In the introduction, I also mention the two classes I’m taking in May. A Whole New Way to Think About Business, with Michael Neil. And a mentoring class with Christian McNeill, who was a guest on episode 7 of the podcast.
Karen Miller Williams has been sharing the understanding of the Three Principles for the last thirty eight years first as an intensive care nurse and then as a mental health nurse. She has worked in hospitals, prisons, schools, and clinics. She delights in helping people to find more ease in life and provides mental health education for all ages.
You can find Karen at threeprinciplesnurse.com
You can listen above or on iTunes or your favorite podcast app or watch the video here. Highlights, notes, resources and full transcript below.
- Bringing the 3 Principles into ICU settings
- Pointing people toward their own innate wisdom and well-being
- How this paradigm focuses on our health rather than our illnesses or problems
- On the growing conversation around mental health and how the principles can address that
- Working with children and teaching them where their thoughts are coming from
Transcript of Interview with Karen Miller Willams
Alexandra: Hi everyone I’m Alexandra Amor. And I’m here today with Karen: Miller Williams for the Stop Suffering About podcast.
Karen: Hi. Nice to meet you.
Alexandra: Nice to meet you too.
Let me give our audience a little introduction to you.
Karen Miller Williams has been sharing the understanding of the Three Principles for the last thirty-eight years first as an intensive care nurse and then as a mental health nurse. She has worked in hospitals, prisons, schools, and clinics. She delights in helping people to find more ease in life and provides mental health education for all ages.
Just before we started the recording, we were chatting a little bit about your history with the principles.
Why don’t you share that a little bit of that with us.
Karen: I wasn’t looking for anything when I found this and I thought of myself as a happy go lucky person. And if you looked at my family I had six siblings. Anyone would have said she’s the happy go lucky one.
I remember growing up and my dad saying things to us like, “Why don’t you have more common sense.” And I always wondered where do you get that? I knew it when I saw it in other people I knew who I could talk to if I was wanting some let’s say good answers on a discussion on something.
I was always in the back of my mind kind of wondering why am I here and what are we here for. My dad was a mortician and he used to say he would rather be a piece of dust than to try and figure out about how to save his soul or why is he here. Just his questioning got me thinking about stuff like that but I wasn’t looking for anything.
I had graduated from nursing school had a year under my belt and moved down to Miami. I wanted nicer rather than upstate New York and I loved working in the intensive care unit. It was absolutely one of my favorite things that I’ve done.
I guess we all know we have stress but I didn’t know that I really had it as much as I did until a psychologist that was working within the hospital had gone out to a conference in California and he had heard this man speak. His name was Sydney Banks, a ninth grade welder of all things, speaking at a psychology conference.
The psychologist didn’t have the understanding so much but he brought a feeling back with him from this conference that we were all so attracted to him and we because I worked in the ICU we had a lot of people that would have ICU psychosis things like that and so sometimes we would have someone come in and help them while they were dealing with some of their stress and trauma and things. And I always wondered what is he saying to them.
I knew something was changing and the patients were feeling better. So we started asking can we have some kind of training to help us as nurses. So when they first came into our ICU they used to call it communication workshops. The principles were not known for quite a while but what we were learning through these communication workshops were simple things like separate realities which blew me away because I didn’t realize everybody thought different than me.
I started learning about simple things like how it was a little bit ridiculous to hang on to a lot of negative thoughts. When we started were learning that initially the doctors were talking about things like feelings are your indicators. And I started seeing that I was putting a lot more stress on me than I needed. So things like regrets or holding a grudge. Things like that just didn’t make sense to me anymore.
So it was like my common sense got awoken not because I was learning principles yet but I started seeing how I was unwittingly adding to my stress. Our ICU became such an incredibly beautiful place to work. The teamwork that happened within all of us working there are the changes in us was just mind boggling.
We were a backstabbing and griping and complaining group of people who just thought that was part of the job. And as teachers do nurses do we would all talk about all this stuff even after we got back out of the work. You could just see how much we were killing ourselves with our thinking.
Though initially it was just a lot of common sense that was kind of driving this change within me. But as you start seeing these kind of unnecessary and unproductive kind of thoughts drop away we all just became lighter. We all had more fun we were all working together. It was just an incredible gift.
Now when I first started learning this I was working in the ICU so I didn’t have as much freedom to study with the doctors because when you’re you we’re working all the shifts and it just was a little bit too difficult to work in something like training. I was lucky enough to be one of the first interns in what they back then called the Advanced Human Studies Institute. Love the name.
Dr. Mills along with another doctor, Dr. Suarez, held these internships. So I took a job in research at the V.A. hospital where I was working in order to be able to take this course and in my research position I got to see veterans that we had several different groups that we worked with. There was some who were heavy smokers, some who had diabetes. So they were different groups of men that we would see every three to six months for a couple of years.
So while I was doing my internship and learning I was getting to see these vets and to do my required, it was called really stress in the immune system is what we were looking at. And we got to see these gentlemen pretty regularly. And my other friend Suzy and I were both nurses that did this. We ended up seeing the changes in these gentlemen getting along with family members quitting smoking and being happier than I was. And they were people who had had major amputations and things like that.
One gentleman I used to visit him on my lunch hour he said I wouldn’t want my legs back for what I know now, Karen:. I saw the changes of people experiencing an understanding about how their mind works and how to have less stress and more joy in life.
So I just thought, I have to go into mental health. I just couldn’t be an ICU nurse after that. A lot of people came down to the advanced human studies institute to study; people from Canada, from Minnesota, from Texas.
Lovely enough for me, Christine Heath who is a social worker from Minnesota decided to open up a clinic in Hawaii and I went with her and we opened up a mental health clinic in Hawaii and. Worked with every age group from three to ninety three and worked with the really severe mentally ill.
I was a nurse on a locked psychiatric ward. I was staff coordinator at a psychiatric hospital. I worked with all kinds of clients. We had a substance abuse program a prevention program. We worked with at risk youth special and emotionally handicapped kids. We worked in the prisons and everything. I loved it.
I loved it because I love simplicity and this was simple. This understanding is not so easy to share but I love the simplicity of it because I could help someone and not have to say you need to go to a substance abuse clinic for this you need to go over here for the trauma in your past you need to go over here. I was able to have one thing that could help everyone.
So it’s just been an amazing gift to be able to help people to wake up to their to what they’re innocently doing to create more havoc in their life. Because when we’re born, we don’t walk onto this planet being serious and worrying and having all of the stuff that.
Dr. Pettit has said that seriousness is one of the most under diagnosed mental illnesses. And I swear to God I see that I see that. And if all we can do is just help people to lighten up a little bit. To kind of have a little bit easier way of walking through life’s ups and downs, what a gift.
I said I’d never leave Hawaii except for a man and I met a wonderful Canadian. I’ve been up in Canada now for it’ll be twenty-five years I guess. And I have managed traumas for the mentally ill. I have worked with brain injury group homes up here. Caregiver Support Service Coordinator and worked in mental health the clinics I worked with a psychiatrist in a clinic and with other doctors just out in the community done community workshops.
Everything I do in nursing has this as my back drop. It’s what I know and what I share it doesn’t matter who it is it’s in front of me or what they’re experiencing I know that this can help them through whatever it is that they’re going through. I feel really blessed that I just want to share more of this with people. I would love to see the world be a little bit less serious right now.
Alexandra: You mentioned that it’s a simple understanding but not so easy to introduce to people.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you do that if you’re in a mental health clinic or an ICU or wherever.
Karen:What’s interesting is that it’s not in sharing what we call the principles themselves. The first thing that happens is you end up having a rapport with someone. You get to have an understanding about who are they and what are they experiencing.
And when you start to hear from them what’s happening in their life you get to have a sense about maybe where they’re lost and where are things where can you point them. Because it’s always pointing them in the right direction.
People used to say you don’t want to go into the past and that’s true. We don’t need the past. But the past is also giving people an opportunity to let them know who you are and how they are feeling.
And so it’s not like there are no techniques about how you should or shouldn’t be doing that. But people do want to know that you care before you can share. There’s no particular way of bringing this to someone but what you see is that if all you’re doing is bringing attention to them about the fact that they think and that their thinking is creating the feelings that they’re having moment to moment that that starts with a real simple way of looking at it.
Let’s say I was watching a video that I have of my grandchildren who were watching there’s a beautiful thing called Curious the dragonfly. It’s for children and there’s no words to explaining the principles. What they have is a dragonfly who as they listen to the some of the music. That’s behind it. Then they get to see the dragonfly having a good time when they’re in that feeling.
Then they see that maybe he’s thinking of an ice cream cone or maybe he’s just having up and enjoying the view of it.
But then they show this little monster comes into it and the dragonfly is scared now that maybe the hawk is going to get him and my kid my grandkids are watching this and there’s not a word to be said. And the oldest one turns and he goes, “It’s about worry.”
He saw right in that. I said, “Where do you think that comes from?”
He goes, “From your brain.”
Now I wasn’t trying to teach him anything and neither was the curious the dragonfly was teaching him. Just by showing you that it comes and it goes. And I think that all of us there’s moments when something gets through to someone.
Someone used the example one time of a fan. When the fan’s going so fast you can’t see the blade and when the fan slows down, I have an opportunity that you could maybe throw something between those blades and it could get through.
So part of what happens is when you’re sitting with someone and they feel relaxed and they feel comfortable there’s more opportunity for something that can get in. And I can’t tell you what gets in and why it gets in. But I’ve had many a client who would turn and say to me – in fact one gentleman this was where I’d seen him in intake. The psychiatrist had seen him with me and had ordered some medications the next time we saw the gentleman, the doctor says, “Well how are you doing?”
He says he’s doing really well and he’s thinking it’s the medication. The guy says no. He goes, “I never filled the prescription.” He says, “It’s something she said.”
Now he couldn’t tell what it was that I said. Something hit home for him. So you do not know when and how someone is gone. I say it’s like popcorn. You don’t know when the popcorn is going to pop.
Some people it takes a bit longer. Others I don’t have a clue and they wouldn’t be able to tell you what it was that I said either. But you’re sharing with them and you’re pointing them in the right direction. That’s what I feel like we’re constantly pointing them towards their well-being.
So today as I market myself I don’t consider myself a counselor. I’m not someone who is going to take on someone who has,, let’s say suicidal thoughts. Who needs to have someone who is going to be right there for them and call them in an emergency. I will see that person but they need to continue to see whoever they’re seeing for that crisis part of their world. I’m showing them the other side of what they’d like to see which is pointing them in the direction of their well-being. So it’s an adjunct to anybody no matter if they’re in therapy no matter what’s going on in their life.
If they have the knowledge that they have some ability to make a change to be able to participate in having an understanding that allows for me not to get stuck so much. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have my ups and downs but when I’m in my down, I’m not stuck there as long and I’m not as bothered by it because I know it’s just a passing moment in time. Everything is a new thought and a new thought is always waiting in queue.
And it’s only if we are thinking everything is very serious. Watching anxiety is just like watching one thought building on another. It just gets huge. It’s hard to walk away from a mind that’s so entertaining.
I can drive myself nuts pretty quick if I’m looking for peace of mind that will come by me having a lot more thoughts about peace of mind. So it’s really just always pointing people towards what is it that we’re looking for.
I just love the fact that were pointing people to what they’ve experienced in their wisdom. Every single person is experiencing wisdom throughout their lifetime. And if we can point that out to them they would be like oh my goodness of course. Yeah you’re right. I have resilience or I came through that or because they’re not seeing the parts of them that are healthy. They’re still thinking about what’s the matter what’s the problem.
So my direction in looking at someone is not looking at what their problem is. I’m looking at what is the help that they have. If I help them find that their problem isn’t there anymore in it.
When I did a doctor’s office training in Hawaii one time the doctor’s office of course had all these stressed out people and they all wanted to come and talk about their stress. The first thing I said to them was I know that that’s something you’d really like to do and I said I guarantee you we’ll go we’ll go there, let’s say in the last week. But I would like to do something different with you today.
And we started off going right in a direction that was not problem oriented. They didn’t need to go back to all that stuff after. It’s so easy for us to get caught in. Here’s my problem. How are you going to help this?
Instead of saying well here here’s your solution. Let’s go. And mind you it’s not like you just have to wait and see where are they going with this? Because if they need to talk if they need to share if they need to let me know what’s going on. I’m going to be there for them until I know that they’re ready to hear something right.
Alexandra: I loved what you said and this is one of the things that that really sort of cemented for me about how powerful this understanding is, is that in other psychological models the healer or the doctor would focus on the individual problem. So you’ve an addiction problem, depression, anxiety, whatever it is and there will be all different kinds of solutions for those things.
Whereas I love that this understanding is addressing the whole person and there isn’t that kind of compartmentalization.
Karen: That’s really beautiful I love that.
Alexandra:I noticed that there’s been more discussion just generally in the media on Twitter or wherever about mental health and mental illness lately. And I think I love seeing that awareness and the willingness for people to talk about the issues that they have that maybe there hasn’t been that willingness in the past.
Have you found that that that that just sort of general awareness has opened doors for you to step into that conversation with this understanding the mental health stigma?
Karen: It’s something that I don’t know when that’s going to go away. I don’t know what people will feel that it’s something. I’ve seen it over the years that people just don’t accept or won’t look for help. They don’t want to talk to people about things that are bothering them. And it’s unfortunate.
When I was working in the mental health clinic up here one of the things that we had was that we were out in a doctor’s office. So there were like eight different physicians that worked in this office and they would refer people to us.
When people were in that setting they didn’t have one saying oh they’re going to the mental health center. They didn’t know what they were coming in. And so it was a beautiful example of showing that people were more than willing to get help but they certainly did not want to be seen as the person who had a mental health concern.
When I worked in Hawaii with the kids on the school’s campuses the kids used to be a mental health nurse and it’s sad that we have to identify with something that they don’t feel comfortable with.
I’m seeing that there is a tremendous growth and hopefully all of this will help. It still hasn’t reached enough people I think to feel comfortable. And one of the things that what I loved about this program that I was in it didn’t last for long. This is like funding. It was called collaborative care or shared care to begin with. And I really love the fact that I think we should have people available for mental health in every doctor’s office so that it can be an easy access for them without feeling so traumatized by it at times. I went to a child and youth meeting that we had in Tucson and UBC research showed that the increase in mental health services for children and youth is skyrocketing.
You see so many young people who are having insomnia and anxiety and these are little people, not teenagers, in this meeting. Most of the people that were there were not surprised or not thinking of this as big of a concern. I said well I’m rather perplexed that we would have so many children at that age. Only me and the librarian were the ones who said this is a little bit scary that we’ve gotten this bad with our youth.
Most of them say, “Oh Karen: with all the financial crisis and with all the drug problems it’s no wonder.” But I wanted people to be touched by the fact that we’ve created such a young population of people in this state.
So there’s nothing more important I think than reaching our youth to let kids know early on where their thinking is coming from. If we can reach them we can stop a lot before it gets worse.
I’m hoping that we’ll see more and more of that. And if we’re putting programs into schools and teaching kids to have an understanding. One of the things I saw at this conference was that a lot of people are wading through some waitlist get in to see a psychiatrist or two to get some help with mental health. So my main group of people that I really want to help is I want to reach the parents the teachers and the kids who are not on a waitlist so that they can learn something that can help them while they’re on the wait list.
And perhaps they won’t need a waitlist at some point maybe they won’t even be needing services. But we need to provide more to the communities out there that are suffering and waiting for services.
There was an article out in McLean’s a few years ago and he was talking about the shrinking field of psychiatry and that people don’t want to go into psychiatry anymore because they’re renaming the diagnosis manual over and over again. There is a tremendous amount of their time is put on the diagnosis and learning all of these things that are in the manual and they’re not finding that a lot of the medications are as helpful as they’d hoped.
So you can see they’re calling it the shrinking shrinks I guess. It’s kind of sad in a way that psychiatry hasn’t been able to embrace this yet. Certainly going in a much more positive direction for sure. There’s so much more of that than there was in the past but wow it’s like where we got this gift sitting underneath a rock here that that people are afraid to take that rock and turn it over and say you know wow this is exciting though.
I’m really looking forward to the day that mental health can see this as a whole. But it’s not something that is still being seen yet. And what a gift it’s going to be when we can actually offer people more than what is the current understanding out there.
I’m looking forward to when it really does open up the field.
It’s going to be a game changer for a lot of people. It’s going to be a beautiful thing when we can see more of this.
And in the meantime we’re waking people up and when they wake up guess what happens? They end up being a nicer neighbor, a nicer mom, a better teacher or whatever it is that they’re doing. Their experience is different. I call them in my business ‘new perspective’ because clients would say things to me like, “I don’t know what you said but I see things different.” And it’s not in them having an ability to be able to tell me back again what are the three principles.
It’s the fact that they have now seen life different only because they’ve had an inkling. That’s all we ever have. Most of us as many years as we’ve been around we don’t even know nearly as much as what is still left to be uncovered.
That’s the beauty about this understanding it’s a constant awakening to new realities and new possibilities and just that much more than what we have. I love that it’s a never ending you know story. It’s just a beautiful thing to be always waking up to more understanding.
Alexandra: That’s such a great point.
You’ve been doing this for 38 years and so your understanding is continues to deepen. Always. All the time.
Karen: Mind you, it’s not that we don’t get caught. Everybody has moments when they get caught in it, but you spend so much less time there. You don’t get as bothered by it. You’re able to just navigate and go through life.
Even my husband if he says something like, “Is something the matter?” or whatever and I said no, I’m just you know in a low mood or something. It’s like it’s not him personally right. How easy is that for anyone to be able to just know I’m just not myself. I’m just down bad or whatever. It’s like it’s no big deal to me. No big deal to him.
There’s moments when you are going through stuff. The last year and a half two years I had to put a sister into care for dementia. I another sister passed away and I had both knees replaced. There are times when you go through a lot of stuff.
And I tell you it was so much easier than I ever could have possibly imagined on all of these accounts and it still amazes me to no end how what I think is not what’s real. I was amazed that both of my sisters in their predicaments have been happy and peaceful and okay with what’s been happening with them and they’re not having an understanding of this. They’re just having a different experience than I could have ever imagined for them.
That blows me away and I see that that’s it’s like I feel blessed that I’m able to see that you know because someone else oh she’s got dementia. Yeah but she’s happy.
It’s just so interesting to see that what we think and what we experience is not. I just love having my eyes open to who knows what is going to be my experience because I don’t have a thought about it by the way. One of the things that occurred to me when I first learned this was in the beginning we had a flow-chart.
We talk about your your feelings when you were in a low mood and your feelings when you’re in a better mood. That was what was most intriguing to me was that that higher state of feeling had words in it like ‘wonder’ and I thought I haven’t had wonder.
That was really intriguing to me. I wanted to know more about that playfulness that wasn’t typically me. I mean I say happy go lucky but playfulness. I thought that was something guys did. I didn’t think I was playful. I think the word content I never heard that word used except for contented cows.
And so it’s like all these words were ones that were just finding me fascinated. I wanted to know more about this. I knew about overwhelm and frustration and stress and I could talk about the fact that I could be upset or mad at someone or I could even be angry but it’s like I never got violent. It’s just different levels right?
I could see that I could be sad and I could say maybe I was even depressed at times but not depressed where I needed medication or treatment. But I never got to that point where I was suicidal, but I knew we all experience every emotion on that chart.
I use the word shy as an example. I’m not typically a shy person but when I’m shy I’m very shy because we all go in and out. We are not the label, we are not that word. But I’ll tell you I like being content and playful and all of these things are things that I experience regularly when I walk out and see the I am in love with the skies that I see. I see beauty everywhere I go I see it in the people that I work with I see it in the world is just different.
Like the people who get those glasses when they can’t see color and they put on the glasses. That’s how I feel I feel. I’ve been blessed with these glasses that allow for me to see the beauty around me. And with every client I remember seeing every kid that I worked with and just loving every one of them and it’s like how can you explain that to someone. But when you know that that’s how you see it.
My mom used to say that she loved all of us. It was easier to like some of us. It was easier for her like me because I was the I was mom’s helper. It was easier for her to like me because of the fact that I would just do what I was asked rather than putting up a fight. So it’s not that she loved any of us more than the other. She loved every one of us and she could see past all of that rugged exterior or whatever it was that was there because she saw the real person.
One of my favorite stories of this is I have four brothers and all of them. They have fun. They pay for it for this particular day. They were all doing Elvis impersonations. Now my brother Luke this is typical for him. He does impersonations of just about everybody. He’s got a Beatle suit. He just done you know he’s done Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and all these people right. So that’s typical. We expect that of him.
My brother Tim loved Elvis and had the Elvis glasses and all of this stuff too. I could see him doing this right. But I have a mentally handicapped brother and I have an older brother who none of them would I ever thought would be doing Elvis impersonations while every one of them was doing them this day in front of my mom and my mom turns to the rest of us and she goes, “There’s the real Nick”.
Nick was my brother who had troubles, was in a gang and he was sent away to military school and he had issues in his life had times not getting along with mom and dad and when he’s doing that she goes there’s the real Nick.
I thought that’s the truth for all of us inside all of us. There is an Elvis breaking loose. And it’s not typical for him but that’s the real him. He’s got that fun and joy and laughter and music in him too. I see it is every one of us has that and it’s just that we’re not let’s say exhibiting it regularly.
And if we all were having an easier time and understanding that, “Oh my god, look at the thinking I’m doing. Look at this how this is hurting me.” If we all recognized that alone that would change things. As you’re just letting go of all of this weight that’s keeping your feeling down and it doesn’t come by you saying I’m not going to have regrets. I’m not going to have grudges. It doesn’t come with that.
It comes with the fact that you just realize why would I do that. One of my favorite things to say is I said if Oprah could hear me say I have no regrets she’d think, “Well, how do you do that?” I’d say well if you gave me the money for a book to write about it I could give you all kinds of regrets. But you know what. I just don’t have them because what is the purpose.
The past is gone. I can’t change a darn thing having a regret is just making me feel bad in the moment. So it’s not because I say don’t have regrets Alexandra. Don’t hold grudges.
I went home on a weekend one time when I was working in the ICU and I thought, I’ve been in my head all weekend arguing with this other nurse named Peggy. I thought she’s not even here with me either. If she had a great weekend.
So I just started seeing what I was doing. And until you have an insight you can’t. You can’t just say I’m going to try doing this. It’s not the same thing. That insight is what helps you because you realize well that’s not very smart. Why would I be doing that.
Alexandra: Exactly. Well this has been amazing Karen:. I could talk to you forever. Thank you so much for being with us here today. And so why don’t you let everyone know a little bit about where they can find out more about you and your work.
Karen: I’m a three principles global community member so you can go to 3PGC.com. And also I have a Web site. I’m three principals nurse so you can touch me there and I have a free 30-minute consultations to talk to people if they’d like to know more. Be more than glad to share with you anything that I can that might be helpful. Very happy to just help the world to wake up to the fact that. You know there’s more to life and a lot of it starts inside right.
Alexandra: Yes. Great. Well I will put links to those to your Web site into the 3PGC page for you in the show notes for this episode.
So thank you again so much for being here.
Karen: Thank you. Take care. Bye bye.
[Cherry blossom image courtesy Mona Eendra and Unsplash.]