noise.
Try seeing ‘quiet’ as not being the absence of noise, but as the backdrop to the noise. Rest in that open space that’s aware of the noise. That watches it with a soft, loving gaze knowing that it’s just… noise. It’s just thought. Nothing more. Nothing less.
As I enter my meditative state, I surrender the urge to find complete silence of mind. I know that, by doing this, all I do is add noise to the noise. I see now that quiet is the open, loving backdrop to the noise. When I rest in this space, noise comes and goes. I’m serenely settled amidst the most agitating of noises because without me, this noise wouldn’t exist. The noise is just a shimmer on the surface of the water of the mind. Nothing to be afraid of.
I am the quiet behind it all. I am. And so it is. Amen.
But this is what the self-help industry at large is up to. It’s up to giving us ‘strategies’ and ‘methods’ to ‘fix’ our mental/spiritual state so that we get into a more ‘positive’ place (a lot of air quotes there, intentionally).
If you’re reading this post, you’re likely into personal development. If I were to ask you what you’re seeking in your journey, you might say something like…
A sense of security. To feel at home in myself. A deeper sense of calm. Greater presence. To become more connected to myself and the world. Freedom of movement, in a sense. An insight rich state of being.
And I’d have to agree with you. It’s why my bookshelf at home has one main section: self-help/spirituality. Because I once believed I needed them to get me to an inner state that resembled the qualities above (and still sometimes do).
But I started seeing, more and more, that these qualities showed up when the last thing on my mind was ‘improving myself’.
That deep sense of well-being that I was seeking would arise when I least expected it. While I was present in my life, not caught up in my head.
I saw that the problem wasn’t in getting somewhere I’d never been before, but in getting back to a naturally settled state that was at the core of my being.
I saw the human lot, not as original sin, but original grace. That my well-being is part of my design, not something I had to gain access to through some 7-step process.
In life, we unknowingly teach ourselves to drift away (or run away) from this space. And when we start trying to ‘improve’ ourselves, what we do is fill it with good ideas, activities, etc. thinking they’ll bring us the thing we already have.
But the more we do, the worse it gets.
The metaphor of the pond works perfectly here. For some reason, we metaphorically stir the waters of the mind harder the more we try to get it to clear up. After all, it feels productive, right? The ego feels like it’s doing something.
But at some point, we have to stop. And when our arm gets tired of stirring, we might lie back on our jacket at the side of the pond and take a nap. We might look up at the sky and notice the divinely intelligent pattern that the birds fly in. Or ponder that thing we forgot at the store. Again.
And when we sit back up to stir some more, we’ll see that the water is clear. It’s the damndest thing, isn’t it?
I now recognize my stirring. I see that the work I’ve been doing to get out of some contrived broken state is a futile exercise. Because at my core, underneath the swirling waters, lies a calm so deep and serene that nothing can agitate it. That said, I also see that stirring the waters is my human nature. So beating myself up over it doesn’t help. And if it makes me feel productive to stir, than stir I will. But nothing beats putting the stick down and realizing the transformative self-corrective pattern of the universe that I’m a small, yet infinite, part of. And so it is.
A big concept behind the coaching I do is based on what’s called ‘the three principles of the human experience’. Essentially, my job is to point people towards three particular truths about the way we humans move through the world.
Turns out, most of us misunderstand this. Many of us believe that our experience is created from circumstance. Therefore, the way we feel about the world is fixed. It’s just the way it is.
This is an outside-in model of the world that traps us in our minds and leaves us no options. Until the world out there changes, we’re stuck. And we find that, no matter how many changes are made to that world out there, our inner state never quite improves.
I’m here to say that it’s wrong. Here’s an example…
Let’s say that you and I were drinking an Orange Julius. If this outside-in model of the world was true, we’d be thinking and feeling the same way about it. But we both know this isn’t true. I’d probably be loving it and you’d be wondering why we didn’t go to the organic juice bar down the street. Or maybe you’d be thinking about the game tonight and I’d be taken back to when my grandma used to take me to the mall and we’d drink our Orange Julius’s together.
We humans create our experience of the world from the inside-out.
Our thought in the moment is brought through our conscious awareness, animated through our senses, and made ‘real’.
It’s also true that there’s a creative force behind all of this. There’s a formless energy that underlies our personal thinking that’s restorative, healing, intelligent, and loving. We know this is true because, when we’re ‘out of our heads’, we feel amazing. When we surrender our personal thinking, we’re susceptible to insight — even epiphany.
(Problem is, most people look at this in an outside-in way and believe they have to ‘do’ something in order to have this experience, whether it’s jumping out of a plane, ski off a cliff, do AcroYoga, or more self-harming substances/activities; but really, it’s a function we all have access to at any time).
So far, I’ve given you a suuuuper short snippet of how these three principles work together. Classically, here are the names of the three principles (in no particular order):
The principle of thought: We all think (as you and I are drinking our Orange Julius’s, you’re thinking one thing and I’m thinking another).
The principle of consciousness: We all have the ability to experience that thought as it’s animated through the five senses via conscious awareness (when you’re drinking your Orange Julius wishing we were at the hipster juice place down the street, your anger and resentment is making your heart beat faster and you find it impossible to smile at my elation in the moment).
The principle of mind: This all-intelligent, loving, epiphany-producing God-force that underlies all thought (If we’d both lay our narratives down, we’d experience oneness right there on the sidewalk out in front of the Orange Julius).
But there’s a slight problem that I want to attempt to solve right now in this little Medium post: I believe they could have been named in a way that’s more clear. I know this because, when I explain them to clients, they get even more confused. Which doesn’t help.
It’s true… This simple concept is the most powerful spiritual understanding I know of. It underlies the most profound truths of many world religions and philosophies.
But the naming is not so great. When Syd Banks had his epiphany (Google him; he’s the Scottish welder who this understanding emerged from), it came as a flood of insight. He parsed the principles out for mental health professionals to be able to utilize. He’s since passed, but hopefully he wouldn’t mind if I respectfully worked on the wording a bit.
So, I’m going to take the liberty at this moment to attempt to rename the three principles of the human experience so that people can hopefully see them more clearly and start realizing the effects of that understanding in their lives.
✅ The principle of ‘Thought’, we can keep the same This one actually makes sense. The principle of thought points to our individual thoughts. We’re free-thinking beings. You and I can think totally different ways about the same thing. As much of a blessing as this is, it’s also a curse because we can potentially get ourselves in all sorts of trouble when we drift off too far into our heads and lose our connection with pure Source (principle #3, below). But when we’re tuned in, we know our thoughts are in alignment with Source when our feeling state is healthy. This is our innate mental/spiritual health and we find our way back to it through recognizing the nature of thought and being able to release it when our feelings take us in the other direction.
✅ The principle of ‘Consciousness’ should be called ‘Awareness’ When people hear ‘consciousness’, they think of principle #1 (thought). Which is close, but consciousness isn’t our individual thoughts. It’s the vast blank canvas of awareness that our thoughts are painted on. Consciousness is the mechanism that brings those thoughts in the moment to life through our senses. Without the canvas, no painting happens.
✅ The principle of ‘Mind’ should be called ‘Source’ When people hear ‘mind’ they think ‘thoughts’ or stuff of the brain. No, no, no. This isn’t what this principle points to, so why the hell did they call it this? What we’re describing here is infinite source energy — life itself — that animates and moves this entire thing. It’s the spontaneous, creative intelligence behind this whole design and our entire human experience. It’s the self-healing nature of life. It IS Life (capital ‘L’ intentional). All else springs forth from it. Problem is, when we hang on to old personal thinking, new thought can’t emerge.
Starry Night was beneath Van Gogh’s personal thinking at all times. Unfortunately, he thought he had to consume mass amounts of absinthe to uncover it. But it didn’t come from the absinthe. The absinthe just quieted his thinking enough for him to see it.
Through these three principles, I now see that the way I experience my world is totally from the inside-out, not the outside-in. These principles point the way to a creative state of being. I know that I create a better experience and make my mark on the world in a more lucid, impactful way when I live in a place of clear thinking and spontaneity. I know that beneath my personal thinking lies a source so loving, so intelligent, and so powerful that, if I truly understood its nature, I’d never be afraid. Through these three spiritual principles, I can experience the Grace of God amongst any circumstances. I can heal and be healed in any moment. And I can create anew. And so it is.
I see this notion a lot in the zeitgeist these days. This concept of having to ‘own your shit’.
It’s spoken as a badge of honor. The suggestion is to openly tout a narrative around something that may have happened to us.
And I get it. It’s an empowering message. And it definitely beats what many of us have always done, which is ‘suppressing our shit’.
Knowing our ‘crazy’ is a good thing. And this part of the message, I have no problem with.
After all, spiritual constipation is no bueno.
But ‘owning your shit’ — I just think even this might lead to even more ‘shit’ down the road.
See, our ‘shit’ is just a narrative. Not to say it isn’t ‘real’, but it’s made up. This is how we humans are designed: to make up our realities through the mechanism of thought.
Which is all fine and good. However, by taking ownership of these man-made thought forms, we tend to keep them rooted in reality. Yes, it’s better than keeping our shit in the shadows because when it’s there, it just stinks and we have no idea where the stench is coming from.
But owning shit? I don’t know about you, but when my dog shits in the park and I cup it with my plastic-bagged palm, the last thing I want to do is put that shit in my pocket and take it home. I toss that little baggy of love into the nearest trashcan, pronto.
So here’s my suggestion.
See your shit, but don’t own it.
Don’t take it home and put it in your pantry. Because every time you go in for peanut butter, it’ll smell. And it gets worse over time.
See the shit for what it is: shit. Accept it. Love it. Bless it. And toss it.
Do you remember the last time you felt truly at home in yourself?
That sounds really condescending. But I mean it sincerely. Because I know you can recall at least once (if even in very distant memory) when you felt that sense of being comfortably at home in your own skin that being tuned into source can bring.
Maybe you felt free… Alive… Unimpeded… Blissful… Powerful in your defenselessness… Sexy…
Go ahead and extend this list as long as you’d like on your own. It’s all great stuff. But there’s one thing to realize about these qualities.
Positive qualities and feeling states are the effects of being at home in yourself, not the cause of it.
It won’t help to go out and try to find aliveness, bliss, freedom, etc. because these are all results, not the causes, of this state we fall into when our personal thinking quiets down and we fall into the thing that can’t be described: the infinite space within where source energy takes over.
Chasing after these positive qualities and feelings would be like trying to go out and find the flames of a fire when you have a lighter in your back pocket. It’s impossible and it’s unnecessary.
This is a falling-into, not a seek-and-destroy mission.
When we’re home in ourselves, all we know is that… we’re there.
And there’s no place we’d rather be.
There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.
The thing about a lot of popular self-help stuff today is that it’s all about feeling management…
It’s about good feelings vs bad feelings. God forbid we ever have a ‘bad’ feeling. We’d then have to pull out our crystals to try to eradicate that wretched thing. Or our journal. Or our Kundalini video. Or… Worse.
At this moment, I invite you to consider the dualistic thinking behind this notion and, instead, to step into the non-duality of something new.
What if you could be okay feeling really shitty? Or really great? Or even just… Meh?
What if you could fully know that you’re totally okay throughout the whole spectrum of thought?
What if you could see that it’s honestly just a thought? A cloud-like transient blip of energy crossing the screen of your mind.
I understand, if you’re looking at it from the perspective of your ego, you’re likely consumed by it. That thought storm is raining down on you.
But if you could see things from the perspective of your conscious awareness, you’d rise above the clouds. This is where who-you-really-are truly lives.
As awareness, we encompass all of it. Both the thought storm and the sun that constantly shines behind it.
See how transient that thought storm is? Do you automatically have to get pissed off during a rain storm?
When you see things from the non-dual perspective of your awareness, any feelings can be accepted, embodied, processed, and released. (In short, blessed.)
When you allow yourself to be okay amidst all of it, you give yourself permission to get through the highs with gusto and the lows with grace.
It’s really coming down now. This is awesome, isn’t it?
We all have this. It’s apparent in three-year-olds.
One minute, their world is crashing down around them due to the toy they just lost. But as soon as the emotional storm passes, it’s gone. A clear horizon and open sky are all that remain.
You and I have this built in mechanism too. The only thing blocking it is the layers upon layers of our personal thinking we’ve piled on throughout life.
For some reason, we’ve become personally invested in the thinking that stands between us and the clear skies that lie beyond it.
We all have a sort of mental/psychological immune system.
That mental head cold drifts in, sticks around for awhile, but as long as we don’t do anything to make it worse, it eventually goes away.
Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it hangs out longer than we wish. But it’s just a temporary state of being.
So how do we make these psychological head colds worse?
Usually it gets worse when we try to fix it. Because when it comes to matters of the mind, we tend to over-medicate. We add more misaligned thoughts to an already misaligned state.
My analogy of the cold holds true when I say that the best thing to do when you have a cold is to rest…
Kick your feet up and marathon that Netflix series you’ve been wanting to dive into. Listen to your favorite album over and over again. Or… Sleep.
Soon, the cold disappears and you’re back in the game. The psychological immune system has come through again.
On its own schedule — yes. But it’s better than anything you or I could do.
Jonas Ellison is a spiritual writer, teacher, practitioner, and an interfaith minister-in-training. He helps people deepen their lives through applied spirituality while documenting his journey along the way.
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If you’re like me, there’s probably a certain area (or two… or more) in your life that you feel particular internal friction around…
Maybe that area is money. Or health. Or relationships.
You might be wondering how you can make the thing you’re stressing about work. You might be thinking that if you can just ‘do’ a certain thing or two, then things will be right and you’ll be fine.
But here’s what I’ve discovered as true after years of being guilty of this myself…
Sometimes you have to be willing to be wrong about a thing so you can blow it to shreds and start over from a fresh paradigm.
Those money worries you have… Maybe you have a lot going on around money. And it’s not just how to make more of it.
You might be bringing your self worth into the picture. Or your insecurities. Maybe your father passed along a certain view of money that’s only stressing you out and making you feel small.
First step: Be open to the idea that at least some of this might be wrong. Not to hate on our dads for implying that self worth comes from money. They almost certainly had our best interests in mind. But we’re adults now and life has taught us a lot since then. (This is just an example. You get the point.)
Second step: Now that you’ve loosened the screws that have been holding those beliefs in place, you can let the ones that don’t serve you fall away while keeping those which serve you. Maybe you’re doing just fine. Maybe you don’t need to stress so much. Maybe you just need to get rid of those extra expenses.
Once you open up and clean your mental house, you’ll be less stressed. From less stress comes clear thinking. And from clear thinking comes right action.
Because, seriously. Money and health and whatever else — these are deep-seated categories of beliefs that our ego will never be satisfied with. Like Biggie said, “Mo money, mo problems.”
Why is this?
Trying to solve internal problems with external remedies is like trying to put a band aid on a stomach ache.
Get aligned with the Source of your creative capacities.
Be wrong. Ditch the old thoughts and make room for new ones. Your old paradigm isn’t serving you anymore. Get aligned and new answers will emerge.
Until they do, keep on keeping on. You might not have immediate answers, but keep pulling the weeds of those old wretched thoughts. Clean the windows of your soul so the sun can shine through.
Hey, look what I found under the cushion here...
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Our thoughts about it filter through consciousness, bringing the experience to life.
Since we don’t see it as thought (changeable), and instead see it as circumstance (unchangeable), we start to stress.
This leads to more dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, etc. — all of a sudden, we’re laying in the fetal position on the floor in a scattered heap of Cheetos as we yell to Siri, “Siri — search for Eckhart Tolle on YouTube!” to bring us back into the ‘Now’ (or is that just me?).
Here’s my message today:
Don’t try to ‘fix it’ from there.
When we’re in a low-mood state, it means we’re in a low state of consciousness from crappy thinking.
Trying to ‘fix ourselves’ from this place just means adding more shitty thoughts to the heap of dysfunctional thoughts we’ve already amassed.
When you’re feeling stressed, don’t fix… Float.
See, when you’re stressed, you’re like a cork that’s being held down by dysfunctional thinking.
Stop thinking. Drop the thoughts. Release your grip and allow yourself to float to the surface. You’re not ‘doing’ anything. It’s an undoing you’re after here. You’re not trying to figure anything out, you’re just… releasing.
When we calm our thinking, we can gravitate to a higher level of well being.
Our stressed emotional state (or any other negative emotion, at that) is like the warning light on our car telling us that something’s wrong.
Trying to tackle the stress directly is like taking a sledgehammer to the warning light in your car, trying to fix the problem.
The problem isn’t the light. The problem is what’s causing the light to turn on (in our case — our dysfunctional thinking, which is lowering our level of consciousness).
So, when you’re stressed, don’t fix the stress. Stop. Drop. And float.
If you do this, your mood WILL change. Your level of consciousness WILL rise. Your stressful thinking will vanish into the ether of which it originated, and your innate wellbeing will return.