The stories we tell ourselves

I’m thinking about the way we make our existence, moment to moment, by the way we choose to be (or fail to be) in each of those moments. I used to think it was all about how we spend our minutes… where, with whom, what activity… and now it is feeling like setting is less relevant than voice.

See, I’ve been to amazing places of beauty, and been miserable there — constantly rethinking past abuses, scheming futures, or even just having conversations in my head that were less true than the simplicity, joy and beauty of the present moment. I’ve also been to places others would find enormously challenging or just uncomfortable or boring, and found myself deep in wonder and healthy growth. Mind you, setting matters, and can create something conducive or contrary to achieving “right mind,” but the real juice happens inside.

So, when I was little, there were all sorts of events that transpired that were formative- oh, you too, right? It bothers me how I, my therapist, and the personal growth community focus so heavily on the stories where those experience formed something wrong in us we now must overcome, broke something in us we now must repair, or failed to meet a need we now must work to understand. For most of my life, when I’ve been asked about how I grew up, I told those stories, and consequently, much of my life has felt sad, incomplete, or otherwise not good enough.

But I’m telling you now, there were other experiences too! Certain as I am sitting here – in one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a nearly miraculous piece of technology in my hand (when you really think about), thinking cogent thoughts in a generally in tact body- certain as that, I clearly MUST have also had some formative experiences that went right, helped me grow parts of self that clearly serve me well, and met my basic and more subtle needs.

Why the disproportionate focus on the deficits? What does this focus do, day after day, thought after thought, new experience after new experience, to chip away at the sense of wholeness and grace that is our birthright? And I am so curious to notice what has happened inside of me, and in my immediate constellation, as I have invited those other stories, the ones about abundance, to be heard.

I believe that this scanning for what is wrong is cultural, and it is making us individually into sick, over indulged, miserable S.O.B.s. And I am beginning to know it is a choice, how we hold our awareness. As an illustration, have you noticed how when Americans travel to poorer countries, we are always shocked to notice happy people there? We are so ingrained with a distorted understanding of where happiness comes from. Notice how the people who have vacationed abroad experience this as an anomaly they talk about, but the people who have spent time really living abroad have shifted to a wholely different world view?

As another example, I cut most TV out of my life a couple of years ago as an experiment, and it has completely changed my view of the world. I feared that I would feel disconnected and uninformed. To the contrary, I feel more connected to the information that matters, and I spend my online time exploring stories my carefully culled (no negative noisy people) Facebook community delivers. I watch TedTalks, Buddhist lectures, and films that have made it onto my radar screen enough for the name to stick and prompt me to go find it. I am now acutely aware of the contrast when I get around tv, where the constant deluge of news tells us that the world is scary and that we need to get some more stuff, and then worry about how to keep that stuff safe. Why? Because most of the ways we seek solace in this culture is in acquisition of external comforts, and the makers and sellers of these comforts underwrite the news. So, in its barest form, we tell ourselves scary bedtime stories and then wake up every day to the need to comfort ourselves because the world is so bad.

One of the basic Eastern meditations on compassion starts with visualizing the loving care of your mother. When masters first brought this meditation to the U.S., they were shocked to learn that this very same meditation brings up anger, sadness, and anything but a universal source of compassion in Western practitioners. I find this story to be amazing, both as a daughter and as a mother. How have we created a culture in which our most fundamental and basic form of nurturing is generally perceived as not good enough? Think about it – in those countries where poverty is more pronounced and opportunities are more limited, people generally regard their mothers with gratitude and appreciation, yet in a country where we have all of our needs met and most of our wants, we tell stories of deprivation.

I’m going to end by saying that our stories matter… the good, the bad, the truthful ones we all have in common and the illusion ones we make up for so many ego personality reasons. I’m not saying we should stop telling our sad stories, or the stories where we were hurt, or violated, or truth was not served. Telling these stories is a key step to breaking free of the pain they caused. But I am inviting myself to also be mindful of the weight, time, energy, and heart space I give to the various types of stories I tell myself, and to scan for at least as many good as bad. I’ll let you know how that goes.



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