The other day I wrote in a notebook, “All my suffering is created by my mind… and what I think others think about me or my life. The judgement of others of me, in me! What crazy fictions!”
OK, so not all my suffering comes entirely from there, but a huge amount of it! It’s amazing what stories we invent for ourselves! And my most torturous stories often involve what I think the outside world, other people, think of me. Still worried about that aged 42!
And mostly, in my case, these stories focus on ‘what am I doing with my life’, or more precisely, what do other people see me doing with my life. Because as always, problem number one in our busy, busy world is thinking that we are being good, useful members of our society. No, better still, some kind of superstar in some incredible field of work or other.
Time and time again I come up against this in my own thoughts. Am I being useful? Does it look like I’m being useful and more of less fantastic to the outside world? It probably looks like I could be doing more or saving the world a little bit better! I better make sure I put myself across right!
Stories stories stories! Some stories say “I’m not making the most of my talents… I’m wasting my life… (or on a really bad day) – I’m useless…” and other times the stories say “I’m saving the world… I’m being super creative… I’m learning something worthwhile… Phew, everything’s OK!”
But it’s all fiction that we write for ourselves every day. I read somewhere that ‘Good therapy changes your story’, so that you go from “I’m useless” to “I’m great!” or “I’m held back by my terrible childhood” to “I’ve processed that now and I’m OK”.
And it’s true. Good therapy does change your story. It helped me enormously to move from point A (I’m not OK, the world’s not OK) to spend a lot more time at point B (I’m OK, the world’s OK).
But there’s more (or perhaps… less…). I think that meditation, or mindfulness, or Zen, goes beneath all the stories, sees them as the stories they are, stands back to watch them telling themselves, and finds that underneath all the fictions and masks we weave for ourselves, there is nothing but freedom and peace.
“Mediation is to sit on the bank of the river of our mental formations and observe them,” said a very wise man (Thich Nhat Hanh). It’s like lying on our back in a warm garden, and seeing the stories we invent slip past like clouds in a deep blue sky.
42 and I still get caught and pay attention to the stories and let them drive me mad every now and again! But 42 and I’m starting to be able to stand back and watch them tell themselves, and say “what fictions I invent for myself!” and let them slide away. A victory for mindfulness! And a true source of happiness. Lying back beneath the stories and gazing up at them, letting them float by, that’s where peace and freedom lie.
And then what? Sit around and do nothing? No! Love life! Explore! Follow my nose! Create! Enjoy! Watch! Listen! Just… Be! Without having to wrap it all up in a constant tale of my own telling and worry about what the outside world thinks of it all!
That’s a kind of freedom that we all deserve to enjoy on our journey through this incredibly beautiful world.