Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The story and the storyline

In developing mindfulness through meditation, we're advised to drop the storyline and simply be aware of what's happening in the moment.

For instance, in this moment, I'm sitting in the largely empty newsroom of a daily newspaper. It's bit chilly and a bit darker than usual since it's snowing out. My hands are cold. The police radio chatters away, the voices matter-of-fact. That's what's happening.

The storyline is Why am I the last one here again? Where is everyone? Yes, they come in earlier than me, but is it that much earlier? Why do I have so much work to do? (And here's where the rollercoaster goes over the top of the hill...) it's always this way. I always get stuck with the metaphorical ditch-digging. I do more work. Everybody else gets away with murder ....

The story is that I'm here. Maybe there could be some discernment around why I am generally the last one here. But my wise witness has to own that I arrive late, that I like to get certain things done the afternoon before so that I have time in the morning, that it's not even the usual quitting time, that I left early yesterday. My wise witness reminds me that it is never always this way. And that I have control here.

The story describes what's happening. The storyline blames or justifies or feels guilty or sulks or whines. Not 'this is how it is' but 'this is how it is and why it's not fair/right/deserved.'

Pema Chodron talks about it as the hook -- as in, don't bite it. She describes the process of avoiding an emotional reaction as Recognizing that the hook is baited, Refraining from biting it on sight, Responding wisely (by swimming away, unless we decide we're skillful enough to steal the worm without getting hooked), and Relaxing with the Result.

This is seen in the 12 Nidanas around the creation of karmic seeds. Something happens and we react. But if we slow it down, we see there's a stimulus, a recognition, and then a gap before the response. In that gap we can choose to react in our habitual way or to respond to what is new in the situation.

The storyline is the habitual, usually emotion-laden, response to the story, the set of details.

I've been thinking of this because of a class I'm taking in Mayahana Buddhism and Psychology,. The psychology aspect of it looked at attachment theory and styles ... based on what happened when you were a child, how do you react now?

This makes me uncomfortable, personally, because it's hard to see that as story without getting caught up in the storyline. It's hard to be dispassionate and not relive experiences that are long past. The past has an emotional charge that is hard to avoid -- and that I don't necessarily want to set off.

Can you listen to your story without getting tangled in the storyline. Don't know. I am a work in progress.

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