One of the hardest parts of physical distancing is the discovery that it’s not so easy to distance ourselves from internal dialogue.
That inner chatter, in fact, is likely louder than ever. With added stress and uncertainty, we may be more on edge and more easily have our buttons pushed. Yet, we’re simultaneously slowed down as our outside world offers less distractions.
You may have experienced this phenomenon before, if you’ve done a meditation retreat. As we begin a retreat, with our usual outside world gone, the first thing we see is that our inner stories seem even louder.
To communicate well with others, the first thing we need to do is look carefully and be ruthlessly honest about our own inner dialogues. Whether we’re aware of them or not – and especially if not – our stories about what’s going on affects how we view and communicate with the outside world.
We all have our stories
Even on average day, we make assumptions and jump to conclusions multiple times. Right now, many of us are at home and our lives have been disrupted. While spending more time than usual with loved ones, then, you may also be experiencing more virtual communication with key people in your life, which is more easy to misinterpret. It’s a prime situation for your inner stories to come up nice and clearly.
Some of us play “Poor me” as a default. Or “I suppose I’ll have to take care of everything again, then..” Or perhaps a variation of, “They don’t value me, I may as well not bother…what’s the point?”
With our physical movements restricted, our frequent stories are likely knocking up lots more air miles:
“Sally hasn’t replied to my email, so that means….”
“John was very quiet in that online meeting, so that means…”
“Why does he keep doing that, he mustn’t love me…”
It can be hard to admit that we have a strong “poor me” or “that’s not fair” reflex, because they seem so childish. Especially if they’re in reaction to a professional colleague or one of our children – we’re supposed to be grown-ups, right?
Yet until we admit what’s going on when we end a meeting in a bad state for no good reason, or feel resentment all day about an innocent comment from our partner, these stories will continue to own us like the two-year old tantrum that they are.
Stopping the snowball effect
Often, we feed our stories by taking select data that we’re over-sensitive to, such as someone’s facial expression, a tone of voice or a single phrase at the end of an otherwise friendly or neutral email.
Does this resonate? Have you ever been convinced that someone is mad at you, only to find out they weren’t at all? Or that someone looked like they were disagreeing with you, when in fact they were preoccupied with some detail or other, and were totally on board? Surely you’ve overreacted to an email and reread it later in a totally different light.
Unless we learn and keep vigilant to our stories, they’ll snowball, uncontrolled, through our day.
Here are a couple of exercises that might help you get leverage under yours.
1) Make a list of what you think are some of your common stories.
You might already be aware of them, especially if you’re working with teachers or spiritual friends who have helped you see what are often our blind spots. This is the advantage of having teachers like our Doug Sensei and Catherine Sensei, and being part of Clear Sky’s community – our stories are mirrored or shown to us as a core part of the work.
Here are some examples,
- That’s not fair.
- I don’t deserve this. / I deserve better than this.
- Why should I have to…?
- Poor me.
- Poor him/her.
- Me again?
- They don’t value my contribution.
- I’m not loved.
- Nobody listens to me.
2) Over the next few days, look for when these stories come up.
- What piece of information triggered the story/ feeling?
- Are you ignoring other information, and only seeing what backs up your story?
- What are other possible scenarios about the person or situation that brought up your story?
- What assumptions are you making?
The more we recognise our frequent stories and how unfounded they can be, the less they will be in control.
This blog was inspired by teachings on communication and inner stories by Karen McAllister and Duncan Cryle during a live webinar on Keeping Connection With Others Despite Social Distancing on April 7, 2020. For more tools on how to make communication more conscious, join Karen and Duncan in an upcoming online course Ignite Your Spiritual Life.