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 human potential.