Your story is arbitrary
15th Jul 20167m12s
Your story is arbitrary.
By story, I mean the story of who you think you are in your life. Your name, your identity, where you're from, what kind of person you think you are, all the people in your life, what the world is telling you about you. It's about how you feel about yourself, it's about the memories you have that make up who you are. It's about your aspirations for the future.
We all have a story. And we all want our story to be successful, right? Even if you're a religious person and you believe in an after life or you believe in reincarnation or whatever, you still are very aware of how finite this life is. You know you're going to die one day. And you don't know when. So you know that you don't know how much time you have on this planet. And however long it is, it's probably not much more than, say, around a hundred years or so. And that's assuming of course that nothing catastrophic happens to you during that time.
Now, given that you know that you're time here is limited, you obviously want to make the most of it. Which means you want your story to be as successful as possible. Success means different things to different people. It could be money, family, some kind of external recognition from society, recognition from the world at large etc. It might just mean feeling happy every single day.
For most of us, success is about making our story complete. We have some idea in our minds of who we want to be or of how we want our life to look. And we are doing everything we can to make that a reality.
And this is actually a really great thing. In a way, it's the same as feeling that you have some kind of purpose in your life and then subsequently being motivated to drive yourself towards that purpose. It excites you, engages you, and it's what makes you get up in the morning and go and do the things you need to do.
At the same time it's easy to get sidetracked. One of the ways we measure ourselves is by looking at where we are compared to other people. For example, if you want to be wealthy then how do you know what level of wealth is okay for you? You might see somebody else with a certain amount of wealth and that will make you feel like you want what that person has, making you want to be as wealthy as that person or close enough. That might be how you get the measure of how wealthy you wanna be. That's just one example. There are many other situations where we don't actively focus on being successful but instead focus on not falling behind others. You might think: "Am I as intelligent as the people in my class? Am I making as much money as the average person? Am I average looking, am I ugly, or am I better than average looking? Am I getting as much travel experience as some of my friends?". In this situation we may not necessarily have a specific goal in mind, but rather, we just don't want to fall behind other people.
This ties into another idea, which is that we often worry about losing what we have. If you have a partnert then it may make you feel like your life is complete. You may feel like you've got that one aspect of your life all keyed up. But the flipside is that if you lose your partner you will then feel incomplete. Because most importantly, it would affect your story. Why? becase your story and your identity is of somebody who has a partner and is in a relationship. Thus, to lose that would force you to have to redefine yourself in your mind. And thus, you don't want to lose your partner, and subequently end up doing everything you can to not lose your partner.
If you earn a certain amount of money, you never want to drop below that to a lower level unless you decide to do that. If you own something, you don't want to lose it. If you've taken lots of photos of all your travels, you don't want to lose those photos because they mean something to you. You don't want to lose your friendships. All of these things that we have in our lives - they feed into our story. They feed into our identity of who we think we are. Which is why when we lose one of those things, it's a bit of a shock to our system. Especially when we unexpectedly lose one of those things. The loss makes us question our story. Moroever, it makes our story seem incomplete. That's less than satisfactory for most of us.
However, it is possible to live a little bit differently. We all have a story. But your story is completely arbitrary. When you're born on this planet, you don't even have a name. You don't even have an identity. You've got nothing. All of those things are given to you and then the story of who you think you are is built up over time based on your experiences. Your memories, your imagination, your feelings, the way you seem to be as a person, etc. By the time we're adults, we're very much tied into our story, forgetting that it's all completely arbitrary. This arbitrary nature is why somebody can go somewhere remote and live like a hermit and end up having a completely different story to most other people. They still got a story, it's just very different to everybody else's.
A lot of meditation and spirituality - I'm talking Buddhist-like philosophies - is aimed at letting go of one's story, to see that the story in one's mind is completely arbitrary. Byron Katie often asks this question of her students: "Who would you be without your story?". You have a story in your mind which either creates happiness or creates unhappiness for you. What her question does is make you question whether your unhappiness would bother you as much if you didn't have the story of who you are in your mind. And of course, the answer is always a no, that it wouldn't. If I feel in my mind that I am not as successful as I could've been in my life, then that's a story I'm carrying around in my head and it's making me unhappy. If I didn't have that story in my mind, I wouldn't be unhappy.
The story is not only arbitrary, it's something that we can change given enough effort and given enough time, and a questioning mind.