Stories we Tell Ourselves

The overlaps between both the ancient and the modern spiritual philosophies is significant to me. Recently, at my Vipassana retreat, Goenkaji spoke about “Saṅkhāra” he explained craving and aversion as causing these.  Basically, he was discussing thoughts that form when you are not happy with the present moment. All of the regrets, worries, hopes and desires form Saṅkhāras.

When you do not accept the moment as it is without craving or aversion, you create a sankhara. These are the source of all misery.  For instance, if someone insults you, it can create aversion in you. It is unpleasant for you and then you build up dislike or hate towards this person. The saṅkhāra or hate that you feel gets embedded and when you see this person again, you feel the hate. The hate can be used to justify treating that person poorly, for example.

The same phenomenon is described by Eckhart Tolle when he talks about “pain bodies”. He speaks of pain bodies being activated when some thought or experience brings you into alignment with old emotional scars. So, let’s say the same person insults you. They attack a part of you, you are sensitive about. Now, when the person who did the insulting is around, you feel “justified” reacting badly to anything that they say or do.

Byron Katie comes at it from the other side and reminds us that we don’t know anything for sure. This would include anything we can describe to ourselves. Her solution is to ask yourself, “Is it true?” leading to the foregone conclusion that there is no way you can ever know absolutely for sure.

Her perspective challenges us to look at the person, and decide if we believe what we think about the person who said it. We may immediately think the insulter is wrong, bad or out to hurt us. Instead of the insult resulting in bad feelings towards the person, we ask ourselves, “Is the person insulting us a bad person, or are they just saying something we find unpleasant?”

So what are they all talking about? They are describing the little voice in our heads who tries to rewrite history, “I shouldn’t have”, “she shouldn’t have”, “it shouldn’t have”. Or, “I wish … blah, blah, blah”. We have told ourselves a story about the way we judge things or people would be better. Our stories are told through craving, aversion; pain or fear or longing; and telling ourselves things are not OK, they should be different.

In essence, our thoughts not only create our perception of the world, they also contribute to how we feel in the world and how we respond to the world. If we build up enough saṅkhāras we can justify harming the person or mistreating them. In Eckhart Tolle’s model the “pain body” becomes activated and we act before we think. In Byron Katie’s we know the other person is out to get us, therefore justifying bad behaviour.

These explanations all point to the same thing. If we tell ourselves stories about people — whether they are based on facts or not — we can justify treating them badly. This is not a good thing. We are always responsible for how we behave. We can never justify hurting someone else, especially when that action is based on a story. A story we told ourself about that person and their intentions.

 

What if We Chose to Be Here?

It seemed like a simple question, but the more I pondered it the more I recognized it was rewriting how I told my story. For years, I’ve said, “I think I chose to be here” and in a recent conversation with a friend, I turned it around and said, “What if we all chose to be here?”

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It rearranges everything we’ve been focusing on. A few things fall from this premise and it is interesting to explore them, knowing full well the premise may be faulty. So, first, the most obvious is that if we “chose” we must have existed. Which, pretty much means we must exist after this body dies because we had to come from somewhere and we just go back. This is going back to a place from where we could chose what we want to experience.

There are many religions that have spoke to the range of possibilities, from returning here in a better or worse situation; living forever in a new reality that is either good or bad; or simply not existing after we are here. Truth is, no one knows for sure, but lets just stick with the possibility that we chose to be here for a while.

_____________

 

Believing we exist after we die,

has the power to eliminate all of the fear

of our own death.

_____________

 

When we no longer exist here, if we knew we existed somewhere else, it would make death a whole lot less frightening. Not necessarily for those we leave behind who suffer the loss of our presence and the emotional impact of losing someone you love, but for us, ourselves.

The idea that we may actually be able to choose to do this again, or that we might choose another set of parameters gives this inevitability known as death a whole new interpretation. It becomes more of a transition, a change in our reality, a new opportunity to chose to experience another life in an incalculable number of paradigms of reality.

You being you, even before you had the body you are in now, decided to experience life here. It allows us to refocus on the idea we wanted to come here and perhaps we should be exploring that instead of just getting by in a day. Why did you chose to be here? What did you want to experience, do, see, be involved in? You bought the ticket, and decided to go for the ride. What were you hoping you would get a chance to do? Trying to remember who you are and what your motivation was is a good place to start.

Even if this premise is wrong, and the only way to test it is to die, it has the power to allow us to think about life differently. We can look around with new eyes and see the world in a different way. A way that emphasizes why we would want to be here, what we enjoy and how we want to live.

Consider it for a moment. Is it possible you chose to be here? Perhaps, not in the exact situation you are in, but using a card game as an analogy, you decided to play cards and now you are faced with the hand you were dealt. How would you live differently if you no longer were preoccupied with prolonging your life, avoiding death and instead focused on the good things you enjoy around you?

It becomes possible to let go of the fear. We know we are going to die and if that is not a bad thing, we can now focus on living the most satisfying life we can imagine.

Spring Morning

IMG_0816I needed both of the quilts that my daughters made for me in order to sit out back on the deck this morning. It is too cold otherwise. Spring brings that calm after the storm and promises that summer will soon burst from the buds.

I love the changing of the seasons more than the seasons themselves. There are great things about all seasons but it is the renewal, the chance to see things in a new light that I find most thrilling.

As Byron Katie reminds us, the simple act of questioning what we believe frees us from suffering. Seeing things in a new light can bring us peace.

Kathryn Shultz, in her TEDtalk, explains that we all think we’re right. When people disagree with us we first think they don’t know the truth and if they have the same facts, we assume they have a hidden agenda, they are evil.

This sets us up for conflict. We all base our beliefs on our knowledge and experience. Since there is no way that two people will ever live identical lives we will disagree.

Consider the possibility that you may believe something that isn’t true. Wouldn’t it be easier to recognize that it may not be true? This allows us to question things we tell ourselves that cause us stress. It also allows us to be gracious when we disagree with someone else which is better than seeing them as evil.

Questioning your beliefs has the potential to improve how you feel both within yourself and within your relationships. This brings peace and makes listening to the birds singing that much nicer even if it is still a two quilt morning.

 The essential book for examining your thoughts.

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A step by step guide on how to discover who you were meant to be.  The study guide for this book is also available click on the icon below.

The Cavity, Part Two

I experienced a deeper level of understanding about the discovery of a large black cavity between my two front teeth. I remembered the pain, the loneliness and the horror at finding this corrosion between my teeth. The reality that I did not know what to do about it, except to decide to remember to not show my teeth when I smiled; was how far I got last time.

Then, I realized it had had a much larger impact. I had decided to remember to not show my teeth when I smiled. I took my own smile away years ago. Now, when I try to smile “naturally” in the mirror, the muscles that could’ve been well maintained over the years, simply aren’t. I don’t smile with my entire face because it has always been more important to hide my teeth.

I can look back now and recognize that this had repercussions during my entire life. The summer that I had my one and only true, deep love I have distinct memories of squishing my face up in the centre into a mock smile so that I could fully smile and still not show my teeth. I remember him mentioning that I did not show my teeth. I was not forthcoming as to why.

Teeth

When that first awareness of your own appearance is just occurring and you discover you are not attractive, to the point of needing to hide, it has a profound impact on your sense of beauty. I know that for years I thought that I was hideous, just to see a photo of myself and realize that I never was.

During a formative time in my career, I missed an important dinner that was scheduled so that I could meet a partner in the business that I was working for. I didn’t go because a filling had just fallen out of my front tooth and the gaping hole was too embarrassing for me to proceed with the meeting. I should have been at that meeting, if for no other reason than to gain the experience of being at an important meeting.

Perception became reality. I lived an experience of feeling like I was unattractive. I had something to be embarrassed about, despite the reality. Funny thing. The happy ending to this story is that my front teeth continued to deteriorate. I’m getting to the funny part, just be patient. Each time that I replaced a filling, more of the original tooth would be lost and over a lifetime, that is a lot of tooth. Recently, about the time that I wrote my first story about the cavity, my middle tooth broke on a Friday and the one beside it a day and a half later. I had to have them capped this time, or risk needing full implants when they could no longer be repaired.

I have found myself explaining to people the reason that my new teeth don’t seem so different is because I had always made a point of not showing anyone my real teeth. I promised myself repeatedly, that I’d do my best to not show how ugly my front teeth were when I smile. There is still an active reminder that comes up when I am in the process of smiling. Now, I just have to relax and let myself smile fully so that I can build those muscles back up and stop looking ridiculous trying to remember how to smile naturally.

Inventing Mother

IMG_0164I have done a little reading about how to mend a broken heart; when it was broken by the absence of parents, and there does not seem to be much available. One book gave strict guidelines that you were not supposed to make your other relationships fill this hole in your heart. You have to accept that you did not get the love and are not entitled to get it now.

But there has been little comfort and support. Now, I understand that I may not have the correct search terms. You can tell by the way many people write about their relationships that they didn’t know that their problem was with a narcissist at all. So, it would’ve been hard for them to find ways to read about that particular problem before they knew the search term. But I find myself without any fruitful results from my own searches, so I’ve started to explore my own possibilities.

Not knowing the search term has been a problem for me in the past. I was searching for a company that would install an automated sprinkling system in my yard. I searched: sprinklers, lawn, watering, landscaping, gardening, grass and got no results, bar one.

The company I found was out of town and he serviced my area, but it was a drive for him. After he installed the system, he mentioned that I should find a local company to deal with the winter maintenance. I did not know how to find one. I called a guy in a related industry and he said, I don’t do that work, but there are a lot of guys that do. Check irrigation in the phone book. Irrigation Every person that worked in that industry had made the same assumption. They thought people looking for their services would use that word and that word only. It’s only common sense…

Once it’s occurred to you.

Not being able to find what I need on-line, I’ve decided to try inserting a mother into my bad memories. Let me explain this double speak. I know that I did not have a mother caring for me. When I remember a bad childhood experience, I am going to insert another mother into the void. So, even though I did not have a mother there, I’m going to add a woman into all of the memories. I will change the outcome in each memory and see how I feel.

I have already pictured this woman. She is large, fat and has dark brown, almost black hair that she wears short and smoothed from curls. So, for instance, I have a rather intense memory of watching television, knowing that I was not allowed to wake my mother. I was hungry so I stole some butterscotch chocolate chips and ate them (they were disgusting) until my stomach hurt.

Now, instead, I am watching television, knowing that I am not allowed to wake my mother and this fat brunette walks in from the front hall. She bends down and picks me up into her arms and walks me into the kitchen. After setting me down on a kitchen chair, she asks what she can prepare for me.

IMG_0377I am super hungry, so I ask for the big breakfast with bacon and eggs and buttered toast with jam. We spend an eternity sitting together in the kitchen while she makes me breakfast and while I eat and she is talking to me the entire time.

How’s that? I’m thinking that the worst this type of pretending could do is make me delusional. I have this imaginary friend as a child, who I didn’t make up until I was an adult.

As I wrote that last piece, a calm warmth spread over me. Instead of reliving the pain of loneliness and the discomfort of an upset stomach, I had breakfast with a woman that loved me. I will always know the truth, but I prefer to remember it my way.

Let’s try another. For a very, very, long time I was plagued with pinworms. Those crawly centimetre long pests that come out at night to lay their eggs. My mother told me a story, when I complained about the discomfort.  She said that she had heard of a man whose worms crawled out through his skin. Nice.

Add in some fiberglass curtains that were washed with the underwear and you live through a day of hell. I was disgusted by the thought of worms coming out through my skin and the fiberglass from the curtains was keeping my skin prickly and itchy all day. Every time that I comforted myself that there were not worms trying to pierce my skin from the inside, the fiberglass would get too itchy to ignore.

Now, instead, when I complained about the discomfort, the big fat brunette helps me dress. We make an emergency trip to the drug store where she lets me pick out a magazine and some gum. We go home together. She is not stupid enough to wash fiberglass curtains with clothing, so that whole day is removed. I see a visual of her pulling me away from looking at that memory. “I won’t let you feel that way again”, she comforts.

So, my plan is to insert a new and improved version of each bad memory as it surfaces and to choose to remember it that way instead.

Read the entire book, now available
Writing this book helped me make sense of what had happened to me as a child and the choices I made as an adult.

Can Stress Be Good For You?

IMG_4985As our understanding of how stressful our lives have become expands, more and more people are talking about meditation, leisure, slowing down and living in the moment. It is generally believed stress can hurt you and you should take every opportunity to reduce it in your life.

In a very two-dimensional way, this seems obvious. If you are worried, on edge and generally unable to relax, it must make you sick or at least tired. We can all think of someone who is so stressed their health and possibly their life has fallen apart. But this belief misses a larger truth. Many of our great accomplishments, enjoyable activities and even some of the pivotal and positive things in our lives are inherently stressful.

Worrying your true love will refuse your offer of marriage may be stressful, but that does not mean you should not ask. Standing up in front of a group of people to give a presentation, is also stressful, but it may be invigorating. People choose to sky dive for heaven’s sake!

So what is really going on? Kelly McGonigal, a doctor who studies the impact stress has on us has made an interesting discovery. In her TED talk 

she explains that if you “believe” stress is bad for you, it does more harm to your health. Simply put, it is our own brain’s interpretation of the effect of stress that ultimately determines how likely the stress will be harmful. Her study demonstrated that if you experienced a stressful event you were 43% more likely to die the following year ONLY if you believed stress was harmful for your health.

In contrast, those who experienced stress but did not believe it was harmful, actually had a lower risk of dying than people who had the least stress. Woah!! That is not what we have come to believe. Could this be because doing interesting things, taking chances, putting yourself out there makes life interesting and more enjoyable, even though it is stressful? I think that may be the case.

Is life worth living if we are constantly trying to be as risk and stress free as possible? I think not. We all know what that would look like and it would be incredibly boring. So, think of your heart pumping and your breathing increasing as your body prepping for action, not as something that is bad for you. Get out there. Take a chance, do something exciting, it may even reduce your risk of dying…

The Meaning of Life?

http://trekcore.com/gallery/albums/picard/picard_s5hq_pbvariant.jpg
http://trekcore.com/gallery/albums/picard/picard_s5hq_pbvariant.jpg

When Jean-Luc Picard is faced with his mediocre new life after travelling back in time to fix a “mistake” he made when he was a young man, we all understood the significance of his epiphany. It is better to live a passionate life full of experiences, mistakes and opportunities than it is to play it safe and end up in an uninspiring life of drudgery.

In this particular Star Trek episode, Q sends Jean-Luc back to address a regret. Jean-Luc decides not to battle a Nausicaan this time. This saves Jean-Luc embarrassment and gives him a new lease on life. All of this is occurring during open heart surgery to replace the artificial heart that was required because of the initial fight with the Nausicaan. What Jean-Luc discovers is that his new life, as a low level technician, does not inspire him and he decides that he would rather have a meaningful, albeit shorter, life than a safer boring one.

Even though we understand this concept, our current preoccupation with “safety” at all costs is in direct conflict with this entire notion. How many people do you know who take any risks at all?  The mantra, “Better Safe than Sorry” is unquestioned, as an almost religious belief, which begs the question, Why?

Over several centuries, we have gone from believing that everything is in the hands of a supernatural being to worshipping science as the be-all and end-all answer to every conceivable question. There is a comfort in knowing that facts can be determined, numbers can be added and used to prove points. It is defensible to state knowledge and support arguments, but is that all that there is?

We all need something to be passionate about. That is how we were designed. A quick look around will reveal that people stand up against injustices, fund raise for medical research and put their energy into things that are important to them. Problem is, without recognizing that this is our very nature, many of us take the latest snippet of news, research or gossip and become passionate about that. This causes our passions to be paper thin and as changing as the wind.

Have you noticed the current obsession with kale and avocado? If you missed the initial scientific announcement that these are the new “super foods” you must have at least noticed that you can get avocado at almost all of the fast food places now. It is a topping on burgers, an ingredient in salads and included in beverages—yes, beverages.

We have internalized this notion that doing all that we can to avoid death, or prolong life gives our lives meaning. But does it? We understood what Jean-Luc felt because a life without passion and purpose is, not only depressing, but it misses the point. Could it be possible that the purpose of our lives is to find joy and live in passion?

Jean-Luc had the opportunity to re-live that part of his life and he went back and got into the fight again. For us mere mortals that have to live linearly I guess we should just follow our passions more and do those things that bring us joy, but more on that later.

Inventing Mother

IMG_0164I have done a little reading about how to mend a broken heart; when it was broken by the absence of parents, and there does not seem to be much available. One book gave strict guidelines that you were not supposed to make your other relationships fill this hole in your heart. You have to accept that you did not get the love and are not entitled to get it now.

But there has been little comfort and support. Now, I understand that I may not have the correct search terms. You can tell by the way many people write about their relationships that they didn’t know that their problem was with a narcissist at all. So, it would’ve been hard for them to find ways to read about that particular problem before they knew the search term. But I find myself without any fruitful results from my own searches, so I’ve started to explore my own possibilities.

Not knowing the search term has been a problem for me in the past. I was searching for a company that would install an automated sprinkling system in my yard. I searched: sprinklers, lawn, watering, landscaping, gardening, grass and got no results, bar one.

The company I found was out of town and he serviced my area, but it was a drive for him. After he installed the system, he mentioned that I should find a local company to deal with the winter maintenance. I did not know how to find one. I called a guy in a related industry and he said, I don’t do that work, but there are a lot of guys that do. Check irrigation in the phone book. Irrigation Every person that worked in that industry had made the same assumption. They thought people looking for their services would use that word and that word only. It’s only common sense…

Once it’s occurred to you.

So, I’ve decided to try inserting a mother into my bad memories. Let me explain this double speak. I know that I did not have a mother caring for me. When I remember a bad childhood experience, I am going to insert another mother into the void. So, even though I did not have a mother there, I’m going to add a woman into all of the memories. I will change the outcome in each memory and see how I feel.

I have already pictured this woman. She is large, fat and has dark brown, almost black hair that she wears short and smoothed from curls. So, for instance, I have a rather intense memory of watching television, knowing that I was not allowed to wake my mother. I was hungry so I stole some butterscotch chocolate chips and ate them (they were disgusting) until my stomach hurt.

Now, instead, I am watching television, knowing that I am not allowed to wake my mother and this fat brunette walks in from the front hall. She bends down and picks me up into her arms and walks me into the kitchen. After setting me down on a kitchen chair, she asks what she can prepare for me.

IMG_0377I am super hungry, so I ask for the big breakfast with bacon and eggs and buttered toast with jam. We spend an eternity sitting together in the kitchen while she makes me breakfast and while I eat and she is talking to me the entire time.

How’s that? I’m thinking that the worst this type of pretending could do is make me delusional. I have this imaginary friend as a child, who I didn’t make up until I was an adult.

As I wrote that last piece, a calm warmth spread over me. Instead of reliving the pain of loneliness and the discomfort of an upset stomach, I had breakfast with a woman that loved me. I will always know the truth, but I prefer to remember it my way.

Let’s try another. For a very, very, long time I was plagued with pinworms. Those crawly centimetre long pests that come out at night to lay their eggs. My mother told me a story, when I complained about the discomfort.  She said that she had heard of a man whose worms crawled out through his skin. Nice.

Add in some fiberglass curtains that were washed with the underwear and you live through a day of hell. I was disgusted by the thought of worms coming out through my skin and the fiberglass from the curtains was keeping my skin prickly and itchy all day. Every time that I comforted myself that there were not worms trying to pierce my skin from the inside, the fiberglass would get too itchy to ignore.

Now, instead, when I complained about the discomfort, the big fat brunette helps me dress. We make an emergency trip to the drug store where she lets me pick out a magazine and some gum. We go home together. She is not stupid enough to wash fiberglass curtains with clothing, so that whole day is removed. I see a visual of her pulling me away from looking at that memory. “I won’t let you feel that way again”, she comforts.

So, my plan is to insert a new and improved version of each bad memory as it surfaces and to choose to remember it that way instead.

Read the entire book, now available
Writing this book helped me make sense of what had happened to me as a child and the choices I made as an adult.

Can Stress Be Good For You?

IMG_4985As our understanding of how stressful our lives have become expands, more and more people are talking about meditation, leisure, slowing down and living in the moment. It is generally believed stress can hurt you and you should take every opportunity to reduce it in your life.

In a very two-dimensional way, this seems obvious. If you are worried, on edge and generally unable to relax, it must make you sick or at least tired. We can all think of someone who is so stressed their health and possibly their life has fallen apart. But this belief misses a larger truth. Many of our great accomplishments, enjoyable activities and even some of the pivotal and positive things in our lives are inherently stressful.

Worrying your true love will refuse your offer of marriage may be stressful, but that does not mean you should not ask. Standing up in front of a group of people to give a presentation, is also stressful, but it may be invigorating. People choose to sky dive for heaven’s sake!

So what is really going on? Kelly McGonigal, a doctor who studies the impact stress has on us has made an interesting discovery. In her TED talk 

she explains that if you “believe” stress is bad for you, it does more harm to your health. Simply put, it is our own brain’s interpretation of the effect of stress that ultimately determines how likely the stress will be harmful. Her study demonstrated that if you experienced a stressful event you were 43% more likely to die the following year ONLY if you believed stress was harmful for your health.

In contrast, those who experienced stress but did not believe it was harmful, actually had a lower risk of dying than people who had the least stress. Woah!! That is not what we have come to believe. Could this be because doing interesting things, taking chances, putting yourself out there makes life interesting and more enjoyable, even though it is stressful? I think that may be the case.

Is life worth living if we are constantly trying to be as risk and stress free as possible? I think not. We all know what that would look like and it would be incredibly boring. So, think of your heart pumping and your breathing increasing as your body prepping for action, not as something that is bad for you. Get out there. Take a chance, do something exciting, it may even reduce your risk of dying…

Two and a Half Men

http://mashcultu.re/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/two-and-a-half-men.jpg
http://mashcultu.re/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/two-and-a-half-men.jpg

I sat down in the family room to watch television and noticed that “Two and a Half Men” was on. I flipped to that station so that I could have it on in the background while I checked the listings to see what else was on.

It was the episode of “Two and a Half Men” during which Alan is desperately trying to make extra money because Charlie has hit a dry spell. Charlie is confident that money will show up and Alan is panicking and subjecting himself to humiliating jobs. Alan is shown with a golf-ball sized lump on his forehead and partial hair loss. He had been selling himself as a human research animal.

Alan says, “I guess I’m not in the control group.” This is supposed to be funny because it is so obvious that he is having a reaction to the drug–hence the welt on his forehead and the missing clumps of hair. Then it occurred to me that he might have had the same response regardless of whether he got the control or not. The placebo effect is real. It is so real that it can cause adverse reactions to drugs as well. Simply the act of taking a drug (whether it is a sugar pill or not) can cause adverse symptoms.

The people participating in the trial would no doubt be told to focus on their bodies and report any unusual symptoms. The act of looking for and believing that there might be an adverse reaction makes one more likely to happen. Much the same as believing that the drug might help you makes your symptoms lessen.

So although Alan’s, admittedly neurotic, character figures that he knows for sure that he has the test drug, he may in fact have given himself the negative effects from believing that the sugar pill he was given would give him adverse side effects. Alan’s character on the show is obsessive about things like this and would be very likely to worry about an adverse reaction.

I go more into the evidence of these things in another blog, but suffice it to say if you tell yourself that you are taking better care of yourself and that you will feel better because of it, you will likely do both. Try giving yourself 15 extra minutes of sleep because you know it will make you feel better. It is an easy way to take better care of yourself. See how you feel in a week. What have you got to lose other than the last 15 minutes of your television show? It’ll go into reruns anyway, don’t worry.