Have you noticed when you get caught up in your story of what happens that it seems to define you? In some sense, it’s as though you believe every thought you have that wanders into your head. Without awareness as it’s happening, it’s as if you get hijacked by your own internal dialog. So, what's underneath your thoughts?
When people tell me they can’t seem to meditate because every time they attempt to, their minds are filled with thoughts, I ask, “What do you commonly think about?” Most describe stories of resentments, regrets, successes and failures. They describe their families, their work life, their body, their spiritual or political thinking.
I’d like to ask you if there are any moments when you can simply acknowledge the story you are telling yourself and the feelings it elicits without actually getting caught up in the story itself. Give it a try today when you catch yourself telling yourself a story about someone or something that has happened to you in the past week.
Is the story true?
What beliefs about yourself have you constructed based on the story you are telling yourself?
Who made up this story?
Are you able to see how you might be constructing your world through the repetition of the stories you tell yourself?
Then ask yourself, “who am I without this story?”
I tell my students that staying caught up inside your head is a dangerous neighborhood to hang out in. And that’s because our thoughts are typically one-sided. And, we tend to believe our thoughts.
Questioning our thoughts is at the heart of Buddhist practice.
Is what I’m telling myself or what I believe real, solid, true?
Consider that most of your mental suffering actually comes from how tightly you hold on to your beliefs. What if you were to discover that your stories do not fully define who you are and what is actually happening to you?
With mindfulness, we can step out of the story we tell and simply notice the telling of the story. Instead of being an actor within the story, we become a witness to the story and watch ourselves play it out. Deepak Chopra always calls this “witnessing awareness.” In the stillness of meditation, we see how transient thoughts are. We begin to learn to simply observe how words and images arise and vanish without leaving a trace.
If we can drop below our stories, we are returned to the mystery of the here and now.
The point of mindfulness and meditation isn’t to get rid of thoughts but instead to learn how to see our thoughts skillfully.
If we’re paying attention, we will notice that certain thoughts are produced by fear and our small sense of self. With those thoughts, we might even notice clinging, unworthiness, defensiveness, aggression, anxiety, depression, rigidity. If we are in touch with our bodies during this process, we might even sense their effect on our heart and body. But if we are able to notice the suffering these thoughts bring about, we can train ourselves to relax, take a few deep breaths and loosen the identification we’ve created around them.
It’s only when we can pause and become aware that the mind will be more open.
Choose an important area of your life where you have conflict or difficulty. Ask yourself what your key beliefs and thoughts are about the situation, the people, the circumstance, i.e. “they are…” “I am….,” “it is….”, etc. Once you are clear about your beliefs, question them. Are they true? Are they one-sided? What if the opposite is true?
Try letting go of these feelings and tapping into how doing so makes you feel. Rest in self-compassion and loving-kindness. Do you notice a difference in how this affects your body and mind? Does this change the situation?