All of us struggle with thoughts. We may not always be aware of it, but our thoughts are going on in our mind constantly throughout the day, telling stories about life and who we are. The way we think about ourselves, our circumstances, and life in general – whether conscious or unconscious – affects how we feel and actually affects our experiences. Perhaps more importantly, our thoughts prevent us from being who we really are.
Thankfully, there are ways to get a grip on those thoughts and then let them go. One excellent way is Presence.
In a previous post, I introduced the practice of Presence. Essentially, it is being here, in this moment, with your awareness and attention. The heart is open to what you feel and sense within yourself and the world around you. The mind is quiet and witnessing, rather than narrating what we experience.
What do I mean by narrating? Narrating is the tendency for us all to tell stories about what we are experiencing. Those stories have two main effects.
First, they tend to perpetuate negative emotions. For example, if I were saying to myself, “This is awful. I’ll never get ahead. It’s just one setback after another. Just when I get a bit on top of things, the other shoe drops. It’s not fair. There must be something wrong with me.” That is a narrative, or a story. That kind of story is likely to create depression, and if I continue with that story, my mood probably will spiral downward. This tendency to narrate, or what spiritual teachers call “telling stories,” is one of the main causes of anxiety, worry, anger, and depression. If we want to shift ourselves out of those unpleasant emotions, we’ll need to shift the story – or better yet, let it go altogether.
Missing the Moment
The other effect of narrating is that it takes us out of the present moment. When we’re caught up in a story, we’re likely to miss what’s right in front of us. Instead of seeing what life brings with clarity, we’re painting our stories onto it.
Here’s an example from the chapter on Presence in my book, Awakening from Anxiety – quite a literal one, actually – of how my narration, and lack of being present, hindered me from seeing things clearly.
Perhaps this scenario is a bit familiar to you. A couple weeks ago, I was walking around the house looking for my scissors. I really needed them for something, and I knew that they were around in the kitchen. I had a particular place I always put them—up on the window sill, above the sink. I kept returning to that spot over and over, looking for them there, as if maybe the next time, they’d just magically appear where they are “supposed” to be.
After several minutes of frustration, I sat down and let go. Maybe I should just go into my daughter’s drawers and find one of hers. But I stopped for a bit and just sat. And then I saw them—on the counter top next to me, right in plain sight.
In that moment I found the scissors, I finally became present. I let go of my stories about where the scissors usually are, that they should be there, that I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t find them, getting angry at whoever moved them (which certainly would not have been me!), how this is wasting my time—and finally just sat down, being present. When I came into the moment, the table, the kitchen countertop, my feet on the hardwood floor, my shallow breath, I began to look around and see what was actually there. I became present, and that’s when I actually perceived what was in front of me the whole time.
Too often, we’re not seeing the reality of what is in our life. We’re looking around at everything or talking with someone, but we aren’t really with them; we’re repeating the stories we have about them and seeing the stories instead of the person. We’re seeing the narrative we’ve created about our life, instead of the possibilities that lie before us in each moment, as it is.
Simple, But Not So Easy!
It’s a terribly simple idea to stop telling the story. Yet we have been so programmed to create these stories over and over again that it’s one of the most challenging things to do.
The good news is that you’re at the first and most powerful step. You’re aware now. In this moment, you know that the mind (not just yours, but everyone’s!) has a tendency to narrate everything and therefore influence how you perceive the world and your life.
Awareness is the most powerful asset you have. I say this over and over to my students and clients – once you are aware, then you’re empowered, because you finally have a choice. When we’re unconscious, completely ignorant to the fact that we’re creating narratives that cause us to feel hopeless or frightened, we can’t do anything about it. If it’s out of our awareness, how can we change it?
You Can Stop Believing the Stories
But now you know. Or maybe you’ve just been reminded of something you knew, but had forgotten about. You have the power to see your stories and to stop believing them. See them as the fiction that they are. Recognize that they are fabrications of your mind, probably from experiences you have had in the past. You don’t need to believe them anymore.
Those stories are like a TV channel your set has been stuck on for ages. It’s time to change the channel. You can do this! You can even turn the TV set off completely, and live life more in the present moment, as who you really are.
Don’t worry if you can’t stop the stories right now. Just practice being aware, seeing them for the fiction that they are. Remind yourself that it’s just a story, and you don’t have to buy into it. The more you develop the ability to be aware and challenge the story, the closer you are to letting it go and revealing the infinite possibilities life has for you, and the infinite essence of who you really are.
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