“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Several years ago, I ran into a friend who had just finished a one-month silent meditation retreat. When I asked about her experience, she pointed to her forehead and traced an imaginary label as she replied, “It’s written here. Now I know, the story is extra.”
I know exactly what she meant. I used to live in stories. There was drama about what people should and shouldn’t have done. There were emotions spilling out everywhere based on these dramas. There was brooding, stewing, worrying, and gossiping.
Finally, I learned the transformative life lesson: The story is extra.
The Nature of Stories
A story is a series of thoughts strung together. It is a layer of mental activity that we place on the reality of what is happening. And here is where the trouble starts. When we inhabit our stories, we:
- Add meaning
We view the world through the lens of our minds – our ideas about things, rather than the actual reality of things. And these stories rarely bring us peace. They divide the world into good and bad, should and shouldn’t. When we focus on our internal story-telling, we are setting ourselves up for unhappiness and turmoil.
Over and over, we tell ourselves we aren’t good enough or the past shouldn’t have happened the way it did or that someone we know should behave differently. When we resist reality, as it is, we feel frustrated and hopeless. These mental whirlwinds sap our energy and keep us stuck in a narrow perspective. They are a form of violence we do to ourselves. They alienate, divide, and hurt.
The Value of Letting Go
It is a revolutionary choice to let go of the story and see things as they are. But when you do, here is what is in store for you. How do I know? These are the benefits I have realized:
- Moving past grudges and putting down old baggage from the past. When I stopped torturing myself with these stories, I was able to see things with fresh eyes. Forgiving and letting go became the obvious choice.
- Well being. I feel calmer, happier, more relaxed, and less stressed.
- Clarity. I realized the stories I was telling myself were just a small part of the whole reality of things. I was missing a lot. Letting go of stories led to deeper insights about my motivations and the intentions of others. My next step became crystal clear.
- Easier problem solving. When I stopped trying to solve problems in my mind based on the stories, practical and creative solutions appeared effortlessly.
- Better relationships. As I stopped believing stories I told myself about how other people should change, I brought less friction into my relationships.
- Quiet mind. Once I stopped paying attention to the mental chatter, I began to experience a spacious, open, quiet mind.
- Compassion. We always play the starring role in our stories. When I shifted my focus away from what I wanted and what I thought was right, compassion for others flooded in.
When our stories are activated, we are in a fight with reality. Reality is as it is, then we try to mold, change, or resist it, making our daily experience a very bumpy road. Relaxing into the flow of things smooths out the kinks. Without the stories, we are available to shift and respond as needed. The opposition of “no” turns into the surrender of “yes.”
I have learned a very valuable phrase: “Oh, this.” My plane is three hours late? Oh, this. My father ends up in the ICU with pneumonia? Oh, this. A client no-shows? Oh, this.
“Oh, this” is not about resignation or putting up with anything. It is an alive acceptance of circumstances without reservation.
I no longer put any stock in the stories that show up in my mind. They don’t serve, and they are essentially insubstantial and untrue. Not only do I accept reality, I relish it. I appreciate what happens, even if I don’t like it, and let my heart open over and over to things exactly as they are.
As Jesus said, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I have discovered that the truth does set you free. When you abandon stories and welcome reality with no resistance, you meet this magnificent world just as it is in all its glory.
How about you? What stories do you tell yourself? What would happen if you let them go? I’d love to hear…
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Note: This post was inspired by Abubakar Jamil‘s life lessons series, in which he invites bloggers to share what they have learned in life. Click on the life lessons link if you would like to read other bloggers’ posts.