Throughout the day, we tell ourselves stories â€¦ about ourselves, others, our situation, whatâ€™s going on.
For example, letâ€™s say my wife is upset after I made an off-hand remark that bothers her â€¦ I might be telling myself a story about how she always gets offended so easily, and that she should just relax, and that I did nothing wrong. This is a story Iâ€™m telling myself, not the truth. The truth is that sheâ€™s upset, frustrated â€¦ thatâ€™s all.
If Iâ€™m uncomfortable in meditation, I might tell a story about how this sucks, about how I donâ€™t like meditation, about how I have other things to do. But the truth is that Iâ€™m just having a physical sensation in my body â€¦ thatâ€™s all. It might be uncomfortable, sure, but itâ€™s not really â€œbadâ€ until I tell myself a story about how itâ€™s bad, about how it sucks.
The truth is, things are neither good nor bad, until we tell ourselves a story about it. In reality, things are neutral. Food is neutral, but I can tell myself a story about how delicious this food is, or how boring it is. Someone elseâ€™s actions are neutral, but I can make them good or bad with my story about how they shouldnâ€™t do this, how they should do this other thing.
Yes, you could say there are things that are genuinely bad, like bullying or genocide â€¦ Iâ€™m not going to argue about those things â€¦ I just want to say that when we attach to fixed ideas about what is good or bad, we get stuck. We then want to avoid all the bad things or change them (even if we donâ€™t have the power to change them), we only want good things. Our lives become a matter of trying to seek pleasure and comfort, and disliking everything that isnâ€™t pleasurable and uncomfortable.
Those of us who procrastinate, or who have had health problems because weâ€™re addicted to junk food and donâ€™t like vegetables â€¦ we know what this leads to. It leads to unhealthiness, debt, piles of unfinished work, guilt, feeling bad about yourself.
So what can we do? We can recognize our stories that weâ€™re telling ourselves, and even try to drop them sometimes. We can see when weâ€™re frustrated or otherwise suffering, and see that weâ€™re attached to a story, and then figure out what that story is.
This story might be serving a good purpose, but it also might be doing us harm. Letâ€™s try to become more aware of this. If itâ€™s doing us harm, we can try to see past the stories to the reality of the situation â€” that we are suffering, that someone else is also suffering, that the way they are acting is neither good nor bad but neutral, that we canâ€™t control them but maybe can give compassion.
See the physical reality of the situation. See things as neutral rather than having a judgment about them. Be fully in the present moment, without the story.
Expanding Your Meditation
At this point, you’ve been practicing your meditation for a few weeks now … if not, please start now! Don’t worry about what you’ve missed, just get going.
But for those of you who’ve been fairly consistent, you might be wondering how to lengthen your meditation if you started at two minutes (or so). The answer is that it doesn’t absolutely matter how many minutes you meditate, as long as you do it. But here are some guidelines:
- If you are consistent one week, increase by a couple minutes the next week. So if you started at two minutes on Week 1, increase to four minutes on Week 2. Only increase if things went well.
- If you struggled or missed a few days in a week, don’t increase the next week. The goal isn’t to increase your meditation time … it’s to be consistent.
- If you are struggling to make it to the meditation cushion on any day, just do two minutes. Consider that a minimum, and do at least that on your days of rushedness or tiredness.
Please complete one of these exercises:
- Beginner: Every day during meditation, try to notice when you’re telling yourself a story. Is this story true? Is it helping or harming you? Write about it in your mindfulness journal.
- Advanced: As you do the above exercise, try to return to the present moment and see the reality of the current moment, without the story. What is actually in front of you? Can you let the story go?