A Unified Field Theory of the Interior Life

Saturday, November 14, 2015 - 5:10am
Photo by Hartwig HKD

A Unified Field Theory of the Interior Life

“Everything rests on a few ideas that are fearsome and cannot be looked at directly.” —Paul Valery

Sydney Banks (1931–2009) was a Scottish welder who had a mystical experience in 1973. He wrote a few books about his spiritual revelations and gave lecturers. More importantly, he transformed the lives of a cadre of “post-therapy” psychotherapists who recast his ideas under variety of names, most notably “Health Restoration Therapy” and “The Psychology of Mind.”

Banks’ ideas are currently experiencing a new resurgence under the moniker “The Three Principles.” Put simply, “The Three Principles” are a way of looking at the relationship between mind, thought, and consciousness that offers a kind of unified field theory of the interior life. Human beings are experience-generating animals, but the individual experiences we generate are the product of thoughts. It is our thoughts that shape the formless unknown into meaningful events and images. This is both a useful and disorienting thing since the process of human thinking takes us away from the limitless potential of absolute reality for the sake of a single, limited event or interpretation.

As a result each one of us lives in small, separate, psychological worlds of our own making. The problem is that we innocently believe that these worlds are outside of us, shaping our lives, when they are actually created from the inside out. When we move more deeply into these little worlds by thinking, we move even further from reality (limitless potential) into various narrow, imagined roles, needs, and identities.

This is really not something we can overcome. Human beings, by nature, must give up consciousness to engage in tasks and projects, and so end up innocently assuming their perceptions reflect reality when they are almost always and inevitably what the psychologists call projections.

We take our moods and insecurities as directives to think harder or take even more control over our lives — lives which we have already cut down to fit our small, particular culture-bound ambitions. The better road to mental health and happiness is to see these uncomfortable feelings as a signal to question our beliefs in order to rise to a higher level of consciousness.

According to Banks, our insecure feelings and anxious perceptions are always the product of emotionally driven ego states. In order to experience the deep security and peace of mind innate to every human being, we need only take our personal thoughts less seriously which, in turn, opens our minds up to natural contemplation and present-mindedness.

As human beings, we don’t know we have chosen such limited awareness or made habits of our fears, anxieties, and addictions until someone points this out to us because it seems so natural to be perpetually stressed and unhappy. It is only when something breaks through the complacency of our everyday lives — an illness maybe or a death in the family, great love or exceptional beauty — that we see through our false selves and limited worlds. Until this happens, we continue to blame our feelings of futility on the human condition. In fact, until we wake up from ordinary everyday despair, we will continue to imagine that all our problems are coming at us from the outside world and not through us via our own thoughts, ideas, and assumptions.

This is the “innocent” mistake all human beings make: forgetting that we are experiencing our thinking and taking our thinking for reality, and it takes a rebirth of innocence to overcome this convincing illusion.

Many of us, it turns out, are relatively high-functioning depressives suffering from general anxiety disorder and don’t even know it. And yet once we wake up to the fact that there is another part of us that sees through the roles we play and the thoughts we have, a formless consciousness peeking out at the world through a limited meat-spirit overlay conditioned and hypnotized by a conspiracy of illusions — we find our lives instantly transformed and return to our “normal” state of natural contemplation and psychological health.

Suddenly the hope we may have talked ourselves out ten years earlier returns as an antidote to a self-inflicted despair. Or the dark thoughts we once worshiped shrink down to human size as we now realize how limited they are.

All human thoughts — even the thoughts of our so-called geniuses — are mere moments in the eternal, formless scheme of things. Once we see how we are situated with respect to thought, mind, and consciousness, we begin to appreciate — perhaps for the very first time — our own originality and existential uniqueness. We begin to see the ignorant perfection of ourselves as ordinary people whose ideas are just as limited contingent as those of Kant and Hegel, but whose souls are just a limitless and large.

Luckily, as God and or as nature would have it, our feelings of alienation drive us to seek out a sense of true being to replace our limited thinking. This intuition of a transcendent absolute is our experience of the universal mind. It is that part of us that remains unconvinced by the world and unconvinced by our mere thinking. It is that part of us that recognizes the truth when we see it and connects us with being rather than becoming. This innate psychological health — or natural contemplation — then replaces the stressful thoughts born of our anxious, ego-driven attempts at self-management with replaces them with present mindedness. In a phrase “The Three Principles” teach what Teresa of Ávila called “the thinking without thinking.”

Unlike other psychological systems that advocate various practices and protocols for achieving such liberation, Sydney Banks taught that it is enough just to see how we are situated within our own minds for the trance to be lifted. Any attempts to control thinking adds fuel to an already runaway fire of self-involvement. To get to our second innocence, we need only recognize ourselves as partial, yet unique, manifestations of universal divinity. Once we do this, even if just for a moment, we cannot go back to believing in our self-generated worlds of experience.

When this happens, all our private perceptions become suspect, and we suddenly find ourselves looking down upon and through ourselves from a new state of intellectual freedom. This gives us enough distance from our mistakes and life-long illusions to undo years of false posturing and self-limiting beliefs. Our anxious feelings settle down as our neurotic thinking become less real to us, and life’s hitherto unseen possibilities become present in ways not experienced since childhood. The unknown — which once frightened us — shows us a positive aspect we had previously in our fear-driven state not dared to take seriously.

Admittedly, there is not much new here, only the succinctness of the formulation and the operational definitions of the terms. Perhaps, most importantly, the willingness to believe in innate human goodness.

Sydney Banks, in a way, discovered a country already inhabited by every mystic, artist, and enlightened sane soul that ever lived. But what makes him important — and useful — is that the post-therapeutic therapy born of his revelation speaks directly to the prevailing neurosis of Western civilization: its self-mystification by its own ideas and media which have become echo chambers of false consciousness and fear.

Banks and his followers have not only noted, but described and explained exactly how this false one-dimensional emotionally driven consciousness multiples itself within and around us. In our ego-driven, meme overloaded lives, we have become occupied from within by false names and pseudo-hierarchies — by thought idols, images, heroes, and terrifying systems — which take precedent over our own native intelligence and self-worth.

The good news announced is that our depression, self-doubt, and addictions all exist in our consciousness first and foremost as thoughts we choose to entertain, and so we can decide whether or not we wish to be duped by them. We are the ones creating the pain and suffering for ourselves held hostage by our intellectual interpretations. Michael McNeil, author of The Inside Out Revolution put it this way:

“When our thoughts look real, we live in a world of suffering. When they look subjective, we live in a world of choice. When they look arbitrary, we live in a world of possibility. And when we see them as illusory, we wake up inside a world of dreams.”

As any meditator or contemplative will tell you, thoughts condition our experience but thoughts are not who we are nor do they accurately mirror the world. Thoughts are partial, functional, and transitory metaphysical fixes and forms — momentarily efficient causes and disposable mantras that make up our fleeting experience of formless existence.

Our so-called identities are composed of the thoughts we choose to take seriously. Knowing this, we can unravel the imaginary selves we believe ourselves (or others) to be, the selves we struggle against or despair over. Our minds can then take their rightful place as servants to the universal mind, and when this second innocence occurs, we begin to live unconventionally again, spontaneously, joyfully, and creatively.

I do not think it was any accident a Scottish Canadian welder formulated these ideas in 1973 at the height of the counter-culture where thoughts such as these were floating around in the lyrics to almost every song one heard on the radio. Sydney Banks wasn’t the only one enlightened in those days, but he was unique in the way he articulated what he had come to see, and he was able to inspire an impressive array of authentically inspired students and disciples who continue his work.

In the 1980s Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys rock’ roll band coined the slogan “Don’t Fight the Media, Become the Media,” and that turned out to not be the best advice. It matters very little who broadcasts illusions or how large an audience one garners for one’s thoughts if those thoughts merely spread more false beliefs and negative values. And although in a media culture, it may seem that perceptions are reality, in an enlightened state of consciousness and being, they never are.

The so-called war of ideas that makes up the intellectual life of our republic is a war of thoughts. And thoughts are never what they appear to be, never the solid things our egos think they are. Thoughts, as Sydney Banks has pointed out, are merely projected illusions that have at best a temporary usefulness but no actual metaphysical substance. Seeing their true relationship to pure consciousness should bred in all of us a tolerance for one another’s tiny thought-driven lives, for our own past blunders, and from the intellectual overreach of both our friends and enemies. Only then will the war of ideas give way to a world where no one takes themselves or their leaders too seriously, and we all recognize each other for who and what we truly are: equally empty, equally divine, equally becoming the Christ-Buddha.

The human mind, as it turns out, contains its own self-correcting mechanism in its perpetual longing for beauty and truth — feelings that take us back to natural contemplation if we would only get out of its way.


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Robert Inchausti

is a professor of English at California State Polytechnic University and the author of Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy, The Ignorant Perfection of Ordinary People, Subversive Orthodoxy and editor of The Pocket Thomas Merton.

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Excellent! This article offers the most clear & complete description I've ever encountered of the nature of personal truth. I've tried, with sadly limited success, to share this with the people in my life for decades... now I have something more to offer them. Some people "hear" written words better. Thank you, so, so much!

If you would like to hear full length video clips of Syd Banks (not just excerpts on You tube) go to www.3pgc.org (3pgc is three principles global community) you can join for free and listen to great speakers from around the world) Also, you can listen to a tremendous amount of speakers (psychiatrists,psychologists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, prisoners, communities, business leaders, and regular folk talk about this understanding at www.threeprinciplesmovies.com


A few others who have had awakenings where they discovered this truth are Helen Schuckman, the writer of A Course In Miracles, Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie. I don't even try with my limited verbal abilities, to explain this concept. I just point people to "The Work" of Byron Katie, Eckhart Tolles books or A Course In Miracles. Of course even this truth seems very questionable, yet it is the best explanation I have heard for what this world is all about.

I agree this is the best distillation of these ideas that I have seen. I also love the work of Byron Katie (and Tolle). Many people find it hard to get past the "question your thinking" part of her work, thinking it's just another form of cognitive therapy, but the feeling behind it is far more transcendent.

This reminds me of something Ram Das once said: "When a pick pocket walks down the street behind a saint, the only thing he notices about the saint is his pockets."

Sydney Banks' revelation provides a window into the inner workings of the human, mortal mind. Mary Baker Eddy founded an entire worldwide movement, Chrisrian Science, that shares this same understanding of human thought, and, more importantly, reveals the eternal, spiritual Truth of God and man. If you find this intriguing, you should read Science and Health with Key to the Scripture for a far more complete explication of reality.

The author of The Inside-Out Revolution is Michael Neill :)

Thanks for the great article summarizing the insights of Sydney Banks. Great job! There was a small error at the beginning of the article, however. One of the previous names for Sydney Banks' psychological "therapy" was health realization not health restoration. Which makes more sense as one "realizes" their own inherent innate health that was always there yet covered over, once they start to understand how Mind, Consciousness and Thought all work together. No "restoration" necessary.

Thanks for the corrections, suggestions, and close readings. I appreciate them all.

Great article. I've enjoyed reading Michale Neill's book several times, along with that of one of his mentees, Jamie Smart, called "Clarity". Both have been hugely helpful for me.

Thank you for writing this blog. I would like to point out that Syd Banks did not want any followers. From the book, "The Missing Link" Page 93. "Any good teacher will tell you never to be a follower. Followers fail."

Nice way to put 3 principles and Sydney Banks discovery into context of our Culture. Thanks!

This has brought so many puzzles together
in one coherent Truth
I Am Seeing with Clarity
A Sight from Within Consciousness
By Poetry or Lyrical Prose is often how I express this God Given Insight
Which does not come by way of words; but as a Feeling that Unfolds unwraps to Reveals Secrets of Life not found in the mind.

Syd wrote several books: "Second Chance", "In Quest of the Pearl", "The Missing Link", "Dear Liza", "The Enlightened Gardener", and "The Enlightened Gardener Revisited". There are others awaiting publishing". What I have found in my growth and understanding of The Three Principles over the years is that there are varying levels of understanding of what The Three Principles are. Many do not see that, like the principle of gravity which exists whether we know it or not, the Three Principles exist (formless) before we have a discussion and talk about them in the form. The principles create our reality which includes talking about them. They are behind the curtain of our experience. The Three Principles Foundation was established to provide an understanding of The Principles in the purest form. To learn more go to www.threeprinciplesfoundation.com

Where is the HOW to do this?

There is no "how." It is an understanding, not a technique.

This is one of the best articles I have ever read on the nature of truth, consciousness and human "conditioning." Thanks so much.