Do Circumstances Cause Feelings?
Dear Eric, thanks for your reply to my enquiry about meditation. Perhaps you might clarify something I’m also struggling with. I really don’t get this 3P [Three Principles Psychology] idea that it’s never the circumstances that cause our feelings. If I were in Auschwitz, or had a relative murdered in Orlando, or was wrongly imprisoned for 30 years, wouldn’t these dreadful circumstances not cause me to feel sick, disgusted, angry, suicidal etc ? If you can help me understand this I’d be really grateful. Also don’t you find that the 3P world is turning into a bit of an industry these days ? Like TM it seems to promise the earth !
Hi Keith – Your question has two parts.
1. Do circumstances cause feelings. This is easy to discredit if you notice how different people react entirely differently to the same circumstances. If it were the circumstances, you would have consistent responses, but in fact you see as many versions of “reality’ as you do individuals, as a function of the thought systems they’ve developed, and thinking in the moment, to use the language of the Three Principles (3P). As further proof of this, there was a gentleman (Jewish) who found profound meaning amidst his experience at Auschwitz and later wrote about it: Viktor Frankl.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Viktor Frankl
Another way to put it is, there is a third factor between “you” and “the world”: the world that your brain and consciousness (or whatever one points to as the “manufacturer” of experience) has constructed.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl
We don’t know the true or ultimate nature of these things (nor of anything) – brain, mind, consciousness, etc. (despite the claims of many to the contrary!) – but we do know our personal experience is an illusion. In other words the world you experience is a construction, not reality. We don’t even need to delve into “what is reality – consciousness or material reality?” Leave aside philosophy for now. However, that you experience is not an illusion: you are conscious. That’s the starting point of your investigation.
The awareness of this fact may or may not free you instantly or over time. The ego is pernicious.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
– Viktor Frankl
That’s a short answer. I did not talk about grieving, which is a good topic to look at (don’t hang onto personal thoughts of loss – for longer than their shelf life anyway – that’s ego again!). This whole topic you bring up is very deep and is at the heart of many of these teachings.
I also did not mention that there are what you could call automatic, physiological reactions to circumstances that are wired in for the survival of the body (whatever a body is – we don’t know). An example would be: you step out in the road and truck is bearing down on you and there is a reaction to step back (even physiological response can potentially be controlled however such as the yogi who controls his body temperature – that such a possibility exists is good to know about). However the response we are talking about that are problematic – the ones that cause you to seek help or change – are psychological in nature. They are arbitrary, learned, self-made and maintained, and ill-adaptive. They are what stand between you and permanent peace and happiness, the foundation that is our Being.
2. The Three Principles Psychology industry. Yes I do find that. It’s double-edged sword in that it helps spread “the message” but it does get watered down and misunderstood and become more and more a packaged product (and sometimes takes on the character of a evangelical religion: dogmatic and world-saving). However, I originally learned of it from one of the very early “packagers”: Richard Carlson. He didn’t call it “The Three Principles” or as something that was inspirited by Sydney Banks, but he was a great popularizer. It was too watered down for me, so I was fortunate to find a footnote at the end of his book about a book by Roger Mills (Sanity, insanity and Common Sense, by Rick Suarez, Ph.D. Roger C. Mills, Ph.D., Darlene Stewart, M.S.), that led me on a journey through “Health Realization” as it was called then.
Dependent on circumstances is no happiness at all
Re-creating the spark from circumstances doesn’t work
Manufactured happiness is elusive
Deep connection, from phenomenal to present
The spark not a product of the objects