From Stories to Sensations

If you’ve ever doubted that you’re creative, make an effort to pay special attention to the stories your mind makes up, constantly, throughout the day.

“Why did my boss give me that look? She didn’t really acknowledge my email earlier. I guess she just thinks I’m an idiot.”

“This picture of my friend’s apartment is so nice. He must be getting money from his parents to afford that. That must be why he always can go on vacation, too.” 

“Why is he texting me using PERIODS?! Oh God, he’s so not into me.” 

You’ll find that you’re actually kind of a creative genius. You might as well quit your job and become a fantasy novelist. We get so wrapped up in our mental stories, trying to decode meanings about ourselves and others – to the point where we’re really sitting there analyzing the exclamation mark to period ratio of our crush’s text. 

Sometimes our mental stories are kind of fun, or not really high stakes. Other times, our mental stories are so strong and so overwhelming that they completely control our minds and behaviors.

  • Having the “I’m not good enough” story keeps us from applying for that job.
  • Having the “I’m unlovable” story keeps us from breaking off that toxic relationship.
  • Having the “I must be perfect” story keeps us gripping to control, desperately trying to hold it all together.

Underneath the layers of details and experiences that created the story that you personally struggle with is fear. We are afraid of pain, loss, and disconnection. We’re afraid of being rejected and alone. We’re afraid of suffering. 

We create characters, storylines, plot twists, and fantasy endings all in an attempt to find reasons for what we are feeling. In doing so, we aren’t even giving ourselves a chance to actually feel what it is we’re feeling. Instead of spending time on our factual experience, we waste energy creating a fictional one. 

In her incredible book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach urges us to free ourselves from the constraining bonds of fear by moving from entanglement with our mental stories into awareness of the sensations of fear.

To practice acceptance, stop following the thoughts in your head and start feeling the sensations in your body. When we allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling, we get in contact with the present moment – for what it really is. We honor our suffering by describing it, factually – maybe it’s a heaviness in the stomach, tightness in the chest, pressure in the forehead, tension in the jaw. We allow ourselves to be fully present with the human experience of suffering. We are gently saying, “I see you, suffering, and I’m going to take care of you.” When we do this, we learn that we don’t have to protect ourselves by staying in a fantasy. Reality becomes safe and okay. We learn that we can handle more than we knew we could. We don’t live our lives reacting or guessing or theorizing. We live it for real.

What life do you want to live – the one inside your head, or the one in your experience? 

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