After a week of “Doing Nothing” or doing a meditation/mindfulness practice for 15 minutes every day, we are ready to move on the second ingredient in The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. In this chapter we gently begin to examine the stories that we tell ourselves. You may or may not be aware that our brains have the tendency to lie to us to make us believe that everything is ok. We tell ourselves that our relationship is fine, our living situation is fine, our job is fine. We tell ourselves that we don’t want to change. (Change is SCARY!) The truth is that our brains do their best to protect us from something that it has categorized into a box called DANGER. Your brain is afraid of Change. It has a major fear of the Unknown. It likes it best when there are Rules and a Routine. The fear of the unknown makes the brain think that change is unsafe and will fight to keep doing things the same. This might sound silly, but it’s true.
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This is part of the reason we continue to do the same things over and over and over again, even when they make us miserable. Why is it so hard to change our circumstances when we are unhappy? It is not because we lack the motivation to do so. We either block out the unhappiness, block our emotions, and allow our brain to tell us fairy tale stories about how “fine” our life currently is OR we tell ourselves that change is too HARD, we can’t do it, I don’t have the money, the time, the resources. This is not a simple problem, to be quickly explained away. But we can begin to address part of the issue by following the second ingredient, “Truth” for a week to get used to being honest with ourselves about our current situations.
This second chapter doesn’t ask us to do anything about our situations in life. We are simply invited to explore our situations with honesty and to treat our stories as if they were a research topic. First, you continue the practice of “Doing Nothing” as in Ingredient, or Chapter 1. Set your timer, put up your No Vacancy sign and vacate your body and mind. Continue to visit the place you have created in your mind that makes you feel calm and peaceful.
Once you are done with your meditation or mindfulness practice you are going to start asking yourself a few questions. This only takes a few minutes. I encourage you, if you are reading this, but don’t have the book, to get the book and read through this chapter. Martha Beck has a way with words and explains the reasoning for each question better than I can. I will simply give you a brief summary of each.
Question 1: What am I feeling?
Do a quick emotion scan. How are you feeling? Don’t fight it, just listen. I love this list of emotions that Byron Katie’s School for the Work has made available. It lists negative emotions on the first page and positive feelings on the next page. (Byron Katie’s work is AMAZING when it comes to exploring the truth. If you get stuck on this chapter, I highly recommend watching some of her videos or listening to her audiobooks- these two are my favorite, I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead and Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life. I find her books difficult to read through, the audio versions are fantastic.)
Question 2: What hurts?
Again, do a body scan. Check yourself from head to toe. What hurts, where?
Question 3: What is the painful story I’m telling myself?
This one is a little trickier. This is where the above work with Byron Katie can be helpful if you get stuck here. Basically, you are just being honest about where the pain is coming from. Don’t be afraid to verbalize it. My husband should do more housework. My supervisor should see how hard I’m working and he doesn’t. I don’t have enough money. I am not _________ enough. Don’t be afraid to be kind of a jerk to yourself for a minute. If these are the stories that are behind the pain, then go ahead and say it, or better yet, write it down. Your instincts will hopefully be to be a little nicer to yourself, but fight those. This is about the truth and this question isn’t about making yourself feel better. You’ll get to that in the next couple of questions.
Question 4: Can I be sure my painful story is true?
Is it true? Sometimes our knee jerk response will be to say, yes, of course it’s true, life isn’t fair, I’m too _______ and I really don’t have enough money. But, take your time with it. Sit with it. The words of this question are important. Can I be SURE, absolutely SURE that this story is true. If you’ve written it down, look at some of the things you’ve written. And ask yourself if your absolutely sure that those things are true. This video with Byron Katie is an awesome example of when someone realizes that the story they’ve been telling themself is not actually true. It’s long and the beginning is slow and you wonder where she’s going with this, is she being cruel?, but stick with it, it’s really good. Sometimes you’ll find that you have a little more responsibility in the problem than you first realized. Don’t run away from that.
Question 5: Is my painful story working?
This one’s a little easier. If your story is not getting you closer to a goal you have, it’s not making you happier, it’s not bringing you closer to the things you want in life, then it’s not working. If it’s working, you’ll know.
Question 6: Can I think of another story that might work better?
This question allows you to use your imagination. Look at your story from a couple of different angles. Try some things on and see how they feel. Some you will know right away don’t work. But some, you might be surprised to find, are also true. “My husband should do more housework” might turn into My husband doesn’t do the dishes, but he does the laundry, he often declutters the surfaces in the living room, and vacuums on occasion. Or it might turn out to I’m feeling guilty because I don’t do enough housework. Or maybe it’s true that plenty of housework gets done and you both do enough. Or maybe it’s true that you don’t really care about the housework at all, you are fine with it, but your neat-freak mom is coming to visit and she’s going to tell you that the house looks dirty. Some of these might feel right, and some might feel untrue. Just take a look, that’s all you’re asked to do this week.
Final Step: Offer compassion to your inner, lying scumbag.
Don’t skip this step. You might look at one of your stories and realize that your story is not true and that you’ve been lying to yourself. This can make you feel pretty dumb or angry. But you didn’t know before and now you do. You wouldn’t beat up a child for crawling when they haven’t learned to walk yet. It’s the same here. You didn’t have the knowledge or the skill. Now you do. So forgive the part of yourself that has been “protecting” you with lies and denial. It was doing the best it knew how to do. So before you get up from this session, tell your inner scumbag “Thank you, I love you, May you be happy, May you be well, May you be free from suffering.”
Was this hard for you? What painful stories have you been telling yourself that have been keeping you stuck? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.