My best effort to share how to help someone suicidal:
When someone plummets into dark, hopeless thinking, it appears like a deep hole, not a tunnel, to them. No light at the end, just blind darkness. And in those moments, people see the drastic act of suicide as an obvious escape. They are lost in their own misery.
What is missing is any realization that the whole experience is a chimera. Or that all thought is transitory and will disappear in the blink of a distraction. Or that everyone who lives into adulthood has seen that dark place, but not stayed there.
In those bleak moments, the innate spiritual strength, the natural wellbeing, we all have and can never lose is still flickering, the pilot light of our life on earth, but we have temporarily lost remembrance of how to turn on the burner. Desperately despairing thoughts throw a heavy pall over wisdom.
Because of recent celebrity suicides, the airwaves, the press and social media have been filled with links to suicide hot lines and with people offering advice for those who suspect a friend or loved one may be suicidal. For me, as a person who has worked with the Principles for more than 30 years, a lot of the current advice, well-meaning and heartfelt as it is, misses the mark.
If someone is overwhelmed with self-destructive thinking, talking with them about what is on their minds, or trying to talk them out of what is on their minds. is counterproductive. It keeps their negative thoughts churning in the foreground. If my tormented thinking is roiling my mind, it will not help me to get past it to try to express it or explain it. I would have to hold it in place to do that. As long as it is on my mind, it remains my reality, and the more I talk about it, the more it intensifies.
If, on the other hand, other thoughts come to my mind, the dark thoughts start to fade and pass on. With an understanding of how human psychological functioning works, anyone who intervenes with a person on the verge of suicide will create a distraction first thing. It only takes one thought for the person to start to move into a different reality. It doesn’t have to be a happy thought; it doesn’t have to be an optimistic thought. It just has to be a different thought. But it has to be that person’s thought.
Once the person moves out of the dark hole, even if it’s only into a shadowy place with just a little light, THEN a meaningful intervention can begin. But the first step is to elicit something totally different from the sadness in which they are absorbed, and to see the person’s mind turn even a little bit outside of themselves.
Our own common sense tells us, in the moment, what that might be. Maybe ask a question? Maybe point out something interesting outside and elicit an opinion about it? Maybe bring up the person’s family and inquire how someone is doing? Maybe spill something and ask for help cleaning it up? There are infinite things that could come into anyone’s mind who has the intent to change the subject and engage the person in a different kind of thinking and conversation.
So that’s the first thing I want to share. With the certainty that everyone actually is only one thought away from experiencing a different reality, we can confidently talk to anyone and know that as soon as we engage them, their thoughts will shift and their mind will move away from their torment.
But the most important immediate next thing is love and reassurance. In an effort to stay calm and rational, I know that sometimes we feel we have to keep cool, keep talking, and keep the talk neutral. But really, extremely insecure thinking is painfully lonely and alienating. A human connection can do more than a lot of reasonable talk to draw someone back to life. Do not be afraid to touch someone’s arm, hold their hand, give them a hug if you know them well. Be with them. Listen to them. Silence, in a loving feeling, is often healing. But if it makes sense to talk, talk to the health in them, not to the temporary dysfunction.
Wisdom is like our circulation; it is an essential fact of life. We don’t feel it or even think much about it. But it is keeping us going. Wisdom is a life force. As soon as a person’s a mind quiets, their heart settles and their own wisdom arises. We don’t have to cheer them up; their spirits lift naturally.
Love, just pure unconditional love, is the balm that helps the heart to settle and the spirits to lift. Wisdom is the light that shines from within all of us.
Over the many years I have worked with people seeking peace of mind, three questions consistently arise. (1) Once you SEE that thoughts are transitory, that all thoughts just pass through our minds unless we hang onto them, do thoughts even matter? (2) Given that thoughts passing through our minds sometimes seem random, does it really mean anything to think, or that we think? Can’t we just live in peace allowing whatever thoughts arise to just come and go? (3) Are we really the thinkers, or just the vessels through which images flow, experiencing the illusion that we’re thinking them?
Here are three simple answers.
(1) Once we SEE that thoughts are transitory, no particular thought exerts power over us. The power of thought is our power to exercise free will over all thoughts, choosing what to make of them. We know that all thoughts pass through our minds and we are at choice which ones to welcome and which to allow to move on. We can bring thoughts to mind because we want to think about them, or we can just allow thoughts to stream through our minds like ripples in a river. We are always in control of our thinking, even though sometimes we lose sight of that temporarily.
With this understanding, we cannot find ourselves, unknowingly, in the prison of our own worst thoughts. If my mind fills, for example, with negative thoughts about someone or something in my life, I certainly can entertain those thoughts, and experience the negative feelings that result, and work myself into a snit about something. But I also can just let them pass, and other thoughts will come to mind. It’s up to me. Knowing the nature of thought, though, even if I hang onto those negative thoughts for a while, I know as soon as I turn away from them, they will disappear, so they can’t “hurt” me. I’m deciding. And that is my freedom; I can think whatever thoughts I want to, for as long as I want to. My feeling state will always let me know whether I’m thinking constructively or destructively. But, either way, it doesn’t matter because, eventually, all thoughts pass. Thoughts only last as long as we keep them in mind.
Without any understanding of the nature of thought, however, we can easily get frightened and caught in our most destructive thinking, and then feel compelled to analyze it or fight it to try to clear it up. The harder we try, the bigger and stronger the thoughts get, since that process requires thinking more and more about the thoughts. We can fight and analyze for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, and never come to peace because, without realizing it, in total innocence, we are continually feeding the thoughts from which we want most to free ourselves. It appears to us that the thoughts have the power, but actually, we are unwittingly misusing our own power to think.
In answer to question (2), of course, we could simply lie around and let random thoughts pass through our minds indefinitely. We could call that a vacation state of mind; all of us do that sometimes. But it’s in our nature to interact with others and with our world, and in order to do that, we have to direct our thinking. We have to decide to think about visiting a friend in order to gather the thoughts we need to make arrangements and set things up with our friend. We have to decide we are interested in science, and then turn our thinking towards scientific inquiry, in order to follow a dream to be a scientist. We have to summon certain thoughts and use our thinking to do just about anything except lie around and daydream. It appears to be the nature of humanity to be curious and interested, to think and learn and dream and aspire. And it is also within the capacity of humanity, because we have the free will to do whatever we want to with our thinking, to use our thinking against ourselves, and ruminate, stew and fret. Since we come into life with the consciousness of what we are doing, it is also within the nature of humanity to see how thought works and to intend to use it wisely, and recognize when we’re not.
The simplicity of this is that our experience changes with any change in thought. It’s not hard to feel better, and get back on track with useful, constructive thinking. As soon as we recognize, from our feeling state, that our thoughts are, in Sydney Banks’ words, “taking us down a rocky path,” we know all we have to do is stop focusing on them and allow them to pass, and we will be on a different course.
Once we come into this world, we are active participants in the world of form, the creative process that transforms pure energy, spiritual energy, into our universe. We may never understand why, but it is for us to know that we are here, that we are fully engaged, that it is thrilling to create and engage in life, and that it is a stop on the journey of the soul. Imagine! We are part of an enormous energetic process in which stars are being born and dying, and microscopic organisms are floating unseen and fading away. It is the miracle of ongoing universal creation, the movement of formlessness into form, and form into formlessness. And whatever we make up during our part of it appears to be real to us, and is a part of the whole cosmic dynamic.
And, lastly, (3): As much as we are, deep down, spiritual beings traversing the earthly realm in a body, of course we are vessels through which thought flows. If we never intentionally form a thought, the energy of life will still take form in our brain as long as we are alive in our bodies. But as we grow into life in this realm and become curious to understand what we are sensing, we start to manage our own thinking and discover we can make choices. That is an exercise of our free will, what we do with the gifts of thought and consciousness that allow not only to know, but to manage, our lives. What we think is illusionary, in that our thinking produces our own particular thoughts, unique to us, that pass as our thinking changes. Thoughts arise and we feel the associated sensory experience of them, but no two people have the same thoughts. So we are all living in an illusion, brought to us by our own imagination. And yet we are doing that within a shared “reality” which none of us will never know objectively, only through our own thinking. And that reality, too, is changing constantly as all the forces of the universe play out. Nothing is static.
So here’s the bottom line. Our own thoughts matter to us because they do create our own experience of this life. And within our lifetime, our common experience is shaped by thoughts. If an entire community take on insecure thinking, it will make different decisions (should we expand the jail or build a playground?) than it would in secure thinking. If a family is habitually locked in negative angry thought, the family members will have a much different experience of living in the same neighborhood as the folks next door, who are filled with thoughts of gratitude, love and compassion. So, yes, thoughts do matter; the choices we make about how to hold and use our own thinking do matter; the general thinking we take to heart or set aside matters. Thought is the creative tool we use to navigate through our lives, and we alone can change our lives if we don’t like the direction we’re going, simply by understanding and changing the way we hold and use our thoughts.
But it’s also true that thoughts do not matter because they are evanescent, like images in a kaleidoscope. They dissolve and disappear as new thoughts form; we can only be “stuck” in a way of thinking if we keep choosing to think the same things, over and over. If we allow our minds to come to rest; if we hold our thoughts lightly and let thoughts drift away as new thoughts occur to us; if we intentionally follow the thoughts that lift our spirits and inspire us and intentionally turn away from the thoughts that lower our spirits and depress us, we feel at ease in life, and find beautiful feelings.
(Image: A Student’s View of the Universe, Oil painting by Anthony Quesen)
The human mind has no limits. We can create anything. We can imagine unseen worlds. We can dream far beyond our knowledge. We can conceive responses to any challenge. We are dynamic players in an infinity of possibility.
The promise of this for all of humanity, no matter how haltingly realized, is the eternal hope for thriving beyond survival. At any moment, an insight might bubble up in anyone that provides a solution to vexing problems. Right now, someone is conceiving how to transcend discord between cultures and individuals. An answer is taking form in a doctor’s mind to cure a deadly disease. A child daydreaming by a fireside is playing unheard music in his mind. A scientist is stumbling into an unexpected development in a lab that sets her mind alight with a new direction for research. All over the planet, the power of creation is pulsing through all of life.
We are not the product of creation; we are creation both in formlessness, our powers to think and shape our thinking into reality, and in form, our very existence that allows us to interact and build and and dance and laugh, and, yes, to scream and cry. Because we are always thinking our own particular reality into form, we are living in the illusion that we are fixed in time and space, bound by our own limitations. Only when we step back to see the whole beautiful system in operation do we realize that we are fixed only by the limitations we make up in our own thoughts.
What are those limits? Simple things like, “If that was such a great idea, somebody would already have thought of it.” “I’m not smart enough to solve this problem.” “I can’t do math.” “That’s beyond my pay grade; don’t ask me that.” “I don’t understand art.” “My ideas aren’t that good; I can’t help you.” In the ordinary course of every day, we stop short, again and again, of allowing our own minds to work as they are designed to work. We turn our backs on the infinite possibilities of what we might see in this moment now, and travel backwards and forwards into fear and doubt about ourselves.
When my grandson (the artist of the illustration for this Blog) was little, it used to thrill me when he would open a box and dump a bunch of Lego pieces in a pile and, unfazed, look at the picture on the box and begin sorting the pieces to build it himself. The first time he did that, to be honest, I was momentarily concerned. I had the thought, “Oh, gosh. He’s so little. This is too complicated for him. I don’t think he can figure it out, and I hate to see him frustrated.” Fortunately, I didn’t express that thought. I just went about fixing dinner. A half-hour later, when I went to tell him it was time for dinner, he was fitting the last few pieces in place and smiling from ear to ear. “Look Grammie! I saw how to do it! I looked at the picture and I saw what to do!”
That’s the starter kit we’re born with, unlimited faith that we can see what to do if we just wonder and look. Little children who have not been told they can’t always start from “I can.” Limitations are acquired thinking; we come into the world with nothing on our minds. And then we fill our minds with whatever we borrow, observe, see or discover for ourselves.
I learned, watching my grandson grow up (he’s 18 now) that if you don’t ever discuss limitations with children, they don’t find them. He watched his mother running a half-marathon when he was 10. “That looks like fun,” he said. “Great,” she said, “you can run with me next time.” He did, starting with 5k’s, and six months later, he finished his first half-marathon, filled with joy. He watched his father, an artist, draw simple animals on butcher block paper in a restaurant when he was a little tyke, barely able to grasp a crayon. “I do it!” he exclaimed. “Sure,” his Dad said, “and guided him to creating his first orange bunny rabbit. Within a short time, he was drawing all kinds of things on his own. He watched me pulling weeds in the yard when he was five. “Can I pull some?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll show you how to tell the weeds from the flowers.” By the next Saturday, he was out there working confidently by my side.
We come into life exuberant to live it. We throw ourselves into the freshness of it all and start thinking our own way through the color and light and sounds and adventures of seeing life anew. At every step along the way, our minds are optimally wired to make the most of it and generate rich experiences of it. But our minds belong to us, and we can think anything. The mind doesn’t care. Whatever images we put into our heads, our consciousness will bring into our reality. So the first time we think, “Oh, no, I can’t,” we have the experience of holding back, stepping away from opportunity, doubting ourselves. That’s not all bad; we have to learn not to put our hand down on a hot stove, not to go into freezing weather without protective clothing, not to do and think a lot of things. But we need to learn, from early on in life, that thinking is our gift, the way we create our precious life experience, the pathway to entering the unknown and finding new treasures.
No one can stop the flow of thought; it is the creative process moving through us. No one can keep new thoughts from coming to mind. But everyone can see that flow for what it is, an energetic movement of stuff, like detritus floating in a fast-flowing river. We can watch it pass, or we can grab something and look more closely. When we don’t know that we can watch it pass, we try to grab everything, and end up muddled. When we don’t know how to tell the good stuff from the junk, we make mistakes and hold onto to things we could have allowed to pass. When we know how it all works, we can enjoy it all — no harm done.
That’s the key, knowing we are not our thoughts. Our thoughts are the fleeting products of our own unlimited capacity to create images and ideas. Our experience of them allows us to know what to do with them, but none of them can hold us back. They don’t have the power.
We are Mind, Thought and Consciousness in motion. We are the power.
For more from Judy Sedgeman, visit three-principles.com.
Have you been part of a child’s life? Have you watched YouTube videos to see how to do something? Have you helped a colleague figure something out? Have you given directions? Have you mentored someone? Have you helped a teenager learn to drive, or operate a piece of equipment, or use tools? Have you trained a pet? Have you helped someone new get to know your neighborhood? Have you contemplated a scene, and simply wondered?
There are so many ways to ask the questions, but there is one answer. We are all teachers. We teach ourselves. We teach others. We explore, explain, discover, share… The simple definition of teacher — one who helps to learn — defines our experience of growing through life.
Official “teachers” — those who work in schools — carry the burden of imparting the core knowledge of civilization, but we all share the opportunity to expand and enhance that knowledge and engage in lifelong teaching and learning. Fundamentally, the truths that guide the best experiences of teaching and learning in school settings are universal, explaining how our minds and others’ minds function optimally across all of life.
We have put together a series of courses for teachers, using the metaphors and examples of school because school is something we all share. The courses point to the explanation of how our minds work, and how we access the innate source of wisdom, insight, common sense, creativity and joyful learning common to us all.
If you’ve noticed “Resiliency in Teaching” as a CSC offering, and been curious about it but perhaps thought it didn’t have anything to do with you, we’d like you to reconsider.
We all have times when it feels like we just can’t cram anything new into our heads. We all have times when we are in a flow of “Aha!” moments, seeing beyond what we thought we knew. In the first case, we feel stuck and discouraged. In the second case, we feel inspired and exhilarated. Both are perfectly normal feelings, the product of the way we are holding and using our ability to think. When we understand how our minds work, when we understand the nature of thought, when we understand that we are all capable of clear-headed, high-spirited, enthusiastic, joyful learning and teaching, those “stuck” moments diminish, and when they occur, we know they will pass. We are just free to be.
So, if you’ve noticed “Resiliency in Teaching” as a CSC offering, and been curious about it but perhaps thought it didn’t have anything to do with you, we’d like you to reconsider. There are four courses in the series. The first, “Redefining Mental Health,” is critical to understanding the assumptions of the rest of them. but it is about how an understanding of the Three Principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought is changing many of the prevailing views about mental health and mental illness, generally. “What is Resilience?” addresses the nature of resilience, and how our access to our own innate resilience is related to our understanding of thought. “Problem-Solving” uses examples of common school situations (which are common to life, as well) — such as bullying, distraction, anger — to show how our varying states of mind are related to behaviors, and how addressing states of mind changes behaviors. “Resilience in the Classroom” describes the way in which understanding the Principles changes our experience of teaching and learning. All 4 courses can be taken together as a certificate program.
When our minds are free and clear, every moment generates joy and appreciation for our wonderful capacity to be awake to learning.
Judith A. Sedgeman. EdD
At heart, I love teaching more than anything else I’ve ever done. And, at heart, I know the joy of teaching, and the pain of it, too. Teachers today face student attitudes and system restrictions that inhibit their sense of freedom and ease in the classroom. Teachers today, at every level from pre-school to university, are leaving the profession, just to escape the pressures they feel that have nothing to do with what drew them into teaching and learning.
Four online courses with new answers to stress, burnout, teacher anxieties, and more. Click the image above to learn more!
Across a long career that included a lot of other work, I have taught middle school, high school, junior college, undergraduate, graduate and adult education — the whole gamut of teaching experience. At every level, I totally loved watching students flourish and learn, and at every level, I experienced frustration, disappointment, restriction in the system. I know the pain and the joy first-hand.
And I know, too, the most important lesson I have ever learned: The pain and the joy are not coming AT me; they are coming THROUGH me, depending on my understanding of how I hold and use my own power to think. There is a distinct dividing line in my life: Before 1989, and after 1989. What happened in 1988-89? I realized how the human mind truly works to create our experience of life. Before then, I honestly (like most people) believed that I had nothing to do with what I thought or how I felt about things; I honestly believed that circumstances created my experience of life. I honestly believed that if I was in a negative, difficult situation, of course I would feel terrible, and would have to extricate myself from those circumstances to feel better.
After 1989, I knew, without a doubt, that I was the thinker creating my own thoughts and becoming conscious of what I had created as reality — and that I and I alone was responsible for how I responded to life situations. This gave me a sense of freedom and empowerment that has allowed me, for the rest of my life, to make the best of any and every circumstance I have encountered. What happened in that year? I stumbled into a group of people sharing the logic of a discovery that there are Universal Principles that determine the way we create and experience our own thinking, and that simply recognizing them behind life provides immunity from suffering from our own worst thoughts.
You can believe this or not. Everyone has complete freedom to think whatever they do, and take it more or less seriously. But in my experience, over all these years, once people look to see what feels true to them, the recognition that they are creating their own experience via the power of thought resonates deep within them, and they, too, find freedom and release.
In all the years I have looked to see this more deeply for myself, and share it more effectively with others, I have always had in the back of my mind that the ideal starting point for this to help the most people possible would be schools. In situations I know from all my wonderful colleagues who teach all over the world from this perspective, where young people have recognized that they are creating their own lives from the inside-out with their own power to think, they have bypassed the insecurity and emotional instability that plagues so many in our schools now. They know how to find their own peace of mind, regardless of what others are saying or doing. They self-correct. And, free from insecurity and self-doubt, they truly enjoy learning, and being a part of the school community.
As a teacher myself, I know that from the perspective of understanding how thinking works, I no longer experienced frustration or upset at the system; I found I could access my own insights as to how to work with or around issues and obstacles that had previously seemed insurmountable. I lost my judgments about people and institutions, and saw that everyone was doing the best they could, given how they were holding and using their thinking. I stopped taking things personally, and just felt gratitude and love for my students, my subject, my colleagues, and my opportunities to contribute. I truly enjoyed teaching, without the burden of distractions. Once I started seeing and speaking to the resilience and well-being in my students, my “problem” students disappeared. I found that almost all my students enjoyed learning as much as I enjoyed teaching, and only occasionally, when someone dipped into a state of insecurity, did I have to stop what I was doing to help a struggling student come back into the present moment and calm down.
It may sound pollyanna to some who read this, given the state of many schools today. There are places in the world in which it may sound ho-hum — something that seems routine. The state of education, globally, is highly variable. That variability, however, has more to do with the way people are, their level of peace of mind and respect, than with the resources allocated. There are classrooms in remote parts of the world where even pencil and paper are scarce resources, and books are old and tattered, and schoolrooms are sparse and uncomfortable — and yet the joy is palpable. The gratitude the students feel for learning is profound. The love the teachers feel is deep and non-contingent.
Once we understand our own role in the creation of our experiences of everything we’re doing; once we understand how everyone’s thinking works, and how much control each one of us always has over what we do with our own power to think, everything looks different.
We are excited and happy to share these courses globally, in hopes that teachers, students and schools everywhere will become the petri dish in which world peace is nurtured and grown through peace of mind in the generations to come.
Learn More about “Resiliency in Teaching – Reviving the Joy