Sunday, March 25, 2012

What Is Your Story and Does It Define You?: Part 1

Sunday Service Discussion Notes for March 18 and March 25, 2012

For two Sundays we discussed the topic: What Is Your Story and Does It Define You?

We have discussed how the circumstances in our lives can have the ability to define us, and how we create the situations in our lives based on our actions and decisions. We have the ability to choose what our story is and grow into it. In order to change our path or our life, we must choose to change our story.

Many of the stories that we discussed were negative, unfortunate circumstances to which people may cling, to their own detriment. We also realized, however, that positive circumstances or good credentials can also be a "story" that a person may become attached to, allowing them to define who that person is.

We talked about the many stories that carry ideas and lessons which permeate our lives, whether they be our own stories or those that we hear and learn from others, such as the people in our lives or even groups like religious organizations. Many of these stories make useful examples and serve as timeless guides to help us make choices in life, but we discussed how sometimes when we latch onto the more literal translation of such stories, we can focus on ideas that are not relevant to the core message of the story, and turn that into literal instructions for living. Then we may arrive at "You must eat a certain food on a certain day to be assured of salvation," and create stress in our lives trying to live this story, when the central message was much less literal.

Often we may find ourselves telling our stories by rote. We may catch ourselves in the middle of telling the same story in the same way like a recording that we have re-played many times. It may even seem as though once we have formulated a version of our life or an event, we are able to call up that story and present it again the same way that we did each time before, and the more times we say it, it eventually becomes our truth. We talked about how rote memory was a way to pass information and history down through the generations before the advent of the written word, and that we may all still have a tendency in us, perhaps from racial memory, to memorize and recite, while possibly losing focus on the validity of the story we are telling.

We heard the story of The Duck with the Human Mind by Eckhart Tolle  in which the difference between the behavior of a regular duck is contrasted with the hypothetical behavior of a duck with the mind of a human. The normal duck is in a confrontation, and he flaps his wings, flies away, and moves on with his duck life. The duck with the human mind leaves the confrontation and cannot stop thinking about it; processing, stewing, and making up an entire story in his mind about what happened that he carries with him for the rest of his days. If we have a good story, if may be beneficial to cultivate it. But if we have a negative story, like the duck, it may be better to "flap our wings" and let it drop away.  The reality of letting go of our stories, may not, however be this easy.

If we do not like what our story is, then we should change it. One of the ways to do this is to question the story itself. We talked about the work of Byron Katie, as she asks us, "Who would you be without your story?" She gives us a series of four questions (and a turn around) we can ask ourselves to help us determine if our stories are true and necessary, or if we can let them go:
  1. Is it true?  Is the story or thought we are having true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?  Ask yourself if you can prove objectively that the thought or story is true.
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? How does it make you feel, what actions do you take or not take because of it?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? How might you feel or act if it were not true?
  5. Turn around the concept you are questioning. If you are saying that story X is true, then say to yourself, "X is not true," and test out how you react to this new story or statement.
Ultimately, we agreed that the emotions feed the story, the story feeds the emotions. Individual stories are individual incidences. Your interpretation of the story is what starts the snowball effect that impacts your life.

This discussion was continued on the next week, on April 1st.

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