Eckhart Tolle, in his book, A New Earth
, talks about your story and how identifying with it causes so much suffering. So what does this really mean?
Here are some real life examples of life stories:
I met someone at a party. In the half hour I talked with her, a plain woman in her sixties, I found out that she had lost her trust fund at the age of 19 and couldn't go to college. Apparently, her relatives took/lost it and she was left with nothing. The way she talked about it, with such anger and blame and wrath, it sounded as if it had happened last week, not over 40 years ago
. She was very attached to her story that she "should" have kept her trust fund and that she was a victim. She cited that the reason she was not well-educated and successful (making low money) was because of this event. Remember, she is telling this story with a lot of emotion to a relative stranger, me.
A beautiful 50ish woman friend of mine tells me that the reason she is not an artist is because her parents would not support her so she could study art in Paris with masters. She still cries about and wrings her hands over this injustice. She blames
her parents and is still angry about it. She feels her life has been a failure because her parents wouldn't pay her way and support her. She believes most of her problems relate to this event and to the resulting stifling of her creative self.
Another story from an acquaintance: "I'm not very good with money. You know, I came from a poor family and there just wasn't much to go around. I guess I'm afraid of money."
And one more to make the point, "I have chronic inflammation that makes me tired so I can't do much. I had to quit my job and lost all my friends. No one wants to be around someone who is in pain all the time. It's not fair that this happened to me."
Now you may be saying, but wait, these things are real and they really happened. Why shouldn't they be angry, lonely, sad, grieving, etc.? And you'd be right from one perspective. It is normal behavior for people to react to the events in their lives. But we are trying to live differently, to be more aware, to be conscious and to be happier
. Good and bad things happen to all of us. Any one event or an accumulation of events can turn into a story.
Each of us has many experiences, but not all experiences turn into stories. For example, the same situation, say, losing your trust fund as a teenager and not having money for college, could have happened to you. But you may have been angry for a few weeks or months and then got a job or applied for a loan and went on to college and had a good life. It didn't turn into a story. It was just an experience, a part of life, maybe even a learning experience. It is the "being attached" to the story as a part of your identity that causes the problems and suffering.
From my own life, I was attached to the story of the straight A student. Growing up, my identity in the family was as the "smart" one. In fact, I was no smarter than my siblings, but my role in the family was to do well in school. When I was in college and going to night school, raising a disabled child and working a demanding full-time job, I was exhausted because I had to make straight A's. When I made a B or even a C, it caused me a great deal of stress and embarrassment because it was not affirming my identity (story) of the straight A student. My ego was very attached to this story line. At some point, I decided to let go of the story. Notice that I had to see that I had a story and observe it's effects on my life in order to take any action. I didn't even know what "presence" or the "now" was at this point in my life. I signed up for a class, did not withdraw, never went to class and got an F! (on purpose) And lo and behold, nothing bad happened. People didn't look at me differently; my permanent record did not make the newspapers; and it didn't affect my grade point average. That story is gone from my life. What a relief!
Of course, I could turn the letting go of that story into a story as well. As in, "Look how well I did, aren't I special, I am the master at problems and letting go" and so on. Anything can turn into a story because the ego creates them as part of it's constant defense of the ego boundaries and identity.
The distance or observing that Eckhart talks about is what allows you to see the story and to let it go. Sometimes the observing is all that is needed, sometimes you may want to take action. In all cases, being present allows the story to fade away. The story cannot hook you if you are present in the now, to use Eckhart's terminology.
A few practical tips to let go of your stories:
1. Watch your language. "I am" is usually a tip-off to your ego's need to identify with something. "I am" not good with money. "I am" such a loser at relationships. "I am" an adult child of alcholics and can't be around people who drink. "I've always" been good with numbers, been beautiful, been overweight, etc. Watch for the "I am"s in your life and observe without judgment.
2. Don't share your story. Every time you notice you want to tell the story, observe the ego's need to assert your identity. Keep quiet and don't tell the story, don't make the story more real by repeating it, and don't give it any more energy. This is not the same energetically as "it's a secret", but more in line with "that is just a story, not the real me."
3. When you notice yourself identifying with your story, being hooked and dragged along with the story, tell yourself
- "this is just a story"
- "this story is not now, it is in the past"
- "I accept that this story was mine, but I choose to live in the here and now"
- "I see how this story makes me feel (emotionally and in the body) and choose to be present now"
- "this is not personal" (especially useful when someone is doing something you don't like such as criticizing you, cutting you off in traffic, infringing on your perceived territory or liberty)
- "this is just X being X" as in John picks a fight with you, you can say silently to yourself, this is just John being John, and is not personal (to me)
4. Don't fight the story. As the borgs say, Resistance is futile
! Resistance gives the story more energy. Suppressing your feelings give the emotions more energy and make them expand. The idea here is to be gentle and to let go, not to "destroy" the story. This means not telling yourself you "should" be feeling one way or another or that you "should" not be thinking about this. It means simply choosing to be present now. When you are present (or observing), the story and it's resulting emotions simply fade.
5. Discover what keeps you attached to the story. We all get something from our stories. The stories feed our egos in some way. Some times it is to get attention, either negative or positive. Some times it is to elicit pity. At times it is to create drama and feel chaos, which for some is comfortable. Sometimes noticing what you are feeling and what you hope will happen or what does happen can help you make sense of the story and make it easier to let it go. Sometimes the story is to make people turn away from you because that makes you feel exposed. Observing your feelings before, during and after a story being expressed in your life can be helpful.
6. Watch other people's stories as they talk or react. The next time you have lunch with a friend or go to a party, choose to bring your "witness" or "observer" into front and center. Instead of being caught up in other's stories, try to listen in presence and really know that this is a story, not who this person really is. What difference does that make in your experience of them? How can you apply that knowledge to your own experience?
Labels: attachment, eckart tolle, life story, making changes, transformation