Staying mindful—paying attention non-judgmentally—is so hard because many of the thought patterns that distract us were developed during childhood.
Even if you aren’t a victim of outright abuse, you’ve experienced some level of trauma.
“You can have childhoods were no overt trauma, occurs,” says Hungarian-born Canadian physician and addiction expert Gabor Maté. “But when the parents are just too distracted, too stressed to provide the necessary responsiveness, that can also traumatize the child.”
We all—every single one of us—have stories and beliefs about how and who we need to be in order to be safe, taken care of, accepted, and loved.
The heartbreaking thing is these stories and beliefs are exactly what hold us back from connection. They disconnect us over and over again—from the present moment, from friends and family, from living fully.
You should explore your particular stories, preferably with a therapist if you can afford it.
But with even just a little bit of regular meditation, you’ll starting noticing how often they appear in your mind, which will help you take them less seriously.
They’re just thoughts, after all. As the Nepalese Tibetan monk Tsoknyi Rinpoche says, they’re “real but not true.”
I’ve included a list of some of the more notorious stories below.
One of mine is, I have to do things “perfect”—whatever that means—to earn respect, love, and connection. A few weeks ago, it popped up at in an odd place.
I was hiking near Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park when I spotted a pile of little brown balls. I knew what they were because I’d seen “moose droppings” candy before in giftshops in Maine, and I’d heard moose were “active” in the area.
Stories of moose attacks flitted through my mind. “Man dies in horrific encounter with rabid moose.” My neck and shoulders clenched. My heartbeat thumped in my ribcage.
But what really twisted me up was, I’d be judged by others for making a mistake—for bumbling around in the woods without a gun, pepper spray, or even knowing what to do if I saw a moose.
Think about that. I was more worried about being judged than the pain and even death that might come with a moose attack.
It wasn’t the fear and anxiety that overwhelmed me—emotions are part of vibrant experience of life. It was the story I was adding on top of the emotions.
Once I noticed the story, I laughed a little and continued down the trail. Mindfulness had helped me—once again—become conscious of my unconscious thoughts, let them go, and reconnect to the aliveness of the present moment.
Do any of these stories/beliefs (borrowed from psychologist Cynthia Wilcox) resonate?:
- I can lose myself when I get close to someone.
- I must earn respect/love by what I do/produce/accomplish.
- I feel responsible for others’ well-being.
- Keeping others comfortable is the most important thing.
- I have an evaluator in my mind that is almost always on duty, evaluating myself and others.
- I rely on myself.
- Most often, I am disappointed or let down by others.
- I can’t trust anyone completely.
- If I’m all that I can be, I’ll overwhelm others. I have to keep myself small.
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