We are storytellers, we humans. It is one of the things that truly set us apart from the other mammals on this planet. We love to tell stories and we love to hear stories. Some of our stories endure for thousands of years, while others are as fleeting as the wind. Stories are so intricately woven into our lives that we often don’t even recognize them. We call some stories ‘news’, some history, some gossip, sometimes we even call them facts. These are the stories of our culture. We also have our own personal stories. Some we repeat to others, some we keep locked away in our hearts.
Stories hold power. In fact, I believe that every decision we make is couched in a story. Most of these stories are not true but we tell ourselves they are to satisfy our endless desire to be ‘right’. When I first came across this idea, that most of my thoughts were simply stories I made up, I hated it. This idea still makes me deeply uncomfortable. I first read about it in the book “Wherever you go, there you are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn; a book about Buddhist ideas for westerners. “Most of my thoughts are lies?” I thought “How can this be? I am a seeker of TRUTH! I don’t lie to make myself right!”
But the author talked about becoming free from the emotional pain that some stories create. And I had some stories that I really wanted to be free from. Freedom, such a beautiful word; it called to me like the haunting voice of a loon across a misty lake. I decided to experiment with the idea that most of what I thought was lies. I began to listen to my stories as if someone else was telling them. I began to notice how I felt emotionally and in my body when these stories were running through my head. I began to notice that I was always ‘right’ in my stories and other people were ‘wrong’; I was often the victim. I began to see how I cultivated anger and resentment with my stories. I began to tell myself “This is just a story”. I noticed the story and then became aware of my feelings, separate from my story. I tuned into my feelings and felt them as strongly and deeply as I could without the story. I felt the emotions in my body, in my being and breathed deeply into it. I didn’t try to change it, only to experience the emotion as fully as possible while breathing slowly and deeply into my belly.
I would notice the same story arise over and over again. Every time I noticed one of my stories, I would detach the story from the feeling and breathe into the feeling. It felt like my heart was painfully cracking open. It felt like some part of me was dying. I really wanted to hold onto my stories even though I was sick of them. I kept at it. Slowly, painfully a change began to happen. My feelings became less intense and I began to loosen my grip on some stories. This procedure became one of my daily habits. Some stories were pretty easy to release. But I had held some resentments for years. There was one person who I had a difficult relationship with, a relationship that went all the way back to birth. The patterns in this relationship were deeply etched in my psyche. I was spellbound by this story, even though it caused a lot of pain for me. I practiced letting go of this story, breathing deeply into the heart wrenching emotions around it: anger, resentment, betrayal, abandonment. All of these intense, raw emotions would come up. My first week of practice on this story was almost unbearable, but even after just one week; I noticed a softening in me. I kept going. After a few months my feelings were half as intense. After a couple of years I am approaching forgiveness. “A couple of years”, Yes, I said years. This is no instant feel good technique; at least it wasn’t for me. Maybe I am a hard case. But it does work and it works at a deep level.
Do you have stories you want to be free from? Are you ready to release them and ease your suffering? Begin to practice this now and see what happens. Maybe you aren’t as hard-hearted as I am and you’ll get quicker results!
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