The Stories We Tell Ourselves
We rarely see the world as it is. All experience
is interpreted within the stories we have collected over our lifetime,
which become the structure for creating meaning in life. These
stories accumulate from the moment we are born, as we are introduced
into the micro-culture of our family. We internalize these stories,
creating a personal, unique worldview, which shapes every aspect
of how we view our selves, and how we relate to others. As we
move into the larger world, we encounter and embrace new stories,
always seeking to harmonize the accumulated stories to maintain
a coherent worldview. These stories of the past (and future)
reside in the left brain.
When we encounter an experience, our body immediately reacts, based on previous encounters with this particular kind of experience. A short time later, our mind observes the body's reaction, and assumes that this reaction is appropriate to the experience, re-enforcing the initial reaction, as interpreted through the filter of the stories we have collected. This process means that we are usually in rea
ction, reliving patterns that may have have
nothing to do with the current situation.
Thus we internalize the fears and limitations of our families and our cultures, perpetuating any misunderstandings and prejudices, while believing that we have a clear bead on reality. Racism, bigotry, misogyny, tribalism, and classism are all passed from one generation to the next, creating a legacy of sorrow, misery, and hatred. When the human population remained relatively small, and technological power was limited, this was a barely tolerable condition. These days, on a crowded planet with nuclear weapons and the Internet, this is a recipe for human extinction.
Our internal stories have power that affects
more than just our relationship with the larger world, they also
affect our relationship with our own bodies. Believing I am ugly,
bad, or stupid can suppress my immune system and make me sick
or depressed. Constant worry, even over imagined events, can
be as debilitating as environmental stress. The medical world
recognizes the "placebo effect" as real; the belief
in the positive or negative power of a medication is effective
over 1/3 of the time, no matter what the substance.
The challenge is how to evolve beyond my stories.
This requires awareness that there is a possibility beyond what
I believe to be true, and a desire to make the effort required
to make a change.
One approach is to notice the stories you are
already operating within. Don't judge your stories, just learn
to recognize them. We run on automatic when we identify with
any particular story. The very act of noticing creates a slight
distance between your awareness and the story, and begins the
process of de-identification. With practice, this space, or de-identification,
expands, and you have an opportunity for choice. You don't need
to repeat this story, just because you know it so well. In this
space, something new can arise.
Vipassana meditation, a type of mindfulness
practice, suggests sitting in a state of aware presence, and notice
any body sensation that arises. As an experience happens and
the body responds, the practice is to simply notice the body response,
instead of allowing the mind to confirm the response. The body
reaction plays out within 90 seconds or so, and without the mind
adding to the response, the body becomes quiet again. This helps
de-program the body memory, so that next time the trigger occurs,
the body doesn't respond so strongly, and over time, can have
no response at all.
Sitting mediation is an opportunity to practice
cultivating aware presence. That is the domain of the right brain,
which allows access to inspiration and creativity. That is how
new information becomes available. As we face a world where old
patterns are breaking down, we all need to be more creative.
I believe that humans are a very recent species compared to all
other life forms, and we have yet to experience the fullness of