From the time we take on language, our ability to see things clearly for what they are, as they are in real-time, is impacted by perception and memory.
Both have been culturally influenced, so cannot be fully relied on to reveal any great truths. You must look past your story; the story of who you’ve been told you are by parents, teachers, clergy, friends, culture. You must look past the memories because memories are inherently inaccurate.
They are stored perceptions of an event that is immediately filtered through how we want to see ourselves, how we feel about the situation, what else is influencing that moment in time—all influences the story we tell ourselves about that moment that gets stored as a memory.
Because the Ego’s job is to protect our self-perception, it is rare that we let ourselves fully see the truth of the moment. Biases are so deeply ingrained from an early age that we don’t see what we don’t see. We are given sacred cows and it’s rare that we ever reexamine what we think about those sacred cows as we grow up and learn more and know more.
So much of our belief structures are inherited or given to us that most people don’t even really know what they think about anything. They know the bias, they know the perception, but it’s very hard to see what actually is when you feel you need to protect a point of view.
So, if you drop all your stories, who are you? If you let go of your sacred cows, what do you really think?
When we start building an identity, these stories become beads that we string together and make a necklace out of. We are smart. We are stupid. We are a good athlete. We’re clumsy. We are depressed. Life is hard. Good things happen to other people. We tend to string more of the bad experiences together and life often becomes a competition of whose life is harder.
These are ways of putting the brakes on and saying we don’t want to do more, we don’t want to learn more, we don’t want to be more, because we already feel that we are maxed out by life. And in protecting, we stop ourselves from fully experiencing.
You are not your story. You are not the beads that you have strung together and tied around your neck. This is not your identity; these beads are nothing more than hurt feelings and unresolved emotions. Cut the string and let the beads fall and do not collect them again.
If you are not your story, who are you? Look deeply past the accumulated identity and ego. Who are you when you leave that behind?
Q: The stories that we tell ourselves about our lives. Why are they not accurate?
There are many reasons. The primary one is that we run everything we see, say, and do through filters that have been given to us starting from birth. Not only are we not taught how to perceive accurately, but we are also not taught how to think constructively. So, everything we experience gets stored with these inaccuracies on top of the actual experience.
Q: How did this start? Why did this happen?
Very few people have been raised properly from the beginning—knowing how to have a clear mind, clear senses, accurate self-evaluation. Some parents do for their children what was done for or to them, not realizing there is another way. Because many people rarely, if ever, think about why they think about things as they do. So, there is very little original clear perception taking place at any given time.
If parents were to start their children learning meditation, learning about perception, learning how to think properly, these distortions would not occur.
And if they did occur, for whatever reason, they would be corrected quickly and would not get stored as a memory in an inaccurate way. Untrue, all memories are inaccurate because they are incomplete. We only store small bits of information from each experience based on our emotional state of being at the time.
And then if or when we review these memories in the future, the further away we are from the event, the less accurate the memory is likely to be.
Q: These memories can be both good and bad, can’t they?
Of course. But even good memories are filtered through biased perceptions.
Q: So, is the idea not to go back and think about the past?
It is not a matter of thinking about the past. It’s that we turn this into our identity instead of an event that happened in the past. It becomes a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. And that is where the problem begins.
While positive memories, absolutely do get stored, the predominance of memories that people have is not often positive.
This is because what we tend to notice, and store is what has an emotional charge around it that we don’t know how to process. Or that we process inaccurately at the time. So, it becomes an unresolved emotion.
This is where you have a conversation and then you keep replaying that conversation in your mind over and over. As though doing so could provide you with a different outcome.
So, we begin to modify memories to reflect more of how we want to think of ourselves, what we wish we said, what we wish we did. And this also can become confused with reality.
But it is a replaying of unfinished emotional states of being. And that’s why there is a charge to them. And that is why most memories get stored.
Q: How do we deprogram this situation? How do we break out of this?
First, you must be aware of what a memory is, how it gets stored, why it gets stored, why it gets recalled, and how it forms our opinion of ourselves and becomes the story that we tell ourselves about who we are and what our life was like.
Very often, this is just a repetition of what we have been told by other people. And then we tend to see ourselves through that lens. If you are told often enough that you are not good enough, that is the lens the memory camera will show you every time you look through it.
Our generation growing up was not told daily how wonderful we were, how amazing we were, as today’s children are. So you might think that today’s children would have an advantage in how they store memories.
But they have a different problem where they cannot accurately perceive themselves because what they’re being told is an exaggeration. A scribble becomes a masterpiece artwork. Jumping up and down on one foot becomes an athlete with Olympic potential.
Of course, these are ridiculous exaggerations. But this is what today’s parents tend to do with their children. In trying to make them feel good about themselves they actually created an early impostor syndrome. Because children do know the truth about themselves. They know jumping up and down on one foot doesn’t make them an Olympic athlete.
They like the praise. But they’re also aware that it is overdone and not deserved. So it creates a different problem with today’s generation and it becomes the story they will tell themselves about who they are.
And it will read as they can never be good enough, do enough. achieve enough. Because they can never live up to the story they’ve been told about who they were as young children, which can create its own depression and anxiety.
Children are not taught how to be. They are taught how to perform. And so this cycle perpetuates.
So as an adult, how do we step back from this stringing beads together of past memories that we use as an identification of who we were, and how we have become who we are now?
“This happened to me. Therefore, I am like this now.” It becomes an excuse. A defense. A way of saying that I do not want to make the effort to change this quality about myself. Do not ask me to. Do not put pressure on me to. Because I do not have the energy, or the understanding, or perhaps even the desire to change. Because I have become attached to my story. It is who I am. Why would I want to write a new story to be someone else, when I am myself? But “myself” is a story filled with falsehood and defense mechanisms.
There has to be an awareness that these stories we tell ourselves are only that. They are not truth.
Q: And then what? How do we create a new story for ourselves—if we achieve that awareness that we know the stories that we tell ourselves are only that?
When you achieve that awareness—if you have truly achieved the awareness, the stories stop then and there.
From your question, this means you do not understand what the stories are. Stories are the lies we tell ourselves. Why would you want to start a new lie about yourself going forward?
The point is to just be in the moment. To learn how to heighten awareness. To perceive what is rather than how you think it is affecting you.
It becomes a form of present meditation where there is not the urge to react because there is nothing to react to. It just is.
As old stories die, there can still be discharges until that story is completely released from your identity. That is the challenge in the beginning—how easily we are hooked back into these stories.
The challenge is that even if you were to ask other people how they perceived you to try to get an accurate or a more complete understanding, it would still be inaccurate because it is filtered through their biases, prejudices, and cultural conditioning. All that it can tell you is the impact that you are having in your outer world. But it cannot tell you about yourself.
That work must be done through sitting in quiet, in meditation, and centering on that inner voice that knows the truth. That part that is aware of something greater than a constructed identity protected by false ego.
The process of being freed from these stories—from letting these strung-together beads fall to the ground—requires a strong intention. Without that—without even being aware of it—you will pick the beads back up from the floor and restring them. The reason why is that the beads become a security blanket.
It would be like someone telling you to take off all your clothes and walk around out in the world naked. You would feel very self-conscious. We would want to grab our clothes and put them back on again so that we can continue to hide and fit in.
We associate being seen for who we fully are as uncomfortable. As being naked. As having nothing to hide behind.
The misperception there is that when you achieve that state, you no longer care what other people think. It has no value to you any longer because you realize they can only speak through their stories.
Q: How do we build that intention that you talked about?
By realizing that stories perpetuate pain. They keep us trapped in unhealthy versions of ourselves that we keep replaying. But if we stopped for a moment, we would realize we are no longer that person. We really don’t think that way or want to be that way anymore. But the habit is so strong that it runs on autopilot.
Q: In addition to meditation and working to build this intention, what other exercises or ways of being help us get out of this storytelling?
Stop consuming media that reinforces these falsehoods. Which, in turn, reinforces feelings of not being good enough or having enough. Read positive material that helps you to feel spiritually clean and clear. Have periods throughout the day where you check in and pay attention fully, while you are completely present in the now. Keep doing this until this becomes the new normal.
This does not mean that emotions won’t arise. They will. But they will be less likely to be stored as inaccurate stories that we tell ourselves or the world about who we think we are.
They just become emotions in the moment, and we let them pass. We do not carry them forward. If we meet up with them again down the road, they will not be past emotions. They will be that emotion in that present moment in whatever way it may have evolved or not evolved. But it is another opportunity to try to understand and release that emotion in a positive way.
It is not hard to do. But it requires the desire and willingness to make the effort to overcome old habits. That is what is hard. This cleaning out will not happen overnight. You may need to set down your stories many, many, many times before you are able to truly and fully walk away from them and not pick them up again.
It is not a commentary on your goodness as a person. It’s just that some stories are so deeply grooved that it may take many times to set some of them down before that groove is smoothed away and can no longer be filled up again.
So, there must be a willingness to accept that and not use it as a measurement of accomplishment or frustration. Just know that it needs to be set down as many times as it needs to be set down, until there is no longer an urge to pick it back up. It requires practice. That’s all.
Q: For many people, the beads, the stories, are their identity.
Yes, the stories are their identity. They become the identity. We become attached to these stories as who we are. True.
Q: What happens when we lose our identity?
The identity is a falsehood to begin with. There is no such thing.
Q: Then what is there? What makes us us?
Beingness is who we are. It is that simple. When you are fully paying attention and present, that is who you are. The rest are layers of clothes that you have put on over the years that are not you.
There’s a feeling that identity is good. “I know who I am. This is my identity.”
What do identities do for anyone except cause separation and misunderstanding?
You cannot be fully present when you present your identity, your ego. Those will always stand as Sentinels in front of you, preventing anyone from fully seeing you or knowing you.
We have been told from the beginning that we need identity and ego to accomplish and fit in. But what we are accomplishing and fitting into is not reality, is not healthy, does not lead anyone to self-awareness or spiritual clarity.
They, in fact, make sure you will never find either of those.