The Stories We Tell And The Lies We Believe

Did you know there are five brain types? I didn’t. Reading through the list I immediately eliminated the Cautious Brain. Each of the others had segments that fit the way I perceive myself, but none stood alone as the most completely descriptive of me.

How much of that is due to the stories I tell myself about who I am?

While writing my memoir there were times I had to stop and ask, Was that how it really happened? Looking back from the perspective of an older, wiser person, the version I was writing stretched my credibility. Was I that naive? Didn’t I have some responsibility for the breakup? What was going on in my psyche that would have created those circumstances?

I’m a soul-searcher. I dig deep looking for the why’s of my life. What I’ve come to realize is that my stories are a result of my beliefs and my beliefs are based on the stories I tell myself.

That poses an interesting possibility. Since they are just stories if I don’t like them, can I change them? And where did they come from, anyway? As I pondered, it became clear that everything was a story. From the moment I woke up, I began telling myself about the day. I unconsciously had a story about my image in the mirror, about what I would wear, what I’d have for breakfast, and whether I’d make coffee or tea. Whatsapp messages, emails, conversations, the way someone looked at me on the street – there was no aspect of my existence that didn’t have story attached to it.

But the question, Where did the stories come from? was the knottier issue.

Our stories occur in the subconscious. But when I started journaling, asking why I had related in a certain way, why I had taken offense to something said, why I hadn’t enjoyed an event, why I befriended some and avoided others, why I tried so hard to please…

Why? Why? Why?

I discovered toxic, negative beliefs. Some were so old and outdated I knew they had originated when I was very young and were still there at my core, informing my decisions, my actions, my thoughts.

One of the things that mystified me was the fact that I’d repeated a pattern throughout my life. I’d married five times and five times divorced the men I’d vowed to love until death parted us. Why?

I couldn’t have been more surprised when I uncovered a core belief that said, You can’t do it alone.

Was that true? I made a list of the things I had done alone, big things, little things, anything that came to mind. The list was endless. Of course, I could do it alone, had basically always done it alone. That list assured me that I was more than capable of taking care of myself, my children, and whatever life demanded.

That explained the marriages, but what about divorce? If I couldn’t do it alone, why did I leave?

The beliefs I excavated around that were brutal. I was unloveable. If I didn’t leave first, I’d be left, and abandonment, rejection – I couldn’t tolerate that. What destruction and misery those poisonous lies wreaked.

At the same time, I struggled with perfectionism. I felt I wasn’t measuring up to my own expectations. When I started asking why I unearthed a crap-load of low self-esteem contributing to that story:

  • You’re unworthy
  • You’re not enough
  • You don’t fit anywhere
  • You don’t know what to do

It took a lot of lists, but I worked through those negatives until I’d turned them around with enough evidence to convince myself that I was worthy, was enough, knew what to do, and of course, I didn’t fit everywhere but there were Sherry-shaped niches here and there where I felt seen.

An event from Kindergarten haunted me and contributed to my unrealistic perfectionist tendencies.

As we were filing out of the classroom with our Moms or Dads on the last day, the teacher took my arm and said, “Sherry, I expect great things from you.” If she’d known the terrible burden of her words, would she have said them? Her expectation followed me into adulthood and became my own. What great things was I to accomplish? What did that even mean?

I was in my sixties and one day, journaling, I wrote: Half the people in the world are probably smarter than I am. And half the people are probably less intelligent. That makes me average. I’m average. I’d found my answer.

That simple revelation liberated me. I WAS AVERAGE! I didn’t have to do great things. Leave that for the 50% smarter than I. I’ll never forget walking down the sidewalk feeling light-as-dust and oh-so-average!

I’ve become highly attuned to my own stories because I know if life isn’t working for me, I have the power to change my perspective.

But…there’s a fine line!

In 1980, Lee Atwater, a political consultant said, “Perception is reality.” The American Psychological Association defines perceived reality as a person’s subjective experience of reality in contrast to objective, external reality. One of the most blatant and widely publicized examples of this happened on January 22, 2017, during a televised, Meet the Press interview with Kellyann Conway when she defined outright lies about the number of attendees at the inauguration as ‘alternative facts.’ Over the four years that followed that inauguration, the world was subjected to the perceived reality of the then US President which rarely aligned with objective, external reality.

That’s not what I’m suggesting.

Nor am I proposing we create a la-la land of denial. There’s a place where we can acknowledge that our external reality is shitty at the moment, but choose not to let it undermine our happiness. This promotes emotional stability and sound mental health. It requires introspection and asking the Why? questions to understand the beliefs (usually rooted in fear) that are causing our distress. When we know that, we can make the lists, reverse the negatives, and tell ourselves a more hopeful, more uplifting story.

At the beginning of this post, I absolutely denied any part of a Cautious Brain. But right now I’m experiencing a telling indication of that very type: heightened activity in the anxiety centers of the insular cortex. Here I am, putting myself out there again, exposing my warts, my vulnerabilities, turning myself inside-out hoping my experience will resonate. Hoping it might shine a light on someone else’s path of self-discovery.

Ramping It Up To Highly Contagious Joy

Time passes. Covid remains. I adjust.

For thirty years I’ve been digging around in my psyche, excavating fascinating beliefs about myself lodged there, some true, many not.

By my 70th birthday, in my opinion, I’d achieved a decent level of awareness, had banished the more bothersome demons, and was living my dream life in paradise.

Then Covid hit. I quickly discovered what I didn’t know that I didn’t know about me. I didn’t know that overnight, trauma would erase the progress I’d made and send me careening back thirty-plus years to my un-awakened past.

In that state, I made impulsive decisions based on fears I thought I’d overcome.

Now, seven months later, the more progressed me has been restored and I’m in awe of human resilience – our ability to adapt to bizarre circumstances that defy imagination.

  • I automatically don the mask when I leave my house and have gotten accustomed, here in Bali, to seeing almost everyone’s nose and mouth covered, some more creatively than others.
  • I think twice before I meet with a friend if I’ve been in contact with anyone other than Ketut whose village still has no cases of the virus. I don’t want to be the one responsible for spreading this plague.
  • Even in my own house compulsive hand-washing has become second-nature.

I’ve reached a level of contentment just to be in the present with the way things are because the way things are isn’t 100% bad.

This was recently made clear to me during meditation – that I must accept and unify the dualities in life. Every circumstance has it’s positives and negatives, pros and cons, gifts and challenges.

Acceptance. Allowing what is to just be, without judging it as bad or good, without assigning blame, without getting attached to one outcome or another. Acceptance without expectation. Acceptance with gratitude.

Adopting that attitude creates a peaceful heart.

But for me, there’s a ramp-up mechanism that goes beyond peace and takes me straight to the next level – joy. I heard it in operation this morning.

Hack.

Hack.

Hack.

I ignored it for a while, then curiosity got the best of me and I looked out the window toward the back garden. In the far righthand corner I could see the shivering tops of a two-story cluster of bamboo.

I dashed downstairs, picked my way through stacks of downed trees, and there it was. There HE was. Ketut. The ramp-up mechanism himself,

Uh-huh. See what I mean? What man, woman, or beast could resist THAT FACE? He radiates pure joy and it’s highly contagious, especially without a mask.

In The Jezebel Mood…

Things I’ve put off doing are getting done. Like mending. Mending, as in patching up holes in beloved old clothes by the hand-stitch method. The results aren’t elegant, but as an ex-mother-in-law once said, they’re serviceable.

That’s what I was going for today. Serviceable.

Two of the three items were baggy cotton pants with elastic waistbands that I wear to bed. The commercial laundry where I send clothes that can withstand abuse eats elastic. One pair of jammie pants came back last time with a forty inch (101.6 cm) waist. My hips were thirty-five (88.9 cm) at last measure so needless to say the pants fell off.

Today I added a narrow strip of new(er) elastic – now they stay on

The second pair were sent home with the back seam blown out and an auxiliary rip down the leg.

The torn ones were Old Navy brand and served me well for about fifteen years. The fabric had worn to see-through condition in some places – namely the rear end – but I loved those pants and could not relegate them to the rag-bag.

Aren’t they the cutest???!
Like I said…serviceable
I cut a strip from an old sheet for reinforcement on the inside

At first I tried to use them the way they were. It’s just me in the bed so who cares? But there was a bit of an earthquake that night. If I ever had to evacuate fast, I wouldn’t want to be homeless with bare buns.

So they’ve sat in the bottom of a drawer until today.

The third item in need of repair was a black lace bra. Do you know the Jezebel brand? Sexy! For whose benefit do I own sexy lingerie? Mine. Only mine. It’s black lace with a pink net-like lining. Even though it was a tiny hole, pink showed through and I felt shabby wearing it.

I’d tucked it beside Old Navy in the bottom of the drawer.

After coffee, and journaling, and a long phone conversation with a friend, and yoga, and meditation, and a bowl of fresh dragonfruit with granola, I felt mellow enough to sit still and sew.

I’m noticing I have to pay very close attention to moods during this isolation situation. My morning ritual is essential. It banishes whatever anxiety or restlessness might have taken hold overnight.

At least that’s the theory. The practice is a little less straightforward.

My point, though…I try not to MAKE myself do anything. Until today I could no more have sat still for a couple of hours to sew than I could have scaled the towering Eiffel. But this morning there was just the right kind of soothing music playing on Jango, the perfect balmy breeze billowing the curtains, a gentle loose-muscled laziness in my bones…and mending floated to mind.

Post COVID-19 – The Future?

That’s the most difficult part, isn’t it? Not knowing what to expect. Not knowing The Future.

All through 2019 I was restless. I knew my life was about to change. I could sense it. Nothing I’d been doing for the past eight to ten years fit anymore. I kept plugging away at the same-old same-old because nothing had appeared to take its place.

Mom died in August. Okay, I thought. Maybe that’s what it was. Maybe some part of me knew…

But it wasn’t.

The restlessness didn’t leave. Christmas came and went. The world barreled headlong into 2020 and my seventieth birthday arrived. My daughters gifted me an astrological reading. The woman’s first opening was in March. I asked her to let me know if she had a cancellation. She said she would.

Seventy was a big number. I wanted to mark the new decade in a special way so I gave myself a trip to Italy. A month in Praiano, I decided, would satisfy a dream to return to that rugged coastline and would also provide time away to gain perspective.

It partly worked.

By the time I returned to Bali I’d stopped doing the things I’d been doing and made space for whatever was next. I landed on March 7th. On March 8th, borders in Indonesia were closed to flights from Italy. My reading with evolutionary astrologer Jessica Murray, was scheduled for March 11th.

Jessica had been practicing astrology for forty-five years. The more I read about her, the more excited I became. I wanted some light shed on the path forward and I felt if anyone could see into that formless void, she could.

The reading was extraordinary. Even though I’d never met Ms. Murray, and even though we were on Skype with an ocean between us, she knew things about me that hadn’t even been clear to me until she spoke them. She asked no questions at all. My comments were mono-syllabic: Oh. Really? Wow!

When our time was almost up she told me I was going into a period of personal transformation that would shift everything I’d previously known about myself. At that point I spoke. I told her I’d sensed something coming and I’d made a few changes, but I didn’t know what was ahead. Her answer made me shudder.

Even if you thought you knew, Sherry, you’d be wrong.

Theories outlining a post-COVID world abound, some utopian, some dystopian. But there are still too many variables to predict an outcome with any accuracy. Jessica’s words for me seemed to apply to the world situation as well: Even if you think you know, you’ll be wrong.

So how do we deal with the unsettling reality of not knowing?

During a particularly difficult juncture in my life when everything familiar had dissolved and the way ahead was complete and utter darkness, I survived with two mantras.

The first: Be in the now and allow.

The second: Trust the unfolding.

Now is all we have. The present. If we allow whatever we’re feeling to come, then go, come, then go, the shifting moods, the capacity to manage followed by the meltdown, the cooped-up craziness or the solitary loneliness, the rare moments of acceptance and peace, are acts of self-kindness. And if we take a minute to name the feelings, ANGER is what I’m feeling now; right now I feel SAD, I’m feeling HOPELESS, psychology tells us that helps to diffuse those emotions.

And then, because it’s impossible to know what’s ahead, if we can stop reading or listening to dire predictions and decide instead to trust the unfolding, that will bring a measure of calm to our nervous system. Don’t feed the fear.

I’ll say it again: DON’T FEED THE FEAR.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the state of the world and what is happening to more and more people every day. Jobs lost. Homes lost. Lives lost. That’s reality. If ever there was a need for mental stamina, tools to manage the machinations of the mind, it’s now. Sometimes we don’t know how resilient we are until we’re put to the test.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius

I hope these simple mantras and the reasoning behind them can help us maintain sanity until the future is once again within sight. Meanwhile, do what you can to be kind to yourself.

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