Monday, November 24, 2008

Stories

I've been thinking a lot this week about stories. Not the kind I write, but the stories we tell ourselves about other people's words and actions. We can't help it—that's what people do, we try to make sense of things and we do it by making guesses about what the other person might have meant by what they said or did. Or we tell ourselves stories about how people OUGHT to treat us.

The problem is that so often we make the mistake of assuming these stories are truth. This is a problem because the stories we tell ourselves are often what determine how we feel and how we act toward others. And how we act toward others, in turn helps determine the stories they tell themselves and therefore how they treat us. Which means it's easy to get into a downward spiral if we—and they—tend to tell negative stories.

Even worse, the stories we tell ourselves are often based in our own fears about ourselves. It may never occur to the other person to see us as stupid but we may tell ourselves a story that assumes they do—IF that's one of our fears. On the other hand, if being stupid is NOT one of our fears then even if the other person IS trying to say we are, we either won't hear it or we won't care. Because we know on such a deep level it isn't true. But any time we tell ourselves a negative story that touches on one of our fears about ourselves we are reinforcing that fear and making ourselves unhappy—while the other person goes on their merry way.

That's the thing. The stories we tell ourselves rarely have any impact on how the other person feels—but they have a huge impact on how WE feel.

I've been thinking about this as I watch people—including myself—prepare for Thanksgiving and I listen to the stories being told. I hear expectations of being treated badly or anticipation of levels of harmony that aren't likely to play out. I find myself wondering what would happen if each of us just went forward. No stories, just waiting to see what happens. Maybe WE would act differently—and therefore get different results. Maybe WE would think of new ways to respond if someone did treat us with disrespect. Maybe it would free up our energy to be able to either ignore trouble or to walk away from it—or to choose new traditions entirely.

There is something I heard Wayne Dyer say: What you think of me is none of my business.

How much of our energy goes into worrying what others think of us? What if, instead, we could use that energy to do things that would let us like ourselves better? What if we were able to see people as they are—not in terms of whether or not they will validate us?

It's an interesting experiment, stepping back from the stories we tell ourselves and just...being. Just letting events unfold—rather than trying to anticipate them. I know this is a tough exercise for anyone who has lived in an abusive situation. Survival often meant being hyper alert and anticipating possible (probable?) dangers and situations. If, however, we no longer live in such situations, we might be better served by letting go of those defense mechanisms in most situations NOW.

I think it's going to be an interesting week. I'm trying to let go of the stories I tend to tell myself and see what happens when I do. I'm looking forward to discovering the ways my life will get better because of this new approach to life and my interactions with others. I realize, you see, what it's cost me to tell myself these stories in the past. There is real power in switching our focus from surviving/getting through a situation and in asking ourselves instead: What could make this a great experience for me?

Sending blessings and safe and gentle ((((((hugs))))))),
April_optimist

9 comments:

Karma said...

This is really important to think about it. I've recently started learning a bit about Nonviolent Communication, which bases itself on this -- stepping away from the story that we concoct and try to hear people for what exactly they tell us and respond to the facts and not the story....Anyway, thanks for another great post.

mile191 said...

Buddhism was introduced to China around the first century AD and rose to predominance during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), which initially tolerated its coexistence. Tensions between Buddhism and the Chinese Tang state led to the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution in 845 AD, from which Buddhism in China never fully recovered.

Enola said...

I'm not sure I know how to turn the stories in my head off. But it is something to think about.

Kim said...

Great post. When I begin to anticipate that an event will unfold in a certain way, my T says "Don't script it" It becomes self-fulfilling. If you are waiting for it to happen in a certain way, you will drive it to happen the way you expect. And you'll never have the opportunity to experience it more honestly. Thanks for the reminder!

mile191 said...

what does it mean if i really don't think i posted that first comment here. am i being hacked into? help? i know i don't have blackouts, and that information doesn't make any sense to me. worry:( I don't know how to find out. let me know if you have any ideas.

on a lighter note, thanks for another good read, and for getting me thinking.

gypsy-heart said...

Excellent post, my dear!

Powerful words especially here:
"There is real power in switching our focus from surviving/getting through a situation and in asking ourselves instead: What could make this a great experience for me?"

Some years back, I finally embraced my past..as you said, viewing it as a "great experience"..a great learning experience. It was as if I put down my weapons and ended the raging battle within my heart! That is when light started filling in those once dark and shadowy places...now Peace of Heart remains. :)

I am looking forward to hearing about your week!!

Good energies and peace of heart to you!

Colleen said...

Oh my goodness. I posted something - a story - in my blog before I read your blog. And you are right about stories! The good thing I guess, is that I did try to find some meaning in the experience. Since I do not believe there are any coincidences, only God-incidences, I can only guess that God wanted me to experience this for myself and then be confirmed by your blog. Thanks!

mile191 said...

just checking in to see if you are doing okay.

i tagged you with an award. it is an award for being honest. if you want to do the tag you can. or just take the award and copy to your blog.

hope you are okay!

April_optimist said...

Karma, Isn't it interesting how effective it can be to step away from the stories?

Enola, I figure if I can't get rid of the stories entirely, at least I can be aware that they ARE stories and choose to tell myself stories that are empowering.

Kim, Exactly right!

Mile 191, I did think the first post was odd. It's all automatic so someone would have to know your password and id to log on and post under your identity. (Or get access to your computer when you were already logged on.) I'm okay, just a long week with some unexpected extra work setting up another online writing class that started yesterday. Thanks for asking! And thank you so much for the award. It means a great deal to me.

Gypsy-Heart, YES!!! There IS so much power in laying down the stories--and the anger that goes with them.

Colleen, I'm with you--no coincidences. If we're open to it, the Universe/Divine/God leads us to what we're ready to know.