Thoughts are Stories
August 14, 2016 § 1 Comment
Practice is really about waking up to life. Your life, as it actually is each and every moment.
In practice ‘waking up’ is a continuous process of letting distracting thought go and returning to the present moment. Thought is typically described in Buddhist literature as thinking, where something grabs the attention and a thought arises that is followed by other thoughts. Becoming aware of an ache, for example, may produce a thought of adjusting the sitting position that is then followed by another thought of how moving will mar the practice. Other thoughts might then follow such as questions on whether one has any idea what practice truly is.
There is another way to describe thoughts that follow one upon the other and that is to call it a story. In the above example the collection of thoughts that started with an ache may become a story of low self-esteem and self-doubt. Or it may become a story of the practitioner as an honest seeker of the way. Whatever the story, becoming caught up in it takes one away from the present moment, which is the only place to find your actual life.
There is an advantage to rephrasing practice as dropping a story. Most inner stories aren’t actually told in words but arise all at once as a feeling with some vague images. As these feelings can be quite strong there is a tendency to seek a solution to them that necessarily creates more thought. When emotions and images are simply identified as a story, however, there is no compelling need to solve them so they are more easily dropped.
The average person isn’t usually tuned into what is actually going on in each and every moment of life. Moments are not seen for what they are but are wrapped in stories and vignettes that are constantly replayed as the day goes on. Convinced that these stories are real, he lives out life in what is at best a waking dream or, at worst, a state of complete delusion. We need only look at the actions of the terrorist to see the global effect of a deluded mind.
It is easy to see vignettes simply by watching our reactions to strangers or even words. Well-dressed strangers provoke a story that is quite different from those who are dirty and poorly dressed. Words like cancer, divorce or security provoke reactions of their own. We may think that because there is such a thing as cancer that our story about it is real. But the fact of something lends no validity to the stories we tell about it, any more than the existence of science makes a science fiction movie real.
In everyday life each moment is accompanied by a little vignette that is draped over what is seen and heard. These little stories are contained in broader stories that we call the story of our life. They are deeply embedded in the mind and shape how we feel and act regardless of what the situation may actually be. Yet for all the value we place upon this story it is, nonetheless, an empty work of fiction. It is not our true life.
In practice we find just how invasive our storytelling has become and how addicted we are to retelling our stories over and over again. Yet as we turn away from each retelling and return to what is actually happening, we start to realize their emptiness. Then, as our practice deepens to include the thought of self, we begin to see that who and what we believe ourselves to be is also a story. A false story that had us believing the fiction of separateness when, in fact, we are connected to all life. And when we start to drop that story, we start to awaken to our actual life that is Life, itself.