Stories Are Dangerous and Wonderful

Friends, I have been thinking a lot about stories.

Stories are dangerous things. They are also wonderful things. I heard a timely piece of advice about stories today. It was related to me by a wise island friend, John. It was related to him by a mentor. I will pass it along to you now.

When you find yourself thinking something bad about yourself, know that it is not some scientific truth, it is a story.

Say to yourself: Ah, this is a story I’m telling.

Then, find the feeling from which this story arises. Every story is born in a feeling. You will not find the feeling in your head (no, that is where stories live). The feeling lives in your heart or gut. Go there now and find the feeling. Then, sit with the feeling.

The story is still up in your head. Story says: Hey wait, I’ve got something to tell you. Say: Not right now, thanks.

Sit with the feeling. The feeling may be painful. The feeling may come and go. Don’t say yes or no to the feeling, and don’t try to silence it (you can’t). Just sit with it. Say: Hi, feeling. Feeling: Oh, hello.

Eventually the feeling will wander off. It might return. If it does, take a moment to sit with it again. Again, pay no attention to the story upstairs.

If you do this enough, [unspecified magic] will cause [unspecified good things] to happen.*

*This was more or less how John explained it to me. He said his mentor wouldn’t tell him what happens because that would ruin it.

But wait, Evan, give me an example. I’ll give you an example, reader.

Story:

Evan went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat and left after 1 day, because Evan is a lazy wimp & a failure.

Feeling:

Worthlessness.

Everyone, say hello to an acute feeling of worthlessness.

[Worthlessness smells like chlorine gas and shares a similar penchant for low-lying dips and gullies. Worthlessness hums like a leaf blower in the far distance: Unnnnnnnnnnn. Worthlessness is so familiar and ever-present we rarely notice it.]

Everyone, say goodbye to an acute feeling of worthlessness.

Here’s another thing I’ll say about the stories we tell. Only the first part of my story is at all fact-based. I went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat and I left after 1 day. Here, let’s try a thing. Let’s try 12 other versions of this story, all of which are equally “true.”

Evan went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat and left after 1 day.
Evan went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat.
Evan boldly, in spite of frightening odds, went to a silent meditation retreat.
Evan had the enormous good fortune of attending a silent meditation retreat.
Evan has not completed a silent meditation retreat.
Evan has not yet completed a silent meditation retreat.
Evan went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat but decided it was not the right time, and he left.
Evan is one of many thousands of would-be marathon meditators who left a silent retreat on their first attempt.
Evan is a human being who took a risk and, in this instance, did not succeed.
Evan is a human being, and as such, is prone to failure, misadventure, and also great courage and kindness.
Evan is a human being.
Evan is.

All of these stories are just as true as the first story, the one about the loser-failure-wimp. Also, I am the author of all of these stories. So as the author, it is up to me to choose the narrative. For what reason should I choose the first one, the sad defeating story? Why not choose a different one?

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