The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We were walking by our favorite pond that features many wonderful birds when we noticed one of the two purple gallinules (one of our favorites!) was limping and the other one was nowhere in sight. It appeared that the limping bird had broken her leg and the other one must have been taken by a predator. We were very upset! The worst part of it was thinking that the injured one was left all alone and couldn’t possibly make it.

The next day, we visited again and neither bird could be found. Both were now dead. Most certainly. We felt sad but relieved that they were no longer suffering. The following day, we found one of them! No limp! Perfectly fine! We felt happy.

Do you see how it works? We created a story about the birds. We felt bad with our first story, sad and relieved with our second story, and happy with our third story. We’ll feel bad or happy with our next story. The situation itself never changed! The situation simply is what it is. What changed was our story about the situation.

This is how we walk through the world. We are constantly experiencing situations, circumstances, and life through our thinking. Most of us are constantly spinning stories about what is happening around us. Depending on the story we create, we will feel happy or sad or any number of other emotions. Do you see this at work in your own life?

I’ve been waiting for some news recently. It’s news that will have a big impact on me no matter what turn it takes. Each day, I spin a different story about it. Each day I experience different emotions depending upon the story I spin. Some days, I feel relief when I imagine nothing comes of it. Other days, I feel relief when I imagine something does come of it. The scenarios I create in my mind are made up and yet I experience them in the moment as if they are real. The situation isn't changing but my stories about the situation are.

This is how our psychological system works. We create our lives via thought and consciousness. You could think of thoughts like the painter’s palette and consciousness as the painter. The painter has an array of colors available to her. She chooses which she wants to create with and she leaves the others on the palette. She creates with the colors she chooses, creating form from the formless colors. Thoughts are similar. They are energy moving through us but once we start painting with them, whether they are stressful or peaceful, we create our unique experiences, we create our lives. That’s why you and I and every other person can react or respond to the same situation differently. We are painting with different colors.

If we don’t understand this, then we are at the mercy of the stories we spin. If we have some understanding of this, then we can wake up to what is happening. We can remind ourselves that we are spinning this or that particular story. We can bring ourselves back to the present moment.  When we get caught up in the past or future, we can obscure our wisdom and become confused about how to handle what's before us. Waking up to the stories we are spinning and returning to the present moment brings us back to clarity and wellbeing.

Notice the stories that you are spinning today. What do you see? Just noticing can make a difference in returning to your clarity and wellbeing.

 I welcome and appreciate your comments. The comment box is below.


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Going Over Conversations in Your Head

I don’t know about you, but I am a master at imagining and replaying conversations in my head. Past conversations. Future conversations. Conversations I will never have but could have in some alternate reality, I suppose. I imagine what I’m going to say in a particular scenario or go back over a conversation that I’ve already had. Over and over again. Judging, planning, scheming, worrying. Do you do this, too?

Some call this rumination, overanalysis, or even social anxiety. Whatever it is, I’ve had plenty of it in my life. It can be our misguided way of trying to control anxiety but this kind of rumination leads to more anxiety. I'm sure you've already figured that out.

When I get caught up in this mode, I can feel pretty stressed and even bad about myself. When I can bring my attention to what I’m doing, I notice that I’m going over and over something that doesn’t exist. A past conversation is over. A future conversation hasn’t happened, and it won’t. That is to say, there is no way to predict how a conversation will go. Ever.  Trying to do so may give us an illusion of control but it’s still an illusion.

I was walking with Pedro today in the woods. No one was out there. I didn’t have Pedro’s comfortable harness with me so I took him off the leash in a place I won’t normally do so. As we were walking, all alone, I began imagining seeing someone in the distance approaching us. I imagined they would be angry to see Pedro off leash. I imagined quickly snapping the leash on Pedro before the person got close to us. I imagined her getting to us and fussing at me for having Pedro off the leash for even a moment. I imagined telling her that he is on the leash now and posed no threat. I imagined her going on and on and me defending myself. I imagined getting angry and impatient with her. Phew! That is just how creative I am!

I even began to feel a tad guilty and irritated! Of course I did, because we are always living in the feeling of our thinking. We create our reality moment to moment via our thoughts. That’s how powerful and creative the human system is.

The Pedro scenario happened quickly and I was able to realize what I was doing. Seeing that, I brought my attention back to the present moment and allowed the thoughts to move along, as thoughts will do when left alone. When we don’t allow them to move along by attaching to and feeding them, they can become overwhelming and can obscure us from what is present to us in the moment.

Pedro off leash was a silly example but it’s not so silly when I’m worried about a conversation with a challenging co-worker or family member or judging a conversation I’ve had in the past. I still remember a one sentence comment I made decades ago. One second too late, I realized that it was mildly insensitive though I didn’t intend it that way. I replayed that one sentence for years. Years! And that’s not the only sentence I’ve replayed. Can you relate?

I no longer torture myself with replaying past or imagining future conversations, for the most part, and I am much more relaxed which enables me to be more present in the conversations I have in the moment. When conversations are conducted in the present moment, we have more clarity and are able to access the wisdom we need for that conversation. In the moment.

That’s not to say that I can’t remind myself of a past conversation, note what I’d like to do differently, learn from that, and take that understanding into new conversations. It’s not to say that I can’t prepare for future conversations by being clear on what I want to convey and even outlining my points if I think that could be helpful. But in doing so, we could notice when we begin to feel ramped up, stressed out, or fearful. Those feelings of stress are useful because they can wake us up to the fact that we have become lost in the past or the future, neither of which exist.

The remedy? You could bring your attention back to the present moment. Often, a simple, “You can stop now, Carla”, is enough to bring me back to the present moment. Awareness, alone, can be enough to loosen the grip of stressful thinking. If it doesn't loosen its grip right then, it will. In time. Always.

In the woods with Pedro, all I needed to do was bring my attention to what was present, instead of to the made up woman. The beautiful live oaks. The curious anhinga. The mating cardinals. The call of the pileated woodpecker. Pedro’s wagging tail. The smell of the salty air and earthy mud of the tidal creek. I begin to settle.

When my attention is on the present moment, I find a clarity and wisdom available. I find that I have what I need for this moment. As Jamie Smart says, We are built for the reality of this moment. We are not built for the past. We are not built for the future. We are built for right here and right now. In this moment, you have all you need.

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Contact Carla to learn more about coaching and how you could benefit. Carla's total commitment is to help her clients wake up and live the life they most desire.