Tag Archives: story lines

Rumbling with our stories

I just love Brené Brown’s work on how to use what she calls “Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice.” She is a Texas born and bred professor, researcher and storyteller who studies shame, wholeheartedness and how we use story and narrative to shape our lives. Her Ted Talk on the power of vulnerability has been viewed over 33 million times. It is one reason I decided to start this blog.

Her definition of spirituality as a belief that humans as inherently interconnected, and in a loving force greater than ourselves is something I truly align with personally. Brown’s work is starting to make its way to families, government and leadership in large organizations. Her approach has wisdom that has been profound for me.

She uses a term coined by Anne Lamott which is a personal favorite, the “shitty first draft.” Her process of identifying the stories we get “caught” in, and realizing they are stories we make up in our own heads to explain things, but that they are not reality, has helped me enormously. I wrote on this theme last week, but I want to explore it from a different angle here, since I finished re-listening to her audio program again recently.

The idea is that we need to recognize when we are in a difficult emotion (the reckoning). Instead of eating it or damping it down with alcohol or buffering it by numbing out on facebook, we get curious. We examine those feelings, own our story, and “rumble” with it. This step means we get honest about the stories we are making up, challenge them to determine what is true, what’s self-protection and what needs to change.

The final step is the revolution, in which we write a new ending to our story based on the key learning from our rumble. We then use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live love, parent and lead. (summary from page 37 of Rising Strong).

Some of us who have been to therapy recognize this is something that counselors do while we are figuring out what is causing pain for us in our lives. When suffering from depression or anxiety, it is critical skill to understand that it is our thoughts that cause us emotional pain, not our circumstances. Sure, if we are experiencing grief or loss or a traumatic event, then there will be pain. This is human, and though we are terrible about allowing grief as a culture, it is absolutely necessary for healing.

The tricky part is that we often add to our pain by layering shame and self-hatred on top of those life experiences. “I should be happy” we tell ourselves. “I should feel grateful” all of the self-help books tell us. But “shoulds” are not helpful. Feelings are what they are. They are not good or bad, they are part of being human.

Feelings often provide some helpful clues to us on what and who we want to move towards or move away from in our lives. Brené Brown makes the point that we often believe we are people that THINK and sometimes feel. But the actuality is that people always FEEL and sometimes think. Perhaps this is a remnant from the Descartes’ idea that “I think therefore I am,”  but it is inaccurate.

Neuro-biologically we are wired for emotion. We are wired for story. Our brain actually gives us a dopamine hit when we create a story that explains whatever disparate facts are in front of us. It makes no difference whether the story is true, it just takes comfort from making sense of the world. The stories we tell shape our lives. And when we tell them enough times, they evolve into theories about how the world works. Any theory we belief for long enough becomes a belief.

The awesome thing about humans is that we can choose to believe new things. When we encounter a belief that is causing us pain, we can unpack it, question it, and possibly change it. We often find we believe things we may have been taught when young, or observed in our family systems.

What if we write our stories as though we are the heroes and not the victims? What if we are able to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, and the mistakes others made? When we can free ourselves in this way, we free our energy to stop living in our past and to take brave steps into the future.

rising strong audio.JPG

If you want a free link to this roughly 3-hour audible presentation on this topic, where Brown explains her work, and also answers questions from the audience please email me at cristy@meximinnesotana.com. I am happy to share this with anyone who may want to do similar personal work.

What are you making it mean?

One of the things I have discovered as I have developed a daily practice of meditation is that my mind does not sit still very willingly.

I used to confuse meditation with the idea that you must empty your mind of thoughts. Maybe some well-trained and long-practiced gurus can do this, but I am not at that level. What I *can* do however, is pay attention to my thoughts. If I use a mantra for meditation, like “ease of being” or pay attention to the breath, or scan the body, I inevitably get distracted, and my mind starts doing what it does so well, thinking and churning away.

But then I realize I have gone away from the intention for that practice, gently bring the mind back, and begin again. In the beginning, I think I used to get annoyed with myself – how did I get distracted so easily and so quickly?!? The more I learned and studied I realized that it was much better to view this with compassion. As Jon Kabat-Zinn would say: it’s not a problem, or a mistake that you got distracted. This is just what minds do. When you notice you have gone off, just bring it back. That is the very essence of the practice.

Wow. What a relief. I’m not doing it wrong. Dan Harris, wrote 10% Happier, uses the metaphor that meditation is like a “bicep curl” for the brain. The process of bringing the mind back, many many times, is what helps you grow in the practice, and to develop mastery over your mind.

As I developed in my practice, I began to see places where my mind would create and invent stories upon hearing communication from someone else. And my mind is inventive about this, thought it has a very story-lines it seems to prefer. For example, if I heard a benign comment from my husband about something that struck me in an emotional way, I would stew about it, and use it to feel bad.

But if I used the approach, recommended by coaches and therapists to echo back what I had heard (“you plan to go cut some wood after work”), and said, “what I’m making that mean is that you want some time away from me, you are tired of spending time with me.” Typically that is not what he meant at all, and he would correct the invented story that was running through my head. By saying it out loud, and declaring my interpretation, I was able to clarify that HE did not mean that, my own mind was inventing a story that was creating hurt. 

So have learned to do this more often in general, not always out loud, depending on the context. But sometimes I will examine a particular comment or issue that is bothering me, and ask myself “What am I making it mean?” to allow myself to stop and take some distance, realize that my mind is programmed to make sense of the world, and so often jumps to whatever conclusion fits its usual story-line. When I question that thought, I realize that might not be the case at all. The objective facts or circumstance presented itself and my mind took the next “logical” step, which may not be logical at all.

Our minds are pretty sneaky, and we sometimes buy into these stories as though they are reality. These stories create an emotional state, and if they are habitual, we typically forget to question them. But it is worth stopping now and then, examining them, asking ourselves if we really know that thought is true. Or is it just a projection? Is it just a story-line that we have thought so many times, we believe it to be true?

We then understand that these thoughts are optional, and we may learn to let go of them more easily, to hold them lightly instead of tightly. There is so much freedom in that, and so much less drama. What are you making it mean?