Recently, someone asked me about the concept that we can let go of the stories we tell ourselves – and, in doing so, create a new future. She’d witnessed someone having a strong physical reaction to the suggestion – his entire body had broken out in a rash – and she’d had such reactions herself.
It seemed like just the thought of giving up a past narrative had produced a strong somatic reaction – which automatically occurred within seconds.
“Why does it make people so uncomfortable?” this woman asked me. “Why does it feel like such a radical idea to let go of these stories?”
The stories we tell ourselves – about our memories, our past, and our struggles; our interaction with certain people, objects, and things – are familiar to us, so let’s call them the known. We identify with them; they become who we think we are – and, ultimately, our personality.
That’s because reliving the past fires and wires the same circuits in the same ways – reproducing the same mind – and works our bodies into an emotional froth of chemicals. Biologically, as well as subconsciously, we become our past. We believe the old story and behave as if it is our truth – until we become it.
So many of us remain invested in these narratives – the stories of the past – because to invest in our future, instead, is so unpredictable for the body. And the body doesn’t trust the unknown. The body is comfortable in the old stories – and all the identity-affirming emotions that accompany them. More than comfortable; it craves those emotions.
In fact, any time we’re recycling one of our favorite stories – about ourselves; about someone else; about the way we grew up with our parents and siblings; about our history with illness, trauma, or the ways we were wronged – what we’re really seeking to do is fuel the emotions we associate with those stories and memories.
And we all do it; we’re human. Right now, see if you can remember a recent experience that evoked strong feelings for you. Maybe it was a confrontation with someone at work or disturbing news headline. It’s probably easy to think of something; we encounter those situations all the time.
But now, try to remember this. How did you handle the emotions that arose? Did you tune out, overreact, and reach for your phone to distract you from those feelings? Act out your emotions and storm off? Unconsciously project agitated energy on your spouse from your disagreement with someone else?
You might not even be aware of how you reacted in those moments. But your body probably had you programmed to behave the exact same way you did the last time you encountered the exact same emotions. And the more the body becomes habituated to those feelings, the more it craves them.
In other words, as long as your response to the same circumstances stays the same, you stay the same. And so does your health. And your life.
Why does it seem radical to let go of these stories? Because it means letting go of our identities. It means letting go of the addiction to the emotions fueled by those stories; of exercising a level of consciousness that’s greater than our unconscious programming. And that takes constant awareness and energy.
It’s important to notice all the ways we try to escape this challenge. We don’t use things in the 3-D world to merely distract us; we become fixated on our outside environment. We’re conditioned to need something or someone else to make those feelings go away. We’re in the unconscious habit of relying on our outer world to change our inner world.
But what would happen if we could take that same ability to focus on something outside ourselves – and turn it inward? What if we could break our addiction to whatever drama, trauma, or karma is devouring our energy and attention?
By the same means, what if we could become fixated … on what’s going on inside us?
What if we could learn to sit with ourselves and our own energy, and become not only aware of, but fascinated with, our inner world of thoughts and feelings?
To catch ourselves going unconscious, learn to shift focus to our inner world, and manage our attention and energy is the work. That’s how we disentangle from the past self. And it takes effort – especially in the beginning.
This, in essence, is what meditation invites us to do – disassociate from all those distractions, settle our body down emotionally, and go within. To find out what's on the other side of our most common thoughts, programmed habituations, and familiar emotions.
So the next time you’re sitting in meditation, and your body starts to resist – as it will – notice what happens. Are you thinking about reaching for your phone? Are you replaying an argument you had the night before? Are you fighting the urge to quit?
This is when we have to demonstrate a will that’s greater than our unconscious programs. It’s the defining moment when we have to recondition the body to a new mind – and retrain it with love, gratitude, and kindness.
Here’s a great exercise to practice in those moments: See if you can become fixated on how hard it is to resist. See if you can become fascinated by not being able to sit with yourself. Ask yourself: what’s on the other side of this? And challenge yourself to see if you believe it’s worth finding out – to sit with the discomfort a little longer. That’s the quest for the unknown.
See if you can confront the idea that you need something outside yourself to make that discomfort go away – or if you can find the resources within to give yourself what you need in that moment.
Ask yourself this simple question: would I rather feel anger or joy? If the answer is joy, you are going to have to change your emotional state. No one else can do it for you.
You may be able to temporarily change your emotions by relying on someone or something else. But if you don’t change your response the next time you feel a disturbing emotion, your brain will remember what made the feeling go away the last time – and convince you that you need that same stimulus to make the feeling go away.
If you can manage not to give in to the seduction of your external environment – or your body’s resistance to the unknown – and simply get to a place of neutrality, you’re achieving something really significant. You’re stepping into the unknown. You’re demonstrating power over your thoughts, habits, and emotions from the past. Now, you’re committing to change.
And then, imagine what comes next. Imagine, through your practice, you discover you can feel transcendent love and joy – because you’ve freed the body from the shackles of the past and have chosen to feel something else. Imagine learning you can bring your attention within, find nothing more meaningful than your beating heart, and feel true gratitude and love. Imagine realizing you can let go of an idea you held about yourself or another person – and suddenly be free.
When we let our body keep us in the familiar past, we let our body keep us from the freedom of the unknown.
The body fights to stay in the known – even if it means living with the same stories of pain and trauma that have limited us for a lifetime. But that keeps us from the mystical. It keeps us from the magical. It keeps us from healing. And it keeps us from discovering the infinite potentials of the new futures we might create.
When will that old story end? Why not tell a new story of your future – and believe, behave, and become that, instead?