21 Day Practice: Day 6 – Stories we tell ourselves

Storm Clouds“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” – Pema Chödrön

As luck would have it, I came down with some version of the viral crud that’s been going around. The combination of rest, Reiki self-treatment, fluids and vitamins do seem to be helping.

I find that when I’m not feeling well, the grumpy monkey returns with all of its mental gunk. Physical illness seems to churn it up and the negative thoughts latch on. So, with the grumpy monkey chattering away in the background, I lingered over my tea reading an article by Robert Chodo Campbell entitled “Just Shut Up” in the Fall 2012 issue of Tricycle magazine. (I included the link, although in order to read it online, you have to be a member of their community.)

Chodo Campbell is a Zen Buddhist teacher who was five years sober when he experienced an encounter with a Zen monk that “woke” him up. He recalled an incident years ago where he told this monk his life story of addiction and misery. The monk replied, “Just shut up”. She went on to say that he needed to stop telling his story over and over – implying that he’d become addicted to it, and that the only person interested in the story is him.

Now, that sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But her words are the sword of truth that cuts through the mental gunk. We become so attached or addicted to our story that it becomes the fix our egos need to keep convincing us that we are bad, unworthy or unlovable. Just as an addict will find any opportunity to satisfy their craving, our ego will keep latching on to all that negative mental programming. We feed that addiction by telling the stories again, even if it makes us feel worse later.

I recently threw away at least a dozen journals containing detailed accounts of unhealthy relationships. As I flipped through the pages, I could feel my energy start to drain away. I had no desire to revisit those stories and frankly, couldn’t see why anyone else would either. Much of my Reiki self-healing work centers around releasing the negative conditioning associated with my past. After having a vision of my daughter reading them many years later, rolling her eyes, I chucked them in the trash.

Speaking our truth or telling our story can be cathartic and healing. As humans, we share the responsibility of bearing witness to the wounds we sustain and to validate their experience. We’ve also seen how people can transcend their stories to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Usually, however, the stories we tell only end up validating our brokenness.

When we stop telling our story and examine what we’ve been saying, we realize that most of it is not really about us anymore. Our stories aren’t sustainable without the mental or emotional energy to support them.

Our stories are like storm clouds – they require certain conditions in order to take form and create a disturbance. Yet the sun and vast sky are always there, waiting to shine through.

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2 responses to “21 Day Practice: Day 6 – Stories we tell ourselves”

  1. Yes – it is all about creating a new story. The words “just shut up”, resonate with me.

    With all the good that has come through the movemnet of 12 step spirituality in helping people recover from addiction(s) at what point do people move on. Telling (or hearing) the old story over and over may (or is) needed, to a point – yes. Though isn’t this the conundrum with “addictions,co-dependence, and recovery” – just replacing one habitual pattern, with another.

    This post is helpful in clarifing muddy waters. Thank you Dana.

    1. Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for your insightful comments. I often ask the same thing, especially with regard to therapy. While it can be useful to understand the origins of your issue, there is danger in overidentifying with your story in that we become attached to the identity it creates (i.e., “I am a victim” etc.) With recovery and healing, the hope is to integrate those experiences and move forward into a state of wholeness.


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