One of our most impressive powers as human beings is our power of language. We use language as we speak externally to others and as we speak internally to ourselves. Part and parcel of that power are the stories we tell. Story telling is an essential and awesome aspect of our human experience. It is one of the ways we communicate how we make sense of the world — our interpretation of reality. As far as we know, it is a particularly human way of communication.
When we learn from stories and are expanded in our discovery of what it means to be a true human being, we benefit immeasurably. If our stories serve to limit us or demean others, we — and others — suffer unnecessarily. In the willingness to simply stop telling the story that is causing suffering, there can be immediate opening and recognition of the truth of who one is. Stopping the telling and retelling of a story is different from making that story better. When we stop the story, if only for a moment of inquiry, we give up hope that the story itself will deliver what we long for.
The appearance of a story (physical story, mental story, emotional story or circumstantial story) needn’t be an obstacle to recognizing the peace that underlies all stories. Quite often the most obscuring and entangling stories are the ones we do not even realize we are telling. Certain themes become so habitual that we don’t consider them stories. We consider them simply reality.
People who live their lives unaware that they are telling themselves a story consider their thoughts to be descriptions of reality. If someone else has a conflicting description, that person is considered just to be wrong. It is a leap into maturity to realize that our descriptions of reality are our versions of reality. Certainly there is nothing wrong about a version of reality, but the recognition that it is a version, rather than reality itself, is humbling to our version of ourselves!
This form of immaturity is seen in many ways in the community of humanity. Finally the immaturity of excluding others’ versions of reality results in war. To the degree that we believe what we are telling ourselves to be correct, we are willing to die for it and send our children to die for it. We do this because we are certain of its rightness. And clearly this belief has its place in human evolution. There are values that need to be asserted and protected. Sadly, the balance of assertion and protection with tolerance and inclusion can easily go askew.
It seems possible that we are now at a stage in human development where we can actually tell the truth about our tendency to lose balance. We can individually and collectively take responsibility for both recognizing when balance has been lost and promoting its restoration.
The initial loss of balance is not the problem. The problem is in not seeing the loss, with the particular version of reality being rigidly and righteously defended.
We are human beings, and we have inherited many stories from our ancestors — genetic, archetypical stories, national and religious stories. They are part of our experience in a particular body. These stories are not inherently right or wrong. They are a unique and integral part of the mandala of our collective story.
But if we aren’t aware that these stories are being told — both internally and externally — if we do not even know that they are stories, then we are unwittingly at their mercy and we miss an opportunity to mature.
I am inviting you to stop where you are in this moment of your life and turn your attention toward what you are telling yourself. Rather than assuming that what you are saying is correct; rather than turning your attention toward getting whatever the thought or story is directing you to achieve; or avoiding what you are being cautioned to avoid; or fighting what you are being incited to fight; you can turn your attention to what particular story is being told. You can discover what you are saying to yourself and others. You can overhear your thoughts and stories.
At any point, in any situation, in any story in your life, you have the capacity and the choice to actually discover what is underneath the language of thought. What is unaffected, unmoved, unbound by the telling of any story?
This inquiry has to do with your daily life. Each life experience is unique, and yet it comes from universal life, the universal core that is the same in all lives, all species, all moments, regardless of a particular version.
Through this inquiry you can discover the treasure of your being.
This blog is adapted from a talk given by Gangaji at Kripalu Center, Stockbridge, MA, September 2011. Gangaji’s new book, Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, was published by Tarcher/Penguin in 2011. In this life-changing book, Gangaji uses the telling of her own life story to help readers uncover the truth in their own. Publisher’s Weekly said, “This gently flowing but often disarming volume invites readers to examine the narratives that shape them, and is a call to pass beyond personal stories to find a deeper, more universal self.” Visit www.gangaji.org for more information about Gangaji and her upcoming events, including the monthly Webcast / Conference Series, With Gangaji, which is currently undergoing an in-depth study of Hidden Treasure.