The past week was a bit rough. Bo and I have been in the city traversing (somewhat unsuccessfully at times) the emotional mindfield that is family illness. There were times I found myself knotted from the inside, unable to sleep, unable to eat… knotted not by grief but by anger. Anger not really at anything that had happened but at the voices inside my own head, the persistent nagging of the inner voice, telling me stories of things that happened so long in the past that they should have been long forgotten. Stories that brought to the surface not nostalgia but pain long left behind. I found myself awake late at night, talking on the phone to my best friend of more than fifteen years, downloading the vile bile of my mind through the receiver of the phone… venting, purging, to see if I could rid myself of it’s weight and upset. I knew that my anger was misappropriated fear, and I needed my friend to comfort me and tell me that it was ok to be angry, so that I could feel what I was really feeling underneath it.
The thing about the power of the human mind is that we tend to think in stories. They don’t have to be accurate representations of history or relationships, in fact often they are not. Our memories are replicas of events that are coloured by the stories that we tell ourselves about the people, the places, the events that happened in our lives. My memory of an event will be different to yours, even if we both experienced exactly the same thing happen to us at the same time – the story that we tell ourselves is bound to be different.
The negative narratives that were running through my head for a day or two got me thinking about the power that the human mind has to shape not only our inner world but also our outer world. Bringing me back to the simple meditative quote ‘as we think, so we become.’ It’s true not only of how we see other people (coloured by the narrative that we tell ourselves about them) and events, but even more potently at times, it’s true of the way that we talk about ourselves. The story we tell about ourselves. Whether it be the victim or the hero, the disadvantaged, the worker, the sick, the slow or the hurt. We tell ourselves a lot of things, more often than not we tell ourselves that we are not enough the way we are.
If we start accepting that perhaps our memories are warped and both our present and our future is being crafted by the story we tell ourselves – maybe then we can better understand ourselves and each other too. When we can understand we can have empathy and loving kindness in places where empathy and loving kindness could not exist before. Our identity is inextricably linked to the story that we keep repeating (even if it’s fiction). It continues to rewrite our past and shape our decisions as we forge ahead.
If it does this for us, surely it does this for other people too. Perhaps a person we love who makes decisions that we don’t agree with, or makes choices that might hurt us, or says something that affects us – perhaps they are being guided by a story that they are telling themselves about themselves. Perhaps it’s not as personal as we think. Perhaps with great empathy we could find more of a middle ground with the people that we love to help dissolve some of the often internal conflict that we feel in our own lives as our stories continue to rewrite themselves as reactions to other peoples behaviour. To step outside ourselves enough to remember that it’s not always about us at all.
When we listen to the narrative in our head and remind ourselves that it is indeed just a story, a powerful story that we use to shape our lives – we can recognise the power that we have to change the words, to rewrite the story. We can look at our past and choose how we want it to colour our present. We can let go of resentment. We can forgive. We can move forward. We can find more acceptance for each other… and for ourselves.
We don’t have to be everything we think.
We can change.