The challenge is to separate the emotions from the story. Acknowledge the emotions, and let go of the story.
So many people cannot differentiate between the two. They see an emotion, and have to destroy it. They go straight into discrediting the story, sacrificing the emotion in the process.
Let’s look at an example, or this will never make sense.
Right now I am deep inside this story: all my friends will leave me because I am a big failure.
My emotions are… oh, Heaven knows.
I don’t have to know what they are, I just have to feel them and remind myself that they are legitimate.
I think I’m feeling lonely, confused, sad, tired.
And the story goes like this: “all my friends will leave me, because while they are out there achieving things in life, getting partners, getting married, getting jobs, etc, I am stuck in the Ultimate Rut, forever stagnant. And who wants to hang out with their broke-ass friend, when you’re in your 40s, and you cannot remember being broke-ass anymore? Why would you hang out with that friend, now that you have a good job, an income, a mortgage, children, a house, in other words, now that you are a “grown up”, with “grown up responsibilities”, why would you still hang out with your broke-ass friend who has none of those things? You don’t even have anything in common anymore”.
This story “feels” true right now. I am “convinced” this process has already started. That I am losing friends because they are “growing up” and I’m not, that their lives are following the “traditional path” and mine isn’t, because my life isn’t following any path, it’s not even moving. This is exactly how I felt when my yoga teacher had a baby and I *knew * that she was forever changed in a way I haven’t, and so I could never be close to her, ever.
At this point I have three options.
First, to “let go” of the story
A lot of people on the internet will tell you that “this is just a story”, that it isn’t true, or that, to use Byron Katie-speak, “you cannot possibly know that it’s true”.
This is one approach. Yet in this occasion, I don’t want to follow it… at least not completely.
I do want to remind myself that yes, this is a story, and yes, I cannot possibly know that it’s true and sure, it doesn’t have to be true. And, it is also true that if this story is in my consciousness, I must have got it from somewhere. It is possible that I have experienced this before, and so it is important to hold this story and take it seriously. It doesn’t have to be true, but chances are that it has been true in the past. That’s one part of it.
Another part of it could very well be that it is true, that this is happening right now and my intuition is picking up on it. And while “all my friends are leaving me because I am a big failure” is a “story” and doesn’t have to be the *only* story, it’s also true that I cannot know that this isn’t happening.
Does all this feel like mind-bending intellectual gymnastics? That’s a good thing, it’s adding “flexibility” to the mind. Instead of locking ourselves into “This is the Truth for all time”, we are softening the story, bending it this way and that, see what fits best.
My story is “All my friends are leaving me, or will leave me, because I am a big failure”.
Possible approaches, (one can use all of them at the same time by adding “and”)
“This is a story”. (and)
“I cannot possibly know that it’s true”. (and)
“It might not be true”. (and)
“It might be true”. (and)
“It might have happened before”. (and)
“It doesn’t mean it will happen again”. (and)
“It might happen again”.
The “and” is very important, because yes, they can all be true. Using “and” is the most compassionate way to hold many seemingly contradictory statements.
Considering these statements allows me to “observe” the story, detach a bit from it, help me see where it’s true and where it isn’t.
The second option is to prepare for it being true
While it may not be true that all my friends will leave me as their lives change (and mine doesn’t, or at least doesn’t change in the same way as theirs does), I would like to prepare myself for it, just in case it is true.
Wisdom and Truth are important to me, so I prepare myself emotionally by reminding myself of Wisdom and Truth which I have gathered through the years of studying yoga and philosophy.
“Sometimes friendships do fall apart. People do drift away. Things change, people change. And yes, it is entirely possible that I will lose friends, when people spend their time nurturing other relationships that best align with their needs. This is not a “bad” thing, it’s the way things are. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s what happens.
And it is entirely possible to survive this. I have seen [person] fall out with people they absolutely adored, then ride that very challenging wave and come out stronger the other side. Yes, it’s hard, but it happens, and I can survive it.”
Last, the “turnaround”
I sometimes do a “Byron Katie” and ask myself whether I might be the one doing what I am accusing others of doing to me.
“What if the story “my friends will leave me because I’m a failure” is actually “I will leave my friends because I’m a failure (and can’t stand the contrast between their lives and mine)?”.
Or what if the story is actually “I will leave my friends if I ever find success?”.
These “turnarounds”, as Byron Katie calls them, are challenging, so I always check in with myself before whether I am up to consider them or not. If I am, I ask the question and then leave it hanging, without trying to find an answer. (If I were to find an answer immediately, chances are it would fit with the original story, and it wouldn’t challenge my beliefs, and nothing would change. I could easily default into replying from a defensive place, like “Of course I’m not like that, what are you accusing me of?!” which would be counterproductive).
Once I’ve asked the question and considered it, I go back to option 2. If you read that section again you will find that you can apply the same Wisdom for the story “I will leave my friends because they are successful”.
It’s Wisdom, which means it has to be true for all times.
So, Mary, is the story true? Will your friends leave you because you are a failure?
Here’s the secret: it doesn’t matter whether the story is “true” or not. What matters is that right now it feels true. That’s what you got to work with: with where you are right now, what is going on for you at the moment, what “feels true”.
Stories like “all my friends will leave me because I’m a failure” or “no one will ever love me unless I’m perfect”, they all come from fear.
Fear throws these stories at us, and all we can do is work with them as they show up.
That’s how you work with fear, by working with the stories that feel “true” at the moment.
You couldn’t possibly work with all “fear”. You need to work with the “here and now”.
In time, fear dissolves, but never goes away completely.
In the grand scheme of things, that is, on the “spiritual path” level, only love is real. Which means that whether my friends leave me or not, it’s all a reflection of love.
And no, I don’t actually believe this, I’m not enlightened yet!
On a more practical level, it is possible that some will leave and some won’t. And it is possible that we become distant because of lifestyle changes. This happens to people all the time.
But by doing this work, working with the story when it shows up and letting my emotions be what they are, I am building the resilience I need to feel, in my bones, that I will be ok regardless of what happens.