Honoring Our Human Experience

“And I must say, there was both freedom and challenge for me in recognizing that our perception of the external world, and our relationship to it, is a product of our neurological circuitry. For all those years of my life, I really had been a figment of my own imagination!” —Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuroscientist, Stroke-survivor, and Author of My Stroke of Insight

I used to live as though I was defined by the thoughts and stories that ran repeatedly through my mind. It seemed like who-I-am was strongly linked to my repetitive, conditioned thought patterns. I know now that I was simply lost in confusion. I didn't understand the evolutionary design of my incredibly creative, habitual, efficient, dramatic little mind. No one had ever suggested that a lifetime of cultural conditioning had essentially created an opinionated, meaning-making machine in my head.

It doesn't occur to most people to stop and really question the stories and beliefs swirling through their minds. They listen to their thoughts as if they're accurate, dependable, and meaningful. There is a compelling misconception that our intellect is the thing getting us from moment to moment, day to day. Many people have unknowingly become identified as—inextricably linked with— their mind's preferences, judgments, fears, and wishes as if those things belong to them.

When it feels like your mind is giving you unbiased, truthful information, it makes sense to listen. It also makes sense to be vigilant, on-guard, and self-protective. When the opinions and preferences that play in your head seem personal and relevant, it makes sense to do everything in your power to keep negative experiences at bay while holding tightly to positive ones. After all, your efficient little narrator is quick to say, "Oh, I hate that! Make that go away!" Or, "Oh, that's nice. Keep that one!" Human experience becomes something to manage and control rather than something to hold space for and honor.

But, what if you could begin to sense that the voice in your head is not accurate or meaningful? More importantly, what if you could begin to see that your mind is simply an activity—an incessant, never-ending movement of thoughts and stories—and you're the one observing it? You're the one noticing its judgments and preferences, but not buying into them so much. What if you didn't rely so much on that little voice behind your eyes and between your ears, and instead trusted that something much more stable and wise is naturally guiding you from moment to moment?

Last week, I asked my YouTube viewers to play a little game. Instead of buying into their mind when it says things like, “I’m so frustrated” or “This shouldn’t be happening,” I asked them to take a step back from that opinionated little narrator. I asked them to simply notice their mind’s judgments and preferences the way an anthropologist might notice a society's response to a natural disaster—with curiosity and neutrality. From this neutral place of observing, someone playing the game might say, “There is a story of frustration playing” or “My mind has a strong preference or opinion about this.” They notice the opinions and preferences without being sucked-in to the drama.

Why is this helpful?

Because most people have no idea how many layers of thick filters their mind’s ideas, preferences, and opinions are being seen through. We have been conditioned to trust our mind’s opinions and preferences as The Truth. We forget that every single experience—from stubbing our toe to losing the love of our life—is experienced through the filter of thinking, and that that thinking is remarkably unreliable. We claim it as ours, as if we somehow chose the lifetime of conditioning and programming that shaped it. As if there was a little "me" in there choosing the environmental and cultural conditioning of our six-month-old, four-year-old, or even twenty-year-old minds.

Even physical pain is experienced 100% through thick, strongly biased layers of thought. And that is not, for one second, meant to diminish the real and often excruciating experience of pain. It's quite the opposite, in fact. When we believe that we feel physical and emotional pain as an actual, objective entity—we suffer; we tense our bodies in resistance. We take on a posture of fighting and hating. But when we can take one step back from the mind's stories of what the pain means, how it's impacting our life, and how awful the future might be, we meet the pain precisely where it is in the moment. Cleanly. Without any added drama. We have compassion for the conditioned responses of our mind. We even have compassion for the tensing and contracting of the body. As a result, our bodies are allowed to relax into the pain rather than resisting and fighting it. Pain is held in a space of peace, grace, and unconditional love. The experience of pain itself is allowed to shift, often for the first time in months or years.

When you recognize that your mind has been conditioned to tell its stories in your voice, in your language, with a character named you at the center of it all, there is an opportunity to wake up. There is an invitation to accept what is, even if what is is hatred and resistance to physical or emotional pain. After all, the hatred and resistance are part of a story your mind is telling. It’s not YOU. You can notice the stories, observe them, have compassion for them, and then leave them alone. You will be led to the next moment, and then the next. No narrative needed.

And here is the best part of all.

When you are no longer identified with the stories your mind is telling, ANY human experience that arises can be honored. If an experience of pain, grief, or despair arises, it can be felt deeply, completely, and cleanly—without the filter of a dramatic, mind-created story. When we are the observers of the stories rather than the victims of them, there is no need to suppress any emotion or experience. All feelings can be felt fully. They can be met with grace and acceptance simply because they are part of the human experience.

When we notice our mind's opinions and preferences rather than taking them on as our own, we fall more easily into alignment with Life. And our experience of being human feels lighter and more peaceful.

If you’d like to learn more about being the observer of your mind, I invite you to check out my YouTube video called, “Game Day.” If you decide to play along, let me know what you see.

Thank you so much for reading. I am always open to questions, comments, and ideas.