If in 50 or 100 years from now, (or point in time when you are long gone) you were lucky enough to have an accurate biography written up about your life, explaining your successes and failures, dreams you had accomplished and those you didn’t, do you think it would be an uplifting biography? Or would it be a slightly depressing biography, perhaps educating the then reader on the hard facts of life?
Well whatever your story is, happy or sad, the point is that it would be just that, a story. Now coming back to nowadays, is your life as it stands at the moment, with all the things that have personally happened to you, as well those that you foresee as happening to you, still just part of one individual story about your life, be it, an unfinished story! If you were to be completely honest with yourself, I’m sure you’d agree that to be the case. This unfinished story is your tale, your life, and you are not the only one with such a tale for everyone in existence also has a ‘Life Story.’ (Even those who spent all their past confined to some small quarters).
It is worth mentioning that such stories aren’t only attached to the lives of individual people. All organisations and institutions all have their own Life Story, some of the longest ones coming from some worlds major religions. The Life Story for Christianity goes back some 2000 years (or roughly when Jesus first started his teachings and attracting his followers), whilst the Hindu Life Story can be said to go back at least 3,200 years ago. (Some estimates go as far back as 3,700 years ago)
Shorter Life Story’s can be seen within the political spectrum, with each of the 3 leading parliamentary parties each having their own Life Story. Don’t believe me, just read up online the history of Conservatives, Labour or Liberal Democrats and you’ll see an outline of a basic story. Even businesses within the private sector also have their own Life Story.
So we all have a Life Story, which provides us with the benefit of knowing what has occurred in the past and hence, being able to forecast what we expect may well happen in the future.
For instance, suppose you go into work and just before the day is out, decide to walk up to one of your managers (the one whose life passion is firing people) and let him know what you really think of him. Just before he is able to reply to your views with a P45, you head off out of the office. It is now later in the evening and you are aware that awaiting you at work first thing tomorrow morning would be the peeved off (putting it politely) manager. Well from this example, your Life Story is beneficial in that you are aware of what you’d done and from that, can make a close-to-accurate prediction of what awaits you tomorrow.
If you didn’t have a Life Story, it probably wouldn’t have bothered you what you just did for part of having a Life Story is the ability to link up what has happened in the past and how that will shape things to come. However it is worth stating that even a Life Story can’t say for definite what will happen; you can’t predict the future with 100% accuracy. As in the example above, it is most probable that the next day would result in you being fired (or severely disciplined) but it isn’t certain. Perhaps that manager went home, thought about what you said and had a sudden realisation of his behaviour, hence perhaps a humble apology maybe awaiting you instead of a punishment.
Whatever happens, the point to remember is that you have a Life Story, be it unfinished one, hence enabling you to work out what may happen in the future from what has already occurred in the past. Yet whilst this in itself is a benefit, there is a major downside to having a Life Story, or to put it another way, how you relate to your Life Story. Instead of just having a Life Story, most of us seem to actually identify with our Life Story, as if what has happened, the way it happened and what therefore will happen is gospel truth. Furthermore, we become so immersed in our Life Story that we begin to believe that we are our Life Story. Literally speaking, we take personally (and so are affected personally) by everything that happens to us, good or bad. I’m sure you know someone who takes their Life Story to the extreme, the person who having received a bill in the morning, spends the rest of the day fretting and getting mad at the world.
Yet whether you are one of these people who are literally glued to their Life Story, going up or down like a rollercoaster (usually down, as I’ll explain shortly) or like rest of us, I would like to tell you something that hopefully come as a pleasant surprise for you, and that is YOU ARE NOT YOUR LIFE STORY!
You are not your personal past, nor are you your potential future, yet it is amazing how often we believe ourselves to be just that. How often have you found yourself saying something like ‘I am…… because of……..’ Such statements merely show your identification to your Life Story, in that you are defining who you are personally due to some prior event. Ultimately however, this cannot be the case for even before that life-defining event occurred, you were still something. (Some might say this to still be true if you say that being born was your life-defining event) Likewise, it is mad to say that you are defined by your future, for that hasn’t even occurred and is at this moment, unwritten. So to summarise, you are not your past or future; Life Story.
So who am I? I hear you say. Well the best way word to describe who you are at your most essential self is awareness, consciousness. I’m afraid I can’t really break it down any further than saying that is who you are. What is consciousness is a question that has been filling science and philosophy books for many years and I’m sure many years to come. Yet what I can say is what you are not, and that is pretty much everything else. You are certainly not your material possessions, your relationships (as some lofty new age hippies like to state) and certainly not your body. Going within, you are also not your thoughts or your feelings for like everything else in the outside world, will change in time to come. The only thing you are (which is not prone to change, from the day you are born to the day you die) is your consciousness in itself, that inner sense of I Am, sometimes more present than other times, but always there to some degree.
In my past experience, when I try and explain to others this concept of self, most people can quite easily accept who they are as not being in their circumstances or material possessions, however when it comes to thoughts or feelings, the accepting turns more into opposition. I have even had the infamous quote ‘I think, therefore I am’ stated back at me. Yet the reason for why I disagree with our thoughts (and feelings) being us is that like everything else, they will constantly change. Try observing your thoughts for few minutes and tell me that they don’t constantly change from one thing to another. Also, it is worth noting a secondary reason for our thoughts not being our true selves is due to our ability to observe our thoughts and feelings (known in psychology as meta-cognition). Hence we can’t really be our thoughts if we can step back from them and observe them!
Yet coming back to the main subject of this article, now that you are hopefully aware of what you are (at least in concept), you can now hopefully get a glimpse of how it is possible to transcend your Life Story. Please note that I am not saying get rid for as you’d hopefully recall, there is a major benefit to having a Life Story. Instead I mean ending the identification with your Life Story and the only way I know of to truly accomplish this is the undertaking of Mindfulness.
So what is Mindfulness? Whilst there are many good definitions on Mindfulness out there, one of the best definitions I have come across is living moment to moment with non-judgemental awareness. (Term developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn) Or to put it in layman terms, to simply live in the here and now, feeling the ‘isness’ of the moment with all the sounds and sights, etc around you, with complete acceptance to the way that it is (if you would like to read more on how to practise Mindfulness, there are many good books out there on this subject). It is worth noting that despite Mindfulness being a Buddhist concept initially, you can still practise it without having to change your religious beliefs or change your religion.
It is only in the practise of living this way that you can truly transcend your Life Story, no matter how crippling it maybe, and there are also several subsequent benefits for being this way. While there is a vast array of information out there on the web as to the benefits of Mindfulness, I would like to mention a few main relevant ones. The first and foremost of these benefits would be the sense of ease from life’s struggles that Mindfulness can bring. The reason for this is twofold, firstly you are no longer paying attention to the troublesome issues life has, instead paying attention to what is. The second reason is that when you are truly in present moment, your thought stream naturally slows down (if not ceases) as most of our day-to-day thinking is concerned with the past or the future.
This reducing of the number of thoughts leads on to a second benefit of Mindfulness. According to psychologist Dr Russ Harris in his book, ‘The Happiness Trap,’ our minds are evolutionarily designed to be negative, to be on the lookout for problems or when things could possibly go wrong. This he says is due to our hunter-gatherer days, when our very survival meant keeping an eye out for predators and other problems that early man faced. Unfortunately despite the world having changed, our minds haven’t evolutionarily caught up in this respect. Hence as we briefly mentioned, this is why most people who are identified in their Life Story tend to perceive more downs than ups on their emotional rollercoaster. Transcending your Life Story would be like stepping off the rollercoaster, whilst still maintaining your Life Story.
Whilst there are many other further benefits to transcending your Life Story by living in the here and now, it ought to be worth noting that just because you are transcending your Life Story, this does not mean that you no longer plan for the future or try and forget about the past altogether. Such behaviour (if truly possible) would instead mean descending below your Life Story.
The final benefit that Mindfulness brings in the transcending of your Life Story is that you develop a greater sense of self and appreciation of life. Unfortunately unlike the other two benefits mentioned, this one can’t really be described and would be useless to get references to back this up. Instead, you will have to experience this benefit personally by the applying of Mindfulness to your life!