I had a conservation this weekend with someone very close to me about changing as a person. She’s been through a lot this past year and a half. Forced to confront and deal with issues like loss of loved ones, betrayal by family members, and the loss of a friendship that meant a great deal, she’s been dealing with depression as a result. She kept saying over and over how she has changed. How she used to be this wonderful person, but now that’s all different. How she barely recognizes herself anymore. I tried to listen as mindfully and compassionately as I could. I told her that I don’t think she’s changed one bit. All that’s changed is that she bought into and believed a story that others have told about her. A story that’s entirely wrong.
Regular readers of this blog know how much I admire Pema Chodron’s advice for life. One of her many teachings that has helped me so much is the idea that we suffer in life because of the stories we tell in our hearts and minds. We spin wildly inaccurate tales of how guilty we are, how worthless we are, how no one cares about us, how every slip up or curve ball in life is all our fault. We cling to the stories with a vice-like grip. We grasp and hold on to them so tightly and for so long that, not only do we believe them implicitly, we allow them to define who we are. We do this, and we suffer for it.
I know this, because I’m a master when it comes to telling myself these stories. For years I have allowed negative circumstances and negative people to tell me that I’m worthless, shameful, and unintelligent. That I will never succeed, but am sure to fail miserably. I’ve accepted these stories and repeated them internally for as long as I remember. And I wonder why I’ve spent so many years feeling miserable.
I don’t claim to be an expert in such matters. I have only just begun to identify and unravel these storylines quite recently through meditation. Meditation allows me to watch the story unfold in my mind, to identify the judgment, both internal and external. I breath, and let it go as much as I can, and tell myself that there’s no judgement in these stories. It’s not my fault that I believed so many lies for so long. All I can do now is resolve to let those feelings go, to release them so that they no longer cause me to suffer.
This isn’t easy. Nothing in life ever is. But I’ll tell you what I told her; that we aren’t these stories we’ve told and been told about ourselves for so many years. There’s nothing wrong with us. We haven’t changed a bit. You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still the same wonderful human being you’ve always been. All the goodness that makes you who you are, your Buddha nature if you will, is still inside. You just have to drop the storyline. You have to do it without judgement. These things that you believe about yourself…you don’t need to beat yourself up for believing them. Just drop the storyline, and you’ll find that you’re still that same wonderful human being you’ve always been. It’s going to take courage, commitment, and practice, but you can do it. I can do it. We can all do it together.
May all beings be free from suffering and the cause of their suffering.