No Such Thing as a True Story

I recently attended the Young Adult Transition Association (YATA) conference in Boulder, Colorado.  (It was excellent, btw!) I love returning to Boulder. It’s my home away from home where I lived and worked for nearly a decade and where I went to grad school.  It’s an amazing place and attracts interesting and talented people doing great things. This gathering was no exception.

Registration and Networking Dinner

After I registered, got my nametag and my little bag of goodies I began to connect with some familiar faces and to connect with new ones.  Some of these folks I’ve known for nearly a decade and others maybe not as long but still felt a real sense of camaraderie and collegiality with. As I made my way around the room I re-connected with a former colleague and good friend.

We hugged and started to get reacquainted and updated. She introduced me to a couple people who she thought I should connect with. Then, as we continued to talk to each other and engage with the others around us, she asked me about how I was doing after a recent long-term relationship ended.

I told her how I was doing. I told her some of the things that I had learned about myself and that it was actually a good thing, a sort of “blessing-in-disguise” that will allow me to re-prioritize on what’s most important in my life. I told her some of my take-aways and expressed a couple of the reasons why it didn’t work out. I told her my story. I told her my old story, that I’ve kept re-telling myself and others. I told her the story that I had told to make it through, to heal.

But she saw through the story and pointed out a deeper truth. Sure, there were some things in the relationship that indicated that we were not the best fit. “But”, she said, “you’re a smart guy. You knew it. You were getting what you needed in some way and were ok with the other pieces not being there.” Woah, what? I did? Did I?… damn. I did. Wow, she’s right.

In my last post I wrote about darsan, which essentially translates to being seen in a relationship. Truly being seen, by someone else or by our self, does something very interesting. It pokes holes in our ideas of the truth. It pokes holes in our story lines and our narratives. Someone who sees us in this way is a profoundly healing catalyst in our lives. This person can be a therapist, a lover, a teacher, or in this case, a close friend. And like a lightning strike, another layer of the onion came off and my conference experience had been framed and my journey had again begun.

Stories that Heal and Stories that Harm

During the conference, I found myself in a talk where there was a discussion about suicide and personal narratives. The lowest number of suicide completions were correlated with those who had positive stories. Next lowest were those correlated with negative or limiting stories. Those with the highest suicide completion had no stories at all. Little to no identity, family identity or grounding or compelling narrative.

This talk, along with my own experience of recently living within my own self-limiting or outworn narrative really got me thinking about how good I am at not believing my own thoughts when I am on the meditation cushion, but how much I cling to these same stories as truth when I get up and engage in my life. Why is this?

Maybe it’s because I’m just new at questioning weather or not my own healing stories still fit. This is an experiment I suggest we all start practicing. That is, to notice what we are telling ourselves and others. Pay attention to the stories that are the lives we are living and see if they are threadbare. See if the narrative or the meaning we gave to an event is still necessary for us, still serves us in a healing capacity. Or, see if it’s time to shed it like outworn skin, and grow into something courageous and unknown.

No Such Thing As A True Story

Pema Chodron is a Western Buddhist nun and teacher in the Shambhala lineage, the lineage that I practice and in which I was trained as a meditation instructor. The eighth chapter of her book The Wisdom of No Escape is titled “No Such Thing as a True Story.” In it she writes;

“Holding on to beliefs limits our experience of life. That doesn’t mean that beliefs or ideas or thinking is a problem; the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way, grasping on to our beliefs and thoughts, all these cause the problems. To put it simply, using your belief system this way creates a situation in which you choose to be blind instead of being able to see, to be deaf instead of being able to hear, to be dead rather than alive, asleep rather than awake.”

My old story, while better than no story, left me blind, deaf and asleep. It was once something that helped me move through a tough time, but if my good friend had not pointed it out to me, I could have run the risk of bearing it as my truth. And thus, would have allowed my past to continue to dictate my future.

So now we get to the interesting part. The path forward. The path of not knowing as a strategy, approach and practice. This is the path of courage and bravery. This is the path of looking life in the face. Head up, heart open. This is the path of no masks and no pretention. But ironically it comes easy because we start to realize there is no territory to protect. There is no real, solid self to prove or for whom to stand ground. This is where we realize that all is just an eternal unfolding. That there is, indeed, No Such Thing as a True Story. And once we truly realize this, deep down in our marrow, through experience, we are free in a way that allows us to be exactly who we are. With all of our wisdom and flaws, with all of our pain and levity.

And don’t forget, that more often than not, this insight is only available for us to see ourselves once we have truly, truly been seen by another. Marti, I love you and value you deeply.  And I thank you for taking the time to see me. For that I am all the better and endlessly grateful.

Now ask yourself, who do I see? And who helps me see myself clearly? Then go spend time with them. This is the deepest of human gifts.