We are telling ourselves stories all the time. And mostly we are not aware of that. We are living in mind-constructed worlds, self-created illusions. The price we pay for this unconsciousness is our life energy, precious time, and mental peace.
We (our minds to be more precise) tend to interpret reality by making up stories about it. These stories are not necessarily false. However, they are usually not completely accurate either. These stories are a way of looking at things – a perspective.
What we forget and tend to overlook is that the lens through which we see reality is our creation. An unconscious creation.
Let’s look at some examples from my life to understand this better.
- In my first semester at college, I developed a friendship with a few guys. It was our ‘group.’ One of the guys in the group (let’s call him Abhi) whom I admired was 6 feet tall. I am just 5 feet 5 inches tall. In the second semester, Abhi and I were shifted to another class. We were new to that class. While I didn’t know anyone else, Abhi had some friends there. This new group coincidentally had all the members who were quite tall. Abhi became closer to that group and joined that group, while I couldn’t mingle with them.
For a long time, I had a story that the reason I was not able to mingle with the group was that I wasn’t tall enough. Many years later I realised, it was not my height but my lack of communication skills and ability to make friends that were the real reason for what happened.
- A few years ago, I started learning parkour. One major reason I got interest in learning parkour was that I wanted to be able to do a backflip. Backflip is a brilliant move. You jump up, flip backward in the air, and land on your feet. It looks spectacular and demonstrates some real good competence in controlling one’s body.
I became obsessed with wanting to do a backflip. I remember, for around 8 months, I spent one hour every day, practicing the basic moves and trying to do a backflip. 8 months and about 1000 times of falling on a mattress later, I finally learnt to do it.
The unconscious motivation that drove me to work so hard to learn this one move was a story. A story that if I was able to do a backflip, I will get more love, respect, attention, and approval. A story that I will attract some good friends and a girlfriend.
Of course, the story was highly inaccurate. One doesn’t attract good friends or a girlfriend just because one can do a backflip. Being able to do a backflip isn’t a precondition for attracting good friends or a girlfriend.
- In October 2014, I went for my first Vipassana retreat. My motivation was not just to learn and practice the meditation technique. It was to get enlightened. I naively believed that I could get enlightened in my first ever 10-day retreat.
The reason I wanted to get enlightened was not exactly spiritual aspiration or a desire for Truth. In fact, I didn’t even have a clear understanding of what enlightenment was. Again, I had a story. I believed in a story that if I could get enlightened, I will unleash infinite creativity. And I will be easily able to attract money.
Nevertheless, the story got crushed after 3 days of intense meditation.
My mind however didn’t stop making up stories. I still sought enlightenment for a long time believing different stories. Like, ‘If I get enlightened, I will never have any problems in life. I will only experience positive emotions. I will be able to create a career as a spiritual teacher and live a life of ease and abundance.’
A lot of what we do or don’t do in our lives is because of the stories we tell ourselves.
We believe the story that getting a particular job will guarantee our future and happiness. We believe the story that meeting a particular kind of person and marrying them will complete us. We believe the story that achieving certain goals or possessing certain things will finally fulfil us.
All that we think about ourselves is a story too.
I can’t do it. I am not good enough. I am incomplete. I am weak.
These are all stories.
The stories we tell ourselves can make or break us.
They can send our lives on trajectories where we spend months or years chasing a futile fantasy.
Thus, it’s important to recognise the stories which are not serving us. It can get really difficult to become aware of these stories and to let them go because we are ‘living’ them. It’s like we are wearing coloured glasses. The world seems coloured. But we don’t question it because we don’t know better. We believe that the world actually is the way we look at it.
Here’s a step-by-step process we can follow to uncover these stories and release their grip on us:
- Pick up a goal or a dream that you have been pursuing. Or think about a situation that causes immense pain and suffering. Question your thoughts about the goal/dream/situation and try to uncover the deeper story that’s running the show. Why are you truly pursuing this goal/dream? What are you going to get out of it? What is causing you this immense pain and suffering? What have been believing and assuming about the situation?
- Close your eyes and imagine moving out of your body so that you can look at yourself from a distance. This helps you look at things more clearly and detach from your stories. Now, look at the thoughts you have been believing.
Question these thoughts by asking, ‘Is it really true? Am I absolutely certain that it’s true?’
- You will find that you are able to move out of the stories and are able to see things more clearly. When you are more in touch with reality, you will be able to make better decisions. That will save you a lot of life energy, precious time, and mental peace.
If you want to dive deeper into how our unconscious stories create suffering, check out The Work of Byron Katie. It is a simple process of inquiry that can help in releasing all kinds of beliefs, judgements, and of course, stories.