Put the Story Aside

by Steven Kessler

Whenever you’re in pattern or in any kind of emotional reaction, you are telling yourself a story about what is happening. But the story comes from your past.  It comes from something that happened to you then, but may not be happening to you now. It’s a conditioned response. Whenever that button gets pushed, that story plays out in your head in living color. But it’s from the past, so it actually clouds your awareness of the present. And it causes you to feel the emotions that go with the story, not the emotions that go with what is actually happening right now.

Our minds like to make up stories, and they do it all the time.  In fact, many of us live our whole lives caught inside our stories.  Some of us live there so much that the stories rule our lives. If you've practiced mindfulness or done a meditation retreat, maybe you've noticed that the same few stories seem to repeat endlessly in your head.  They just keep playing over and over, like a song stuck in your head. Songs like "I'm not enough" or "gotta get away" or "it's not fair!"  Old, stale songs and old, unhappy stories.

To get out of the patterned emotional reaction and return to being present, put the stories aside. Shift your attention from the current story and its emotions to your raw perceptual experience right now. Put your attention on the color of someone’s shirt, on the sensations of heat or cold or pressure in your body, on a sound.

Shifting your attention this way interrupts the story and brings you back to the present. You may not like the raw perceptions, but they’re more useful to you than being lost in the old story and the patterned emotional reaction. When you’re back in the present, you can compose a response that works in the here and now, not just repeat behavior from the past.

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