The Myths We Live In...
"I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact."
Levi-Strauss, the French social anthropologist quoted above, makes a very compelling analysis of how we are often unaware of the stories that make up the very fabric of our lives. These stories shape how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world we live in. Although, perhaps like you, I've always been one to question the beliefs and perceptions that I've inherited, we all have our blind spots, right?
We could address this subject personally, as a particular culture, or as the entire human race. The point is: we tell ourselves stories in our heads and this causes emotional reactions in our bodies. Because often, our stories tend to be fear or survival based, our hearts may race, our shoulders tighten, and our breathing becomes shallow. And to make it more challenging, a great deal of our most common responses are a result of material stored in our nervous system that remains just below the horizon of our conscious mind. This material collected throughout life is experienced and then forgotten--tossed like an old shirt into a trunk and stored away for the day we might want to wear it again.
In short, the way we think affects our physiology, and then becomes our physiology. Don't take my word for it--there is tons of recent neuroscience research that is confirming just this. But honestly, we don't really need a scientist to tell us--we live it everyday. It is embodied experience!
In addition to affecting our emotions and physiology, these stories shape our perception and actions out in the world. Some of these stories are less than healthy because they are recycled from our past experiences. Whether these stories are defense mechanisms or survival patterns we've inherited or not, they affect our ability to be fully present to our life experience--acting as a filter to events as they unfold moment to moment. They can steal our the present moment awareness away, so quietly and subtly, it happens with our conscious mind being none the wiser. Let's face it--most of the time we live in our heads, not out there in the flow of life. However, the good news is that we can reclaim our minds and our power of choice for a greater sense of health and well-being. We can be present to feel life directly--not merely think our way through it. In order to do this, we need a space for our mind and heart. This is where a regular mindfulness practice can be a game changer.
So how do we peel back the layers to examine our patterns that don't serve? Well, it's not always easy and it takes a courageous heart. In my experience, it is essential to have a practice or space for self reflection, so we can begin to examine this invisible narrative space in our heads. Because this narrative space is invisible, it is easy to minimize or ignore this creative space. And creative is exactly what it is! The stories or words we tell ourselves create our life experience.
Here is a simple, but powerful mindfulness practice you can try this week. As you wake up each morning, I challenge you to notice the automatic narrative you wake up to. Here are four easy steps:
1. Notice if you have a favorite story--or a "Top 40" so to speak. And noticing is half the battle. You can usually identify a story by identifying the emotion contained within it. If you follow the thread of feeling, it most likely leads you to a well known story line--or a false belief about yourself or life.
2. Once you notice, run a reality check or an RC as I like to call it. This means test your stories--are they actually true at this moment?
3. If you locate one or two stories that may be less than accurate, intentionally rewrite them right then and there--to reflect the healthy and wealthy life you deserve. You deserve to wake up each morning and have emotional health everyday.
4. Comment on this post--I'm sure others would love to hear about your experiences. I know I would!