An Essay on Feeling and the Proliferation of Stories (or, how to save Mankind from itself)
Here are some more reflections on the tendency of our minds to reactively create chains of stories. Essentially, I’m pointing to the “…Blah, blah, blah” that Bruce alluded to in his post, From aversion to well-being at the movies. Let’s look closely at how that stuff comes about.
First, there is what we might call ‘primary sense data’ — what our five senses provide from-moment-to-moment. This experience has a certain degree of reality. If we sense a touch, for example, in the very first instance, there is no story line attached to the experience. The touch is just a touch.
Then, perhaps, we begin to attribute certain qualities to it. It becomes described with words that categorize it; now it’s situated with degrees of soft/hard, smooth/rough, warm/cold, etc. We’ve turned the primary sense experience into ‘information‘ and entered the realm of concepts, labels, language — of symbols that stand for (in place of) an initial reality. Whatever the information, it is now a different order of reality (and may not even be ‘really real’).
My partner, for example, occasionally experiences hot flashes. She’ll say, “It is really hot in here!”. That bit of fiction is based on the notion that our mutual experiences are actually the same, that her categorizations and mine are equivalent. Now, on good days I’ll act with compassion and simply turn off the heater and open the windows (which is probably what she had in mind in the first place). On bad days, however, I’m liable to point out that ‘it’ has no sensory apparatus and consequently can’t perceive temperature differences. It’s her that is hot, not the room per se.
But I digress . . . back to an example of experiencing a touch.
Say the cause of the initial sensation is our small dog, Safari, lying next to me. There’s that furry warmth, and, almost immediately, I’m liable to concoct a tale about how sweet he is, how affectionate, etc. Now, even if I truly believe it, it’s still just a story.
The ‘reality’ may be that Safari’s just cold and seeking a bit of warmth. In that case, a warm tea kettle would serve his purpose just as well as I can. My assumption of Safari’s affection then is simply an example of me, once again, taking a situation personally when it actually may have very little to do with me (or my persona).
Silly example, I know, but I suspect you get the picture. The mind moves rather quickly from one level of reality (the feeling of the touch), to one described by symbols (the labeling of the experience), and then to a quickly ‘fabricated’ story about the experience (Safari loves me!).
I suspect the actual trigger for most such ‘story telling’ is not the raw stimulus but the feeling it evokes — a feeling located within a wide spectrum of emotions, which exhibit varying degrees of attraction or repulsion. At the extremes, we find greed and hatred. We all-to-quickly perceive an initial stimulus as either advancing our ego’s agenda or thwarting it to one degree or another. And, we’re rather indifferent to any stimulus that’s not tied some desire or other. Indeed, those inputs we may not even notice.
So, the causal chain of events leading to our story telling starts — not at the initial sense-experience — but at the emotion that is triggered by it. And, that emotion is critically dependent on our sense of self-hood.
Anything that creates fear for the well being of our self can trigger mental stories (conscious or no) which ultimately lead to ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ reactions. Our very notions of ‘self’ and its (perceived) impending ‘safety’ or ‘danger’, ‘success’ or ‘failure,’ ‘gain’ or ‘loss,’ ‘pride’ or ‘shame’ lie at the very core of the lack of heart-based behavior we find in ourselves and our fellow Earthlings.
So, from my point of view, the critical question becomes:
How in g(G)od(s’/’s) n(N)ame can we
turn this around?*
I think the following might be helpful in untangling the knots created by lifetimes of the rather fear-based behaviors outlined above.
- Learn to pay attention to our feelings as they arise.
- Make an effort to be less seduced by their inherent melodrama.
- Strive to become increasingly conscious of unwarranted assumptions implicit in our fabricated (story-telling) ‘realities.’
- Stop (or at least slow down) our habitual reactions to those feelings by:
+Investigating our internal ‘tapes’ that continue to replay such patterns, and
+Acknowledging our own roles in the ongoing tragi-comedy and let go.
It’s certainly not easy; but isn’t it time to put down that burden? Ultimately, if we can perceive our ego-agenda driven stories for what they are, our Hearts will shine forth in spite of our fears.
Let’s stop feeding our fear-driven tales of danger and dare to be fearless.
As the Fear subsides, I think we’ll find that Love was lurking underneath it all along. That, after all, is where our true Humanity lies.
Well, that’s my ‘story,’ and I’m sticking to it!
So . . . let’s get on with it.
Indeed, ask yourself: “Can we really afford not to?”.
*For the agnostics and atheists among us, please consider the above gG/nN reference as ‘just a figure of speech.’ Others may, of course, choose to take it literally.
It’s a big tent, and I’m convinced that, ultimately, we’re all in it together.
Great post Larry! I am also reminded of the power of developing a still mind through practices like meditation, walking in nature, spending time alone/taking a break from constant stimulation, etc., which support cultivating a spacious mind. And with a spacious mind, we are more easily able to recognize the stories we tell ourselves. And in doing so, we can choose to be less invested in them, which are often created through reactivity — and ultimately hardwired patterns and tendencies based on our conditioning (familiar, cultural, societal, etc.). This would be an excellent preparation to support “stop, drop, and ask.”