When violent events occur, the quick response often is, “Society has a mental health issue.” In truth, people experiencing mental well-being do not harm other people. But most people who are experiencing mental health difficulties do not kill or harm other people. There is a psychological path to violence: as some people experience extended periods of extremely dark, negative, insecure thinking and see themselves as alienated from others and hopeless about who they are or where they fit, they fill their heads with extreme nasty, vengeful thoughts. At some point, they commit violence, looking to get relief from the pain of that thinking, with no understanding that they are the thinkers who have created it. What is needed is a deeper recognition of how thinking works and how we can quiet our thinking and find our innate well-being.
While there is no excuse for doing harm to others, an understanding of why it makes sense to the people who do it would improve treatment and rehabilitation for them. We all live on a sine curve from low feelings of insecurity to higher feelings of security and peace of mind. For most people, the feelings come and go, just changing moods. But some people get deeply frightened by low mood, negative thoughts. In an effort to understand or fight them, they hold on to them and think about them more and more. Extended, worsening periods of negative thinking send them into a downward spiral, looking for who or what to blame. At that point, lashing out with horrendous behavior seems like the only way to rid themselves of the misery they have no idea was created by their own thoughts, not by anything or anyone else.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is a huge volume of symptoms of mental illnesses organized into many hundreds of Diagnoses. We see it more as a collection of observations of the creative ways people in low states of mind come up with to help themselves feel better or quiet their thinking. The Three Principles explain that there is only one underlying mental illness — innocent misunderstanding of the power to think. And there is only one cure — understanding our spiritual power to think and experience our thinking as real. When people see that, they recognize their freedom to change, to heed their wisdom when it comes to mind, and to allow less constructive thoughts to pass.
We think about the past as “real” and important, the personal story of our life that has power over us. Or as memories that haunt us, or delight us. Or as the history we learn about in school. Really, the past is just thoughts, stored in our memory. Just images we can bring to mind. The past is the sentence you just read. The past is everything behind us that isn’t happening right now. It is as easy to forget as to remember. It is not a “thing” that we have to deal with or figure out. It has no power except the power we give it when we bring it to mind in the present. The power to think and our own free will gives us the capacity to bring thoughts to mind, but the thoughts themselves have no power.
The field of Psychology, with the intention to end suffering, has fostered suffering inadvertently by focusing on people’s past. Because people suffering mentally in the present tend to be focused on thinking, thinking, thinking to try to find relief, they are caught in their intellect and using their memories to try to understand themselves. When we are processing thoughts from our intellect, all we have to work with is the past because the intellect is all stored thoughts. So without an understanding of how the mind works, how quieting circular thinking allows for insight and clarity in the present, psychology has made the assumption that relief only comes from dealing with the thoughts people are thinking.
Anything that pulls us out of the present moment, when we are creating our life, is memory. Memories can be powerful, beautiful, touching, or horrifying, upsetting, sad. No matter what, the past tricks us and keeps us from living life in the now, moment-to-moment. We can recall past joy and think the present can never measure up to it; we can remember past upset and think it is ruining our lives. Understanding the past is not about sorting out the content of our thinking, but recognizing that the past, good or bad, is over. We can’t change it; we can’t fix it; we can’t make it happen again. We can learn from the past, deeply appreciate it, or leave it behind. But true contentment is found in the now.
Realizing the Principles allow each of us to create our own experience of life moment-to-moment has a further implication. Each of us, looking at the same situation, creates our own entirely separate, unique experience of it. Our own reality looks absolutely real, so it’s easy for us to forget that others are not thinking what we do, but their reality looks just as real to them. This leads to schisms and misunderstandings unless we look deeper to realize we still have common ground; we are all the creators of our own lives, and we can find understanding and compassion and look for agreement from a deep, non-judgmental feeling.
When we speak of psychological innocence, we are not excusing bad deeds. We are explaining that the world looks very different to us in different states of mind/levels of consciousness. So in a deeply insecure, negative state of mind, things make sense to people that would be unthinkable to them in a secure, peaceful state of mind. Each of us is always acting from the state of mind and quality of thinking that we are generating at the time. That’s why awareness of the importance of noticing ours and others’ states of mind is so critical to understanding.