Part 1 of this essay is available here.
A Course in Miracles advises us to, “Make this year different by making it all the same.” What does that mean? It means that all of the different situations we will encounter this year will have one important thing in common—every situation will be an opportunity for us to either reinforce our stories or let go of our stories.
Although some will argue that their stories are not merely their interpretations of events, most of us can at least intellectually recognize that we are attached to our stories and that our stories are not reality. Yet notice, our stories are seemingly intractable.
There is that moment of each day when we first open our eyes, and the day is completely fresh. But, quickly we check in on your stories. We check to see that our physical pain is still there, we check to see that our grievance against a colleague is still there, we check to see that our concerns about our problematical life situation are still there. Honesty demands that we acknowledge that we are relieved when we check in with our stories and find they are still there. We are pleased; now we can get out of bed, because all our stories are intact and ready to go.
Every situation that we react to—with anger, with self-righteousness, with fear, with anxiety, etc.—provides an opportunity: We can project our stories onto the circumstances we are encountering, or we can use the situation to become more aware of our stories and thus release them.
Let me give you a small example. This morning, I had a blood test. After checking in with my insurance information at the desk in the lobby, the next step was to go to the counter in the lab. There was nobody at the counter; I was puzzled. Then I noticed the receptionist was in a back room surfing the Internet. She was oblivious to me. My internal reaction had elements of both amusement and annoyance. In this case, I quickly caught myself reacting, and I was able to drop my annoyance. After a few minutes, she noticed me; and I was able to sincerely greet her.
But the situation could have gone the other way. I could have become indignant at the lack of service. I could have pretended I wasn’t annoyed and called out to her while trying to control the anger in my voice: “Excuse me, please.” I could have gone home and complained to my wife. Any of these responses would have been a clue that I was projecting my own story onto the receptionist. If so, I could inquire within: Do I waste time surfing the Internet? Do I have a story that justifies my habit of wasting time? Do I try to multitask and, in the process, reduce my effectiveness at everything I’m doing.
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I would be at a crossroads. I could feel bad about my habit, justify my habit, or resolve to change. If I resolved to change, I might start out by looking for a new technique to help me change. I might develop a New Year’s resolution: I will spend less time multitasking on the Internet.
It would be natural to search for a new technique to help me reach my goal. Yet a new technique, by itself, rarely works. Indeed, the more specific the technique is, the less likely it will work. Why? As we saw in Part 1, the problem is rarely what we think it is. Thus our solutions rarely rise above treating the symptoms.
For some, my Internet example is relatively trivial. But many of us have one or more habits that we believe are very significant. Feeling like a giant in chains, we are held back by our perceived problem or habit. We resist the habit believing that if we could eliminate our unwanted behavior, the success and happiness we dreamed of would come our way. The truth is starkly different—we are not giants in chains; instead, we are more like a toddler throwing a tantrum, trapped by the will-of-the-wisp of his story. We trap ourselves with our stories, with our resistance, and then we try to trap others into agreeing that the problem is as we have defined it.
So what can we do?
1. We can become very aware of the stories we tell. Most of us have constructed an airtight logical system to justify our stories. We may have found allies that agree with our stories. Although we may want to change our habit, our concurrent identification with our justifying story prevents real change. The habit remains until we reach the point where we can finally say to ourselves, “I’m tired of my stories, and hope I am wrong about my stories.”
2. Don’t judge your stories; don’t resist your stories. Our habits thrive on the energy of our fighting and flailing. Under certain conditions, the stories we tell ourselves will habitually play in our minds, even when we recognize them as stories and not the cause of our problems. Each time they replay, our job is to become aware of them, to not identify with them, and to not judge ourselves for having them. If we can do this without resistance, we can begin to release even very long standing stories.
3. Through non-judgmental awareness, we loosen our identification with our stories. As we loosen our identification with our stories, there is room for a new identity to be built around our highest values. In this process, we begin to identify with our True Self and not with our habit and not with our justifying stories.
A Course in Miracles observes, “You will identify with what you think will make you safe. Whatever it may be, you will believe that it is one with you. Your safety lies in truth, and not in lies. Love is your safety. Fear does not exist. Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.”
Finding our True Self is a process of subtraction; we remove our stories, and the truth of who we are rushes in to fill the void. Yet, as long as we believe that our stories keep us safe, we will continue to identify with them.
I wish everyone a happy New Year; may we all have the courage to drop our stories and find our True Self.