Yesterday, inspired by my 14-yr-old, I wrote a post called “Facing Fear“. Today I caught myself posting on Facebook that I was “making up stories in my head”. Then I remembered this quaint little acronym : “FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real”. Meditating on that this morning has been helpful and led me to focus instead on facing the FACTS…
We all have our monsters. Some of them exist in the real world and we are right to be scared of them. But many of them are just stories we have made up in our heads.
The Buddha is reported to have said that “all pain and suffering comes from attachment to desire and ego”. This is not to say that when you get burnt, the fire didn’t cause you pain. But to say that much of what causes us distress is our attachment to some story we have made up in our head (some form of “ego”) that we can’t let go of.
To better understand this, let’s take an example : Suppose you have a meeting to go to and on the way, your car breaks down. That little voice might say “Oh no, I’m screwed” or “This is terrible” or “There is nothing I can do about it”.
What is happening? You had a plan and something happened. In this new moment, you have a memory of the past planning you did and things you wanted (to have a meeting) and an idea about what you want to happen in the future (to go to the meeting). Neither of these things now correspond to the current reality (not going) and you get annoyed, stressed, worried etc… It is the separation between reality and story that causes the pain. It is the separation between reality and story that IS the pain.
If you think about this a little, you’ll see that much of what annoys you, stresses you, makes you angry (or even makes you happy!) is not “true” in the traditional sense.
So what is this ego? What are these stories? What does all this mean in REALITY and how can we get out of it?
If you want the Buddha’s answer, do the research. If you think you can turn off this “ego”, try meditation (good luck!). And if acceptance is your thing, thats cool too. But a little bit of “cheap psychology” and fact-checking might help too.
MANY of the things causing the fear we have are simply not based in reality. A voice in our head is telling us all sorts of things. Most people have a tendency to over-identify with that voice, as it were “me” or “the real me”. Others believe is is just a thing that happens in your body over which you have no control, just like your breathing or your hair-growing.
When this little worrying voice comes up, here’s how it goes: First, there is a thought that comes out of nowhere. You can’t help it, it just happens. Somehow, on autopilot, you compare that (random, uncontrolled) thought with your memories and/or wishes for the future. Then you make conclusions and predictions about “what IS”. This is all normal.
But, in the words of Mr Dylan “It ain’t me babe”. It’s just a thing that happens. A thinking habit. A PIECE of what you DO. But not you, and oftentimes, not true. And to be more philosophical, it’s pretty strange to attach oneself to all this non-existant stuff. The past is gone and the future doesn’t exist yet. In short: Right now is just right now: Stuff is happening, including a little voice in your head. That’s it.
So check the facts. Example in case: In today’s economic and health situation, I am (was?) today worrying about the future. I am capable of telling myself “I’ll run out of money” or “No-one can help me” or “This thing could go on forever and I won’t be able to be freelance anymore”. These are normal worries for everyone IMO. But they are not “truth”, in the sense that they are not current reality. They are that little voice thinking about a (thus far) non-existant future and a (gone) preferred past.
This is not to deny that things might turn out as I imagine. And IMO I would be naive to think it will all be all right out of pure optimism. That would be just the same functioning : more stories in my head.
So what DAN? What do you want to really say?
Check the FACTS. Anything that isn’t fact NEEDS to be accepted as no more than a story or hypothesis to test or include in risk-analysis. But not more. Not worry, not stress, not fear. If you can already separate for yourself what IS true and what is your own story, you are going in the right direction. Try it..
When I see things on social media about what might happen for the Corona virus, it can almost immediately create worry in me (without any effort from the real me :). What do I do? I check belgium.be for the latest facts. Everything else is conjecture, fakenews and fear-mongering.
When I worry about paying bills and wonder if anyone will help me, I check the facts. I heard something about loan repayments being put off. Research… call the bank.
How many times in your life did you worry about something only to find out if didn’t happen? And how many times did you think “Oh, I should have checked that, or thought about that” ? This is hard to do because we get swept away by the worry, the little voice.
There is a lot of stuff in reality today that IS problematic for people. I do NOT deny it and I do NOT suggest ignoring it. I only add that there is also a lot of worry not properly grounded in fact. Go check.
Good luck to all.
More from me on this whole “stories” and “perception” thing:
2 of my short stories:
…otherwise, I would strongly recommend checking out YouTube videos or books from Alan Watts. I don’t want to start listing all my favourite links to this guy. Just know that he was the first (1950s) and foremost expert on Eastern Philosophy, including Zen Buddhism. If you dig anything I said above, you might like him too.