We create our stories, we repeat our stories, we believe our stories.
Joel told me he’s not the kind of person to punch his fist through a wall when he’s aggravated. He’s a department chair at a university and if you’ve ever met a university department chair, they’re pretty accustomed to wading around in politically charged waters. He tells me he is the kind of person to internalize his annoyance and allow his irritation to fester inside of him until it eats him up.
I knew I should keep my advice to myself, but I didn’t. I gave him the same advice I give for pretty much any situation. You should try meditation, I said. He smiled the smile of a man who’s been living in the New Agey state of California for decades and has heard a thing or two about meditation.
I do meditate, he told me, almost every morning. I get myself into a very deep state of relaxation and feel utterly tranquil and then twenty minutes later some asshole walks into my office and I’ve lost it. I’m ready to punch my fist through a wall, if I were that kind of person—which I’m not.
There’s so much more I wanted to tell Joel. I wanted to tell him meditation isn’t about finding serenity and then grasping it tightly. It’s about finding a way to escape from narrative constraints, all of those stories that suppress the possibilities of who we might be.
I’m a perfectionist.
I’m a pushover.
I’m a klutz.
I’m a rule-follower.
I’m an introvert.
I don’t have a head for numbers.
I avoid conflict.
I’m bad with money.
I have some limiting narratives of my own. I’m not a quitter. I’m tenacious. That story has kept me in relationships way past their expiration dates. Not being a quitter had me completing three years of law school and taking the bar exam without ever feeling passionate about the profession. I wish I would have considered the possibility of quitting sooner and found the courage to trust that something else, something more fitting, would show up. On the other hand, I also tell myself the story that I am not at all artistic. This has actually served me quite well. One of the most enjoyable experiences of my life was taking an oil painting class where I had no self-imposed expectations that I needed to produce something good. I had complete freedom to fail and it felt glorious.
Joel was so attached to his curious story of who he’s not, he repeated it twice. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy hanging out with punch-his-fist-through-the-wall guy, but I do quite enjoy hanging out with Joel. I don’t know what Joel’s limiting belief internalizing anger provides him with, but my story about not being a quitter allowed me to avoid some difficult questions. If I’d called it quits on law school or the difficult marriage, who would I be? How would I figure out what path to pursue? These were questions I was happy to avoid.
We create our stories, we repeat our stories, we believe our stories. Tell yourself the same story enough times, it becomes your reality. I find it worthwhile to ask myself: Am I listening to truth or a story? There’s power in challenging your limiting beliefs even if it’s just for a moment.
On the other hand, I once had a student who decided she couldn’t meditate because she wasn’t the kind of person who just sits around and breathes. Breathe? Sure, who has time for that?