Seventeen years ago, I was in the midst of the most challenging stretch of my life. I had just wrapped up a Ph.D. in education and my husband Jason and I were co-founding an innovative middle and high school in Boulder, Colorado. The school was definitely the first “child” we birthed, but we also had two real babies in the midst of it all, both boys, both humans that came into this world with absolutely no interest in sleeping. Ever.
Our first child, Owen, seemed incredibly challenging to us in the first year of his life. He was completely content so long as he was being held or nursed. But when we put him down, Mr Hyde turned into Dr. Jeckyl and just howled. And he wouldn’t stop until he was picked up again. The only other time he was content was when he was in some sort of conveyance that was moving, e.g. a stroller or car seat in a moving car. So we held him, and I nursed him, and we took him for walks in the jogging stroller and took him for car rides. And then we held him some more, and I nursed him some more, and took him for another walk in the stroller and then another ride in the car.
And he was mostly content.
And Jason and I were completely exhausted.
So we figured when we were expecting our second baby that things were bound to be easier. We concocted a story about how were were going to have a girl and she was going to be mellow and easy and the whole thing would be a walk in the park (not the forced kind where it was the only way to get her to stop crying, but the kind where you choose to go for a walk for enjoyment rather than necessity). We even had a name for her: Summer.
But of course, that’s not what happened.
What happened was that we had a second boy, Spencer, and he was loads more challenging than Owen. Owen was at least happy if we held him, nursed him, walked him and took him for car rides. Spencer was almost never happy. It seemed like he was born with the light bulb constantly on in his brain. It just wouldn’t shut off and he was rarely content.
He hated the car seat so much that he cried until he threw up every single car ride for months on end. So he and I arrived wherever we were going both in tears and covered in baby throw-up. He wasn’t a fan of the stroller. He wasn’t a fan of much of anything. He was just not content with the world he had been born into and was planning to make that amply clear until he had a bit more say in his life, a bit more mobility and agency. Which is exactly what he did. He cried for most of his first 18 month.
Needless to say, Jason and I were fried. I mean totally, completely, almost irreparably fried.
Before we had kids, we had planned to be equal partners in running the school we had founded. But with two little beings who were so needy, that plan quickly went in the rubbish bin. I mostly stayed home and Jason worked somewhere upwards of 80 hours a week to keep our dream of educational innovation alive.
If I was fried, then Jason was burnt to a crisp. Needless to say, things felt pretty bleak.
Our relationship had felt like a fairy tale from the moment we met. If there were a movie about it, it would have been all romantic music, hair blowing in the wind, a montage of sappy scenes that ranged from intense grad school discussions about the philosophy of science, to mountain bike rides with broken brakes, spontaneous dips in a cold creek, and romantic candlelit dinners. We were soul mates, plain and simple. Meeting each other and falling in love was like living in a fairy tale (Except that part about my Arab father completely freaking out about my falling for a Jewish man and me making it crystal clear that there was nothing he could do about it, which was loads of fun).
So when we fell into the “pit of despair,” as I fondly like to think of those early years of parenting and running a new school, we couldn’t believe that our fairy tale wasn’t feeling so rosy. We were exhausted and at wit’s end. And when you’re exhausted and at wit’s end, you have dark thoughts and one option is to take them seriously and fight about them. Which is what we did.
We fought about little things. We fought about big things. We especially fought about parenting. Jason wanted to find more babysitting help so we could have a break (not such a terrible idea, really.) I clung to my ideals about “attachment parenting” and how important it was to do the parenting ourselves (Oh my god, did I really think a few hours of babysitting was going to screw up my kids? Whose “attachment”, and to what exactly??). Neither of us could see the forest for the trees.
We hit rock bottom at the “zoo fight,” an incident that goes down in our family history as the single stupidest fight ever. I don’t even remember what on earth the fight was about and I’m quite sure it doesn’t matter one bit. All I know is that we were in the parking lot of the Denver zoo on some Saturday when we actually had time together to take the kids to the zoo. We sat there in the parking lot yelling at each other, both near tears, both too exhausted to think straight. Neither of us could see even a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
We had somehow gone from fairy tale to nightmare and we had no idea how to get back to fairy tale.
And that’s when something extraordinary happened that pointed the way for us to do just that.
We hired another couple to join us in growing our school. They were experienced educators and had been involved in establishing and growing another innovative independent school. As they came on board, they shared with us that they had long been steeped in an understanding that was the foundation for both their personal well-being and their professional approach to working with kids and families. They felt that it was imperative that we also be grounded in this understanding if we were all going to work together successfully.
They described this “understanding” in vague and almost unintelligible ways. We really had no idea what they were talking about, and we might even have thought they had gone a little off the deep end. But they were really passionate about it and we had a lot of respect for them. So when they told us that their mentor Dicken Bettinger was willing to donate a four-day personal retreat to us, it seemed pretty reasonable to go with the flow and say yes. At the very least it would be four days away and a chance to catch our breath.
We had no idea what a profound and lasting effect this decision would have on the trajectory of our lives. I still shudder at the thought of what trajectory our life might have taken had we not said yes.
We traveled to La Conner, Washington and met with Dicken for four straight days. We knew he was the real deal right away. He oozed joy and well-being. He laughed easily and exuded the kind of wisdom and depth that just can’t be faked. He had a beautiful, loving relationship with his wife and talked with love about his grown children about parenting. Dicken wasn’t just the real deal, he was the whole kit and caboodle (and still is). We were ready to listen.
What Dicken shared with us was a total game-changer. He shared a deeply spiritual understanding of the human experience knows as “The Three Principles.” It’s a really simple, yet utterly profound, understanding of what underlies and governs all human experience. It’s based on the teachings of a man named Sydney Banks, a Scottish welder with a 9th grade education who had a spontaneous enlightenment experience in 1973.
One could, and many of us do, spend a lifetime deepening our understanding of the principles. But the initial impact of what the principles point to, that first breathless “oh my god, could this really be true” feeling that is many people’s experience (including ours), is more easily conveyed. Here’s my best shot at capturing the essence of it in three paragraphs (which is possibly the most daunting writing task I’ve ever undertaken):
The principles point to the inside-out nature of human experience. In other words, we create our own experience of life and nothing outside of us, nothing whatsoever, can make us feel or experience anything. Only our own thinking, our own consciousness, can do that.
There is an infinite universal intelligence behind all things, including us. That intelligence gives us the gift of a knowing that is far greater than anything our analytical mind could ever offer. The implications are that we have access to infinite and extraordinary wisdom, wisdom that comes from a source far greater than we can ever know; all we have to do is get out of our own way and let that wisdom come through us. When we do, life unfolds in the most miraculous of ways.
We are already (and always) whole and healthy and we have everything we need to uncover our most magnificent, thriving self. Because it’s been there all along. We usually bury it in dark clouds of negative thinking that we accumulate and hold on to because we live in a society that mistakenly teaches us to believe our own thinking and believe that external circumstances can cause our inner experience (they can’t).
The wisdom humanity seeks lies within the consciousness of all human beings, trapped and held prisoner by their own personal minds. ~ Sydney Banks
There. I did it. I stuck to three paragraphs to share the core of a deeply spiritual truth that has been changing lives and revolutionizing the human experience since 1973.
Maybe it struck you as ho hum, strange or inaccessible. Maybe it struck you as woo woo mumbo-jumbo. It’s none of these things. When you really start to see the simplicity of how it all works and how little you really need to do to access your well-being and live the life you want, it’s a complete game-changer.
Syd Banks started sharing his insights with the world and was soon speaking to hundred and thousands of people from all over the globe. What he shared had a life-changing effect on countless people from all walks of life.
Dicken Bettinger was one of those people. And when years later Dicken shared this understanding with Jason and me, we joined the ranks of an ever-growing community of people irrevocably touched by what Syd Banks saw.
Right about now you may well be experiencing what Jason and I did when our two colleagues spoke to us about this “understanding” and before we actually learned what it was about. Your thoughts might sound something like: “what the H**L are you talking about what kind of kool aid have you been drinking?”
Which is totally understandable, so bear with me even though you might be tempted to stop reading. Here’s why you should still be curious.
You should be curious because after learning about the Principles, Jason and I now have a loving, resilient, joyful 20-year marriage and have reclaimed our fairy tale. You should be curious because since becoming grounded in the Principles, parenting our (now teenage) children became a hopeful, fun and creative endeavor that has brought us boundless joy. You should be curious because I went from being one of the world’s most committed worriers to someone who worries almost not at all. You should be curious because Jason went from a man burdened with deep-seated anger to a man not burdened by anything at all, much less by anything in his past.
You should want to learn more because we are both living our dreams, both personally and professionally.
It doesn’t matter what the specifics of our challenges were, or what the details of own personal journey and transformation look like. Irrespective of what challenges you’re faced with, opening up to a new way of seeing how things work will free you in ways you might not think possible.
Maybe you struggle with anxiety. Maybe you worry a lot. Maybe your marriage or relationship is good, but not exactly “wahoo.” Maybe it’s downright awful and you’re near (or on the other side of) divorce.
Maybe your work feels like a burden instead of creative and inspiring. Maybe you’re stressed and that stress is impacting how you experience your life. Maybe it’s none of these, and your experience is something totally different, but is still some version of “my life doesn’t feel the way I’d like it to.”
No matter what your circumstances, learning about the Principles can free you to be the most vibrant version of yourself, to feel free, light, unburdened, creative, resilient, and loving.
Every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health. They just don’t know it. ~ Sydney Banks
Jason and I feel all those things. Not all the time, but as the underlying “flavor” of our lives.
It probably sounds too good to be true. What’s so amazing is that it has proven to be true, not just for us, but for countless people all over the world.
As Jason and I have deepened our understanding of the Principles over the course of seventeen years, we’ve come to experience more love and joy in our lives. We have a new relationship with our own thinking and our experience of life that is freeing to say the least. We’ve uncovered innate resilience that we could barely have imagined when we were in the “pit of despair” so many years ago. We have come to count on being more grateful for our ups and more graceful in our downs (to quote Three Principles coach Michael Neill).
We have also come trust our innate wisdom to guide us in our life decisions, big and small, and we trust the intelligence behind all life to take us in whatever direction we need to go.
Which is why after a long and serpentine professional trajectory, we are now both coaches ourselves and have recently joined forces to found Blue Dot Coaching. It’s now our turn to point people towards this understanding, towards their innate well-being and wisdom. It’s our turn to turn nightmares back into fairy tales.
So if anything about our story has inspired you, kindled a little feeling of hope, or sparked a little curiosity, stay in the conversation with us through the next series of articles. We’ll be sharing our stories and insights, and our understanding of the Principles and how that understanding might point you to reclaiming your own fairy tale.
It’s my hope that you might go from “what the h**l are you talking about?” to “Oh my F*****G god, this is a game changer and I’ll never see things the same way again.”
Sound Impossible? It’s not.
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than explore the power they have to change it. ~ Muhammad Ali