The Stories We Tell.
October 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
You may have noticed that the thinking mind likes to solve problems while you’re trying to meditate. There’s a thump and the mind immediately goes out to identify it. A slight pain starts in the leg and you wonder how to move without disturbing your concentration. Then you question if you’re meditating properly. On and on the mind goes trying to solve problems, even at times when none exist. There is nothing unusual about this. The thinking mind is designed to solve problems. That’s its primary function and it will continue to do this throughout your life.
One of the minds favorite ways of problem solving is through the telling of a story. After an argument, for example, your mind will rewrite the scene, typically in ways that show you winning. This is not just ego. By reworking the story to your favor, the thinking mind attempts to dispel the bad feelings the argument created. Dreams perform a similar function when they seek to discharge feelings created by negative or traumatic events of the previous day. Journal writing and artistic expression are other ways of releasing pent up emotions but sometimes these negative feelings just don’t go away. When that happens, you may end up telling yourself the same story over and over again for some time.
Typically, the stories that are continually retold and tie up energy revolve around sensitive or important issues related to your identity. They are core stories that maintain your self-image by affirming your worth, justifying your fears, making you the hero or the victim, etc.
Retelling these stories keeps your image intact by stopping you from looking in some inner direction that will release the tied up energy. As such, they act as barriers to knowing and expressing your true nature. The same barriers that meditation and Zen koans are designed to resolve.
When meditation deepens, your core stories start to come to the fore. At first you may only notice them as persistent images and feelings that seem to encompass the full story in an instant. Prior to meditation you probably didn’t even notice them, as the image or feeling came and went so quickly. But meditation allows you to slow them down so you may see how they block you from expressing yourself.
These barriers are maintained by intense emotions, the arousal of which signals that you are in danger. Overcoming these emotions is one of the most difficult things you might ever have to do because the threat they signal feels very real and very imminent. Because of their intensity they should not be taken lightly. Approach them as you would any thing else that arises in your meditation. That is, by neither suppressing nor being overwhelmed by them.
In meditation you learn to stabilize your mind through fixed attention. As you learn to fix your attention on one object you can then turn this ability on the sensitive areas of your mind and the stories you’ve built around them. As you become comfortable with their intense emotions and uncertainty you can then investigate your stories to see if they are real or true. Then you may see what they are blocking you from feeling and expressing in the name of self-protection.
Dropping your core stories is necessary if you wish to know your true nature. But dropping them, you will find, is what you’ve been afraid of all along as your true nature, as seen from the perspective of the ordinary mind, is no nature at all. So letting go of your story is equivalent to stepping into nothingness that is often described as the great or mystical death.
The mystical death happens in the instant you let go of your story. But getting to that instant may take a lifetime because the desire to cling to your story is so strong. But ultimately that story is not you and will be released anyway at the time of physical death. But if you can release it before your body dies you will enter a free state that is infinitely richer than any story you tell yourself.