A good storyteller knows its audience, knows how to hook the attention of its audience’s imagination, and make the audience believe its story as being true. Hollywood spends millions of dollars trying to achieve this, by use of special effects and cinematography. Authors spend hours trying to create cunning storylines and use various characterisation techniques to make their story believable. Yet as the movie draws to an end, the world created by the storyteller similarly draws to a close. Even during the time we’re watching the film or reading the book, at the back of our minds, we know it is not real. We know what we are seeing is merely a projection and a story.
The stories that are created in our minds, on the other hand, do not require special effects or literary techniques to make them believable and enduring. Yet they can spin us into another dimension of reality, one that’s distorted in our misinterpresentation of what is really happening in front of us. In our story, we may be the victim, the aggressor, the winner or the loser. We may be all of these. We may fantasise about the future we want to create, or replay over and over again the memory of what we think had happened. The trigger for an entire story that can span over days may be only a single utterance, a simple gesture, or a neutral event. We add our own drama to it. We make something relevant to us, even though in reality it had nothing to do with us at all.
If we look carefully into the stories of our minds, we will see that the misinformation and misinterpretation stems from ourselves. If our hearts have seeds of doubt and suspicion, then we view other’s actions with distrust. If our hearts are contaminated with jealousy or anger, then the words we hear are always with thorns (despite what the actual words may be). If our hearts are full of fear, then we focus on the impossibilities and miss seeing the opportunities. If our hearts are filled with self-loathing, then any success we experience will be minimised and any failures we encounter are exaggerated to add to our already low self-esteem.
So our feelings become drivers in our view of the world. When we are happy, not much would bother us and the world seems to shine brightly while the flowers blossom in unison. When we are sad, all seems hopeless and the world seems that much greyer. When we are angry, we snap at each petty irritant that crosses our path. In this way, we are continuously swinging on a pendulum of feelings from one extreme to another. We can be crying with tears of sadness one minute, then tears of joy in the next.
In our ignorance, we live our lives as puppets to our feelings, fed by the stories of our storytelling-mind. These stories in turn feed our feelings, and the whole cycle begins again.
So how do we overcome these strong forces that have dictated our lives for so long?
With calm awareness and equanimity, we learn to watch the pendulum swing from one to another without adding to it or trying to control it. There is no use grabbing the pendulum to stop it from swinging. The force itself will only make the pendulum swing even more rigorously. The key here is to be gentle and patient. Watch the pendulum, know its rhythms, and allow it to settle in its own time. Trust that the pendulum, and your river of feelings, will subside to a calm stillness.
Similarly so, watch the stories being created by the mind. Don’t get swept up in them; don’t add to them with your own fantasies of the future and reconstructions of the past. Don’t give them the power to control over you. See the stories for what they are – the fabrications of your mind.
To start this process off, the practice for this week is to take note of when you feel the rising of anger or a similarly strong emotion or feeling. Don’t wait until the anger has explored, see if you can catch the moment before it erupts.
Don’t react to the emotion. Simply watch it to see what is happening. What triggers the emotion? If the stimulant external or internal? Does the emotion stay, or does it fade away? If it fades away momentarily but then comes back, what are the conditions that makes it return? What happens when the conditions are taken away?
You may need to see this emotion or feeling rising and fall away a number of times before you can clearly see it for what it is. Hopefully in time you can see that these emotions or feelings come and go, and you do have a choice in whether you want these feelings to stay or go.
As for the stories that are created by our minds, the practice is similar – just watch the stories as they are being told, but do not react to them. Do not make yourself the main actor in the stories. In fact, don’t be an actor in the stories at all. Take yourself out of the story, and in time as the stories become irrelevant to you, they will naturally fall away.
I know this is not an easy practice, but I do hope you give it a try. I hope that you will one day silence the storyteller and cut the strings that bind you to the puppeteer.