Letting go of the belief that the way you see things (the story you tell yourself) is either real or true is difficult-the hardest lesson. It is when reality conflicts with the story, however, that a real opportunity for growth and shifting occurs.
Dropping the Story… and the Blame
On both a theoretical and practical level, the only thing “going on” is what’s going on in you.
This is not an ego-driven statement—not meant to suggest that “your” way is the “right way.” A client said, “Sure we could get on the same page, so long as it’s her page.” This is NOT what I mean. I tell my clients that the hardest thing they’ll have to accept is precisely this: what goes on for you, inside, is all you. All the time. Not true, not real. Just your story. So the big question becomes, is your story helpful, or useless?
We comment to ourselves all the time
You can call the internal comments your story, or your narrative. It’s not true—it’s made up of fragments of experience, strung together like beads. You chose which things to notice (and add to the narrative) based on the story itself. Our stories, left to themselves, are self-fulfilling prophesies.
Mostly, we have quite judgemental stories going on in there—most of us would never talk to another person the way we talk to ourselves. But somehow, we trot along, framing our lives through ridiculous narratives, until a situation upsets the applecart.
Here’s a quote from a book called Language Structure & Change, by Efran, Lukens and Lukens, in a section entitled “The Meaning of Psychotherapy.”
In therapy, two or more individuals meet and form a novel coupling that enables them to carve out new distinctions. In the process, as we have noted, they breathe life into alternatives that had no previous existence. At its best, psychotherapy begins with a particular “glitch” in a client’s life and moves towards redefining and expanding the possibilities of living. (pg.197)
We’re about to explore our lives as consisting of the “stories we tell ourselves.”
This idea comes from narrative therapy, which suggests that elegant therapy is simply replacing an inelegant store with a more useful one—the “new distinction” of the above quote. Thus the “glitch” is the point we all reach when the story we are telling ourselves can no longer contain the present reality. At that point the choices ate two:
- Try to force the new experience onto the “old page,” or
- write a new page.
“When I look at our situation “objectively,” I recognize it’s all your fault.”
The norm is to “judge the glitch.” Interior work is difficult—pointing a finger at the situation or the “other” is easy. A “cloak of objectivity” is thrown over the situation. “Why can’t you see this?” Answer: they’re not you, and they have another story.
Let me give you an illustration.
“Sue” was widowed two years ago, at age 35. Here is her reality: she was married for 10 years, and then her husband died.
Her internal theatre—her story, however, is not that simple. Rather than ditch her story, and write a new one–perhaps a “Here I am, starting over,” story, she chose to try to maintain her old story (wife) and also add in two other roles (widow, single woman.)
In her head, she is playing three characters—three wildly different characters, each with their own agenda.
- there is the baseline, “married woman,” who simply wants everything to be the way it was—she calls this the “white picket fence story.”
- there is the grieving widow, whose default is “helpless, lonely, horny, in need of a shoulder to cry on, likely forever.”
- she is a single woman looking to have sex, date, flirt, have more sex.
As she has not resolved her internal theatre to match her reality, the three characters are at war. The each have their own agenda, and there is nothing but confusion.
Here’s what happens, as she attempts to re-enter the world:
As “the widow,” she expresses a need to be held and comforted by a man. She has never learned to arrange this with male friends, so she meets her need through barter. “You hold and comfort me, I’ll return the favour with sex.” Since she thinks she’ll be grieving forever, she sees a long line of strange men enter her life—as she barters away her soul.
Having sex is quite OK with “the single woman,” who loves sex, but interestingly the single woman also has a trick up her sleeve. She barters sexual intimacy to get a relationship, leading to marriage. Without the potential of marriage (which is not on the widow’s agenda,) “part of her” thinks sex would be “wrong.”
Then, “the married woman” pops into the equation, loudly expressing the opinion that, when “the single woman” has sex, she’s cheating on her dead husband. So, she kicks the guy to the curb before anything “serious” can happen, and crosses her legs. Tightly.
That is what a Glitch looks like
“Objectively,” pretty simple. “Sue” wants to be held. The “glitch” arises when the widow and the married woman show up on the single woman’s date.
Sue is actually trying to achieve something that her current story, her current self-definition, has no room for. She’s in need of a new interpretation. It’s not her actions that are blocking her—it’s her interpretations—the story she tells herself—that gets her into a pickle.
So, what does “Sue” do first? She wails, “It’s not fair! I shouldn’t have to deal with this!”
Nice, except that present reality is what it is. So, our work in the dance of therapy is to peel back the layers of story, so as to explore how to “be,” right here, right now, as “it” is.
Now, let me hasten to add that the goal of therapy (and life!!) is not to find the true story. There is no true, “objective” reality. All there is is whatever story you are telling yourself—your story, and whether it’s useful or getting in your way. In Buddhism such useful stories (and activities) are called Upaya—skillful means.
So, if your life seems stuck, you must change your story.
Here’s a bit about how this works in a relationship:
A quote from Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. Let me set the scene for the quote.
The main character is a computer programmer named Hiro. In this quote he’s talking to a 15-year-old pizza delivery girl, Y.T., about his ex girlfriend—Hiro’s hoping to get back together with her.
We pick it up on page 409.
Y.T. says, “Did you hook up with your old girlfriend yet?”
Hiro: “No, but I have high hopes for that. Assuming I can stay alive.”
“High hopes for what?”
“Why?” she asks. “What’s changed between then and now?”
This is one of those utterly simple and obvious questions that is irritating because Hiro’s not sure of the answer.
“Well, I think I figured out what she’s doing — why she came here.”
Another simple and obvious question. “So, I feel like I understand her now.”
Yeah, well, sort of.”
“And is that supposed to be a good thing?”
“Hiro, you are such a geek. She’s a woman, you’re a dude. You’re not supposed to understand her. That’s not what she’s after.”
“Well, what is she after, do you suppose …?”
“She doesn’t want you to understand her. She knows that’s impossible. She just wants you to understand yourself. Everything else is negotiable.”
Again, it’s about figuring yourself out
A client reported 10 failed relationships in the past few years. He said, “I could always find something wrong with each of them. I’d wait for them to change, but they never did.”
My question was, “Wrong in comparison to what?”
Of course, the answer was simple. Wrong, in terms of who he thought they should be. Wrong, in terms of not meeting his fantasies.
I asked him what he did about the behaviours he thought were “wrong.” Did he talk with the woman about his concerns? He replied, “No. I go home and analyze the situation.”
I wondered aloud if he, as a part of his analysis, did the following: he first pictured his girlfriend engaged in the problem behaviour, then saw himself interacting with her, and then realized she’d never change. He allowed that this was precisely what he did, and that this made him sad, as he’d have to leave her.
He was stunned when I suggested to him that the entire process he was engaged in was simply him talking to himself.
His girlfriend is not in his head. The person in there is him, in drag, playing the role of his girlfriend.
Back to the idea of “objectivity.” We desperately want to believe that we have infallible memories and make totally impartial judgments. In “truth,” our “memories” change all the time and are extremely inconsistent and unreliable. And our judgments are all about making what we see fit what we expect to see.
Basically, when we experience another’s actions, we don’t simply experience the event. We interpret it. This means we make a judgment about their intent. “She’s looking at me like that (the experience) because she hates me. (the judgment).” What we’re doing is looking at the screen inside our heads, punching the “match expression” button, and in the blink of an eye looking at similar expressions, to which we have already attached meaning. Each of those events, however, are in our memory bank because we placed them there using the same process. Typically, the connection was made internally, without ever checking with the other person.
Another part of the “internal judgment” process is observing another’s behaviour and thinking, “What would I mean if I did that?” Lets take an example. Stanley yells as Susie enters the room. Susie goes inside and instantly realizes she yells in that tone when she’s angry. She replies, voice on edge, “Stop yelling and tell me why you’re angry with me.” Stanley looks confused. He says, “I wasn’t yelling at you, and I’m not angry. I’m frustrated that this light switch won’t work.” Susie says, ” I hate it when you yell at me and won’t admit you’re angry.”
We all know where this is going.
To get back to the Snow Crash quote—think about it. What an amazing world it might be if we stopped trying to figure everyone else out, (internally, of course, without asking the other person) and simply concentrated on figuring ourselves out. Y.T. is right. The wise soul simply observes what she is doing, and in that process get to know herself. Everything else is negotiable. From a place of self-knowing, there can be an invitation to dialog, to sharing, to admitting what we’re doing.
Imagine what might happen if you say,
“So, I’m confused. I just saw you do (whatever) and I went inside and judged that you were (whatever) and I notice that I’m scaring myself (or making myself angry, or I’m getting ready to leave, whatever) and I’m wondering what’s going on for you?”
You will notice that the language is “I” language. The person speaking is reporting her experience. She is admitting to the judgments she is making as she pretends to understand what the other person “meant.” Having done that, and here is the mark of wisdom, she also admits that she doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on for the other person, so she asks.
Now, she may discover that her perception and judgment were accurate. By asking what is going on for the other person, however, she has moved from a “You did too!” “I did not!” kind of confrontation to an invitation for her partner to explore what is going on for him.
In the end, we are self-defining creatures. We create our reality through our stories—and do so all the time. As does everyone we come in contact with. And then we pretend we “understand.” The key to a successful, wisdom-filled life is to admit the existence and prevalence of our fantasies. We live in a world we create; we establish the rules and the boundaries, and then we try to make others play by our rules. And all the time, they’re doing the same to us.
This is what the authors of Language, Structure and Change are getting at. Note the idea of “expanding possibilities.” They mention “alternatives that had no previous existence.” They are suggesting, as am I, that far from there being limited choices in life, the limitations we find ourselves confronting are constructions, determined in advance by the stories we tell ourselves. Or, as the expression goes,
“Argue for your limitations and they are yours.”
We have the potential, in dialogue, to examine and re-examine the stories of our life. We can listen to what we tell ourselves, how we describe our situation, and we can begin to understand that, far from seeing our lives objectively, we see them “objectively,” and find ourselves living self-fulfilling prophecies that are limiting and limited in the extreme.
Stuart Wilde coined the term “fringe dwellers” for those who understand about “objectivity” and personal responsibility. Self-responsible fringe dwellers don’t try to change others. They observe and change the stories they tell themselves.
This week, experiment with waking up to your own stories, determining what you believe and how you act—wake up to how you limit yourself. We encourage you to find “alternatives that had no previous existence.” And then, drop us a comment and tell us about it!
QiGong Secrets – Week 10—Breathing
Depending who you are listening to, there are many different instructions for how to breaths when doing QiGong. I think the instructions given in the QiGong Secrets Home Study Course work the best for me. In this course, we are taught to gently breathe in through our nose and gently breathe out through our mouth. Our noses are designed for bringing air into our bodies. We are not just breathing in air, we are also breathing in Qi energy. While practising QiGong, we are engaging our minds and our breath to bring fresh new Qi into our bodies. This Qi will be used to energize and refresh us. Any extra we bring in will be stored in our Lower Dan Tien to be used as we need it.
To get the most out of your QiGong practice, take long, slow, deep breaths into your abdomen. To practice, you can place your hands over your stomach and feel it expand with your breath. Your chest should not expand. If your breath goes into you upper chest, your shoulders will rise and create tension in the neck area. This tension will restrict the flow of Qi. Breathing into your abdomen, allow our lungs to fully expand to the bottom. The cells in the bottom area of the lungs, will absorb more oxygen than the cells in the upper part of the lungs. Take time to practice this abdominal breathing before beginning any QiGong moves. You could lie on the floor and get a friend to place a hand on your chest and your abdomen and give you feedback on your breath.
Engage your mind while breathing. Visualize breathing in energy down into you Lower Dan Tien. The Lower Dan Tien is one of the important energy collectors in our body. It is located an inch or two below your navel and about halfway through your body. The actual position varies from person to person but these guidelines are enough to help us focus our breath. Dan Tien can be translated as ‘energy field’ an with time and practice you can feel this energy field in your body.
- If you are a visual person, you can visualize light going down into the Lower Dan Tien, and an ball of energy forming as you breath.
- If you are an auditory person, tell yourself that your breath and the energy are moving down into the Lower Dan Tien.
- If you are a kinesthetic person, feel the breath going down into your abdomen and energy collecting in your Lower Dan Tien.
Use any of these methods alone, or use a combination that works for you.
Storing Qi energy in the Lower Dan Tien is important for our long-term health. A regular QiGong practice will ensure an abundance of Qi is available to us to help up recover from illness, stress, and trauma. Am abundance of Qi will give us energy and help our bodies keep us healthy.
Sometimes QiGong movements are linked to our breath. We inhale with one movement and exhale with another. Movements in these patterns should be linked to your breathing, following your own pace, not one set by someone else. Sometimes we just breathe naturally during a pattern. Continue to take long slow deep abdominal breaths.
Generally, there is a short pause between the inhale and exhale. So the pattern is to inhale through you nose, pause, exhale through your mouth, pause, inhale through your nose, pause and so on.
We breathe out through the mouth to help eliminate toxic waste or negative Qi from our bodies. We practice Qi Flow to allow the Qi to move through our bodies to where it is needed, clearing meridians of any stagnant or unwanted Qi. The mouth is the most important and efficient way to remove these toxins. Keeping you mouth closed during QiGong practice may result in this toxic waste accumulating in your head. This may cause you to feel giddy or even get a headache. By breathing out through your mouth, you allow negative Qi to flow out, and it is then replaced with fresh Qi.
I am continuing to enjoy learning the moves in the QiGong Secrets Home Study Course. Some patterns are easy to learn and some take more effort. Many are just a slight variation on ones I have already learned. Sometimes I like the changes and sometimes I prefer the ones I have already learned. The course is challenging the way I practice QiGong and that is a good thing. It is also teaching me to pay closer attention to what is happening in my body. What I am enjoying the most is how much better I feel when I practice QiGong daily. If you have not already taken a look at the course, I encourage you to give it a try.
I know I will continue to play QiGong. It is my intention to make this learning a major part of my new reality as I wrap up my teaching career and move on to new things. My last report cards are looming ahead so this is the last time I will write for awhile. If you have any questions, I will make time to write. In the meantime, have fun playing QiGong.