The Light Comes ON, Slowly
As many of you know, Darbella and I sold our Elmira house back in May, and are effectively nomads. We are in our third house since May, and the reason, such as it is, is that the project in Costa Rica needed funding. Parenthetically, our target date for moving to Costa Rica is July of 2007. However, we are certainly looking at ways to speed that timeline up.
Anyway, the house we are now in, much like everything else in our lives, is "interesting." One of the things I find odd is that most of the lights in the house take multiple bulbs, yet most of the lights have only one bulb, and more often than not, the bulb is a compact fluorescent. I'm sure the owners did this out of concern for their electrical usage. I, however, find that there's never enough light, and I can't see, pure and simple.
This morning, I was contemplating Into The Centre, whilst preparing for my morning shower. Into the john I trundled, clicked the power switch, and the light turned on. I think. There was this weird, yellowish glow from the wall sconce, and then, ever so slowly, over 30 seconds or so, the light came up to its full intensity (which you'd never be confuse with a spotlight, let me tell ya…)
I watched the light, as it slowly went for zero to sixty, and thought, there's this issue's article!
Yes, my life is like that. Everything is an illustration.
I just got back from a couple of workshops at The Haven. Without getting into the drama of what happened at the Come Alive I attended, I am aware of being intently and intensely present for the 5 days, and in that, I discovered a lot about myself.
Now, what I discovered was not new information. I described it as "actually hearing."'
What I mean is that the message I got about myself was delivered in Technicolor and Stereo Surround Sound. The feedback was totally positive and certainly something I was aware of having been told in the past. Multiple times. For some reason, however, I was (up until this time) invested in another, negative story I told myself about this aspect of my self-definition.
Because, in the past, the feedback did not match the story I was telling myself, I discounted the feedback in order to maintain my story. And I hated my story!
Not to reduce the Come Alive experience to a "one size fits all" description, but this is a common theme for most of the participants.
For the vast majority of us, not much is actually happening to us. Our lives continue in a predictable way. Our process, as meaning-makers, is to take the events of our life and tell ourselves a story about the meaning of those events. We are heavily invested in the stories we tell ourselves, even in the face of others telling us a different story.
In my case, (and those of you who have been reading Into The Centre for a while will know this about me) I make it difficult for myself to hear praise. I have all kinds of reasons, one of which is, "People don't really like me. They like what I do, not who I am." Now, if you think about this a bit, you'll see that this is a pretty clever story.
- If people ignore me, this fits clause 1 of the story—that "people don't like me."
- If I get positive feedback and signs of caring and affection, I use clause 2 to negate the reception: "They're saying that because of what I did, not who I am."
Insidious, eh? This one belief (interpretation of my life story) keeps me effectively detached from others (Dar being the exception) and caught in my "poor boy, hard done by" story.
Now, you may wonder why anyone would actively engage in the active pursuit of feeling like crap. I do this (and more importantly you do this) because
you have more invested in maintaining the story you are telling yourself than in getting over yourself.
Let me unpack.
Clients regularly come in with a tale of woe that is decades long. It appears that the details of their lives are one long, unending confirmation of the misery that is their existence. There never seem to be exceptions. Or, if I happen to notice and mention an exception, I can rest assured that the client will get a blank, glazed over look on her face, then blink and assimilate the new factoid into the old story, changing the positive into the negative.
It is truly amazing to watch.
Dar and I have an "every night communication" pact that continues even when we are away from each other. I called every night, from Haven. I would tell Dar what I was experiencing. Often she would laugh and say, "Everyone loves you. Everyone hates you. Everyone loves you." This is Dar, playing my story back to me, sans details. When she does that, and without allowing myself the luxury of justifying what is really a quite lame story, I can laugh at me, too.
This time, I decided to be open to the possibility of letting go of this story. I have had experience in letting go—of many things—careers, people, dysfunctional thoughts and actions. This story, for some reason, I was clinging to like a life raft.
So, I made a deal with myself to stay open, to be me, to listen and to hear.
Now, needless to say, the things I heard had been said to me before. I know, in the case of Ben & Jock, that they have actually said them before. I admire and am grateful for their persistence. This time, I heard the words and accepted the words as "true." I let them in. A week later, I still believe the words.
Am I "cured?" Of course not! The next time I'm presented with a similar situation, my tendency will be to default to the old, non-hearing behaviour. Why? Practice.
I've spent 54 years listening to the stories I tell myself. Most of my stories are "keepers"—excellent, useful stories. A couple of them are really, really useless.
The problem is, I have a lot of time and effort invested in keeping all of them, simply because I am used to giving credence to the voice in my head, and because I've invested so much time in giving these stories life and validity. No matter what I say about wanting this (these) stories to go away, I will always have remnants of the pieces I wish weren't there.
What I have learned to do, (and it's been a long process, let me tell you,) is to view my process with compassion. I do what I do, and then I move on, without attaching too much significance to the drama I am creating. I fail at this sometimes, and I'm OK with that, too. I notice, notice my noticing, and come back from the story to simple presence with whatever is up at the moment.
This is, pure and simple, a skill. Like all skills, you have to learn it, fumble with it, and eventually get, well, skillful. Never, however, will "practice make perfect."
Practice makes presence.
Gentleness and a sense of humour help too.
See and hear the stories you tell yourself, and are really committed to. Do they serve you or do you use them to torture yourself? Just notice. Then, have a breath and let go.