I remember my professor saying with a grin. We were in a lecture in research design, and he wanted to make a point.
Pretend, he continued, that you are thinking about someone in your life – say, your best friend. Just at that moment, the phone rings and guess what! It’s your best friend! It must mean that you are psychic, right? Why else could you predict that call with such amazing precision?
How about another explanation? You must have thought about that person a million times. And that person must have called you a million times too. When the numbers are that large, chances are, there will be times they call you just as you’re thinking about them.
He was exaggerating for fun, of course, but his point was clear. If we are looking for something – if we really want to believe that we are psychic – then this is good enough evidence that we are!
However, in the world of science, the evidence simply isn’t good enough.
We Find What We Look For
I’m not making a statement on psychic powers. His story got me thinking about other things – the “evidence” we find in our everyday lives. We have so much invested in our beliefs, in keeping our stories alive, that we begin to look – and therefore see – things that might not be there!
On a slightly bigger scale, imagine this scenario. John starts off his day by going to the café for breakfast. The waitress there is rude to him, and he starts feeling rather low. Then he gets on the bus on his way to work, where he sits next to a grumpy old man who is also quite nasty to him. By the time he reaches work, he is feeling horrible. It wasn’t about the old man – everyone is so bloody rude!
But is that really true? Throughout his breakfast and his bus ride, he would have been sitting with dozens, if not hundreds of other people, wouldn’t he? Were they all rude to him? Out of at least a hundred people, two were rude. And yet the two was all he focused on, choosing to see a pattern out of that.
If we look deeply at these situations in our lives, we might realise that – in some cases, at least – we are making a mountain out of a molehill. For small events, simply this understanding might be enough for things to change.
The Stories of Our Lives
But things get a bit scarier when we look in this way at the stories of our lives, the ones that we cling tightly to – the ones that define us.
I really didn’t want to share this because it feels like I am whining, but I spent so many hours trying to get my point across in another way, and I simply can’t do it. And so I have no choice… one of my biggest life stories was that relationships are painful. I was in one emotionally abusive relationship many years ago, then another one full of lies and manipulation, then another…
Recently I realised that I have been afraid of intimacy, of being betrayed and hurt. The way I looked at love has been shaped by this story, one that I have repeated and shaped and polished in my head for years. And the way I dealt with this fear and pain, the things it made me do!
With so much invested in this story, with so much of my past controlled by it – the painful thing was realising that I had been looking at patterns that simply weren’t there. There were years in between these relationships. There have been relationships in between that were sweet and loving. There were times I had been the manipulative one.
In other words, I looked at the whole mess and realised it was all a lie.
What We Can Do
This realisation, at first, created some mild emotional discomfort. Out of fear, I quickly pushed it away. OK, I’ve disproved my story, that’s the end of it, I’m done, what’s next?
I wanted to believe that my work was done, in a matter of minutes. But that was a lie – keeping it at the intellectual level meant that nothing really changed – the truth had not sunk in. What I had to do was to stick with this emotion, to allow it, to follow it no matter where it might go.
As I did so, the feelings quickly became stronger, as more and more I saw that I had lived a lie for years. I saw how I distorted facts to keep my story going. I saw how I pushed love away. I saw how I gave up on love, how I thought all the good women were gone; the despair I felt. I saw how my adult life was shaped by this story. All this brought up repressed pain – pain that I slowly allowed myself to enter and feel. Memories, beliefs, and thoughts, I examined and unravelled, one by one.
Several times I wanted to run away from this work – I would much rather remain right. I would much rather remain stuck in a lie, however painful it was. Such stories have been with us for so long and become so much a part of our identity, that removing it felt like removing a part of my physical body.
This is one of the few times I am writing about work I haven’t completely finished, so I do not know for sure what will happen. But I want to find out – if I have been afraid to open my heart because of my story, will I be able to live with my heart wide open once I have fully dropped it?
There have been glimpses of this freedom, this joyful fearlessness… and what I do know is: I want more of it.