Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dropping the Story?

From my recent retreat with Ruth Denison at Dhamma Dena Monastery, I brought back not just many pearls of wisdom from Ruth, but also one memorable talk from Venerable Madika, one of the resident nuns there. The talk was about learning how to deal with difficult emotions, by dropping our story. 

Difficult emotions, I got recently, from one situation with someone in a position of power. Fear, anger, sadness, disappointment, outrage, a full bag of difficult emotions opened, for me to investigate. After I had a conversation with that person, and I realized I was going nowhere in terms of trying to change the outer circumstances, wise mind came to the rescue. I remembered Venerable Madika's talk. "Drop your story. Remember, no one can make you angry." As I started looking into the story I had been constructing about that person, that particular situation, I realized there were parts of the story I was not so sure about actually. Was I justified in my claims? What if I was the one who was out of line? Back and forth, I went. In the end, the jury leaned in my favor . . . The story has been playing over and over inside my head, til now.

While dropping one's story seems like the right thing to do in principle, the reality shows it is not so easy. Expectations, 'I' driven thoughts, old wounds in need of some more licking, personal baggage not yet let go of, all conspire to give the story free rein. Meanwhile, one is left with the bag of emotions to hold, and the strategic question of what to do with all that energy, all those thoughts and feelings?

Most useful has been to engage in metta practice, for the other person, and for myself. Seeing him as someone with his own wounds and limitations, and remembering all the good that has come out of our relationship also. I have got blinders, and so does he. That his happen to affect me in a major way is just a product of circumstances. It has nothing to do with me really. Silently, I repeat, "May he be well, may he be at ease, may he be at peace, may he be happy", and I imagine love pouring out of my heart in his direction. And I do the same for myself. Loving kindness, such powerful stuff . . .

Second, has been the realization of the damage done to my own mind, from hanging on to negative thoughts and emotions. Guarding the mind, like one's most precious jewel, I can see the real reason for dropping the story, regardless. In the end, it is all about keeping one's house clean, and free of filth. Forgetting about the object of one's misery, and refusing to indulge the misery itself. Polishing the mind over and over again, with warm determination.

Third, is appreciating the teaching opportunity from such experience. Like a bright mirror, situation has forced me to explore my own imperfections, the places of stuckness that keep coming up along my path. In the midst of all the unpleasantness, I walk, with gentle curiosity, taking a close look at my sores. Investigating the real source of my suffering, with the full knowledge that in the end, the problem lies within myself. Of course . . .

Fourth, is turning the anger on its head, and transforming it into the positive force I very much need to deal with the particular situation. Taking matters in my own hands. This requires the conscious decision of no longer reacting when provoked. Instead, registering the emotions, feeling the immensity of the energy being released, and enlisting it towards creative ends. I have a plan, and it's working.

Venerable Madika is right, the story needs to be dropped, but not so fast. There is much to be learned from the suffering, still.

Now, tell me, any story you need to drop?


  1. I needed to read this precisely at this moment. Thank you, always, for your reminders.

  2. Well, thank you Liz, for partaking in this story about story making mind . . . I get so much from this sharing. Knowing that this is a universal problem makes it a little easier to bear :)

  3. Wonderful post Marguerite, and thank you so much for the link to my Blog.
    May you be well, happy and peaceful.

  4. Yes, thank you for this post - so well written and well thought out. I had a number of stories that needed to be dropped recently. Like you I find metta practice to be very healing, but I also think we can learn by looking closely at which of the hindrances - doubt, anxiety, ill will, sloth, desire (sometimes all of them) is taking up our energies. Not for nothing are these hindrances also called teachers.

  5. David, I am curious, how did you come across Ven. Madika?

  6. Ed, thank you. Yes, the hindrances! I take them as part of the course . . . amazing as they tend to show up as a cohort, as here: greed, anger, ill will, anxiety, doubt. Knowing that they are a universal problem does help! I look at a representation of the Buddha's radiant face, and I think, he too . . .

  7. Thank you for this. I am still carrying stories and anger about my break up, or at least it's aftermath. Not sure I am ready to drop them all yet, I suppose I am still learning.

  8. You and I both carrying . . .

    I am confident in the power of wise attention, to slowly loosen the grip of MY story. In time, story will drop out like a rotten fruit.

  9. I like that image, that it will drop out like a rotten fruit. I hope so. I am doing my best to watch with awareness, and I can tell you, it's way over ripe.... :)

  10. A new image came to me. Some times, one needs to shake off the rotten fruit off the tree . . . It seems that you are ready there :) Of course, it helps if the person is no longer a part of one's life, which I assume is the case here?

  11. reading this at a much confused time is of a great help.
    Directing metta towards her ...
    so obvious it had not crossed my mind :)

  12. And metta to you! We all need each other in this world of suffering, don't we?