Chapter 19: Letting go of the Story of You

Your mind is a master storyteller. It jumps around from subject to subject, having opinions on everything under the sun, forming questions, worrying about what could happen, ruminating over things that have happened, hoping, wanting, regretting and on and on it goes. It never seems to tire or need a rest. Even in your sleep your mind continues to create stories in your dreams.

In the mind’s attempt to make sense of the world it jumps on certain pieces of information that seem to be significant, and filters out the rest. It uses these pieces to figure out how the world works, what your place is within it, how to be in the world and what to do. It is constantly scanning for new information and adding to the storyline so it can form a consistent narrative – the story of you.

Your story of who you are, the type of person you are, your talents, limits and failings are made up by the mind from snippets that you remember, particularly from your childhood, from your life up till now. Your beliefs feel so strong and true but they have been built up from what a few people have said to you, and a handful of experiences. Their truth is much more flimsy than you think. And because our human nature is to focus on the negative rather than the positive your natural bias has led you to build your story upon only a few negative experiences rather than see the truth of the whole. Your story will be built on the failures rather than the achievements, the criticism rather than the praise, the worst rather than the best. And this makes life pretty miserable. 

Because you believe your story, you make it come true in your ongoing life. You become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the story of your life. 

Because your mind is so busy you are constantly in the grip of your thoughts and you cannot see that there is a way out of this treadmill. It is difficult to watch your mind at work because you are trapped in your thoughts with your mind on autopilot. To witness your mind at work you have to press the pause button and stop thinking for a moment and then you might see the thoughts and stories as they emerge. You might glimpse your mind creating a new thought before you get immersed in that thought. If you practice this pausing and watching you will find it easier to see your mind at work without getting caught up in the thought or story. And this ability is fundamental if you want to take over the autopilot of your mind. The more you do this the better you get. 

You need to practice staying present to the way you feel as you go about your day. Whenever you feel anxious, stressed, angry, irritated, scared, shut down or any other reaction, if you pause and look you will see that your mind is telling a story. It may be a story of your failings, of another person’s harsh judgment of you or a particularly gruesome outcome to current events. When you catch yourself in such a moment stop, take a breath, look at what is here and now, in the absence of stories from the past and the lack of storytelling about the future. In the space that you have created you will see things as they are, with many options and choices for what happens next. Then you can use your mind’s wonderful creative storytelling capability to write a positive story of what you want to happen, and from now on you can write your own story.

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