The Link Between Upsetting Feelings and Our Personal Story

Have you noticed that when an upsetting feeling arises, that there are usually ideas attached to that feeling – ideas that are largely unseen and taken as facts when they have nothing to do with what is really true?
I’m going to use the word “story” here to mean our continuous stream of thoughts. These thoughts autonomously attach themselves to a feeling or a point of view we may have. Our story informs us about how we feel about the world or an aspect of our own life.
Our personal story makes us feel or think the way we do. It’s that story that actually generates a particular feeling. We assume that our feeling is based on reality, when, in fact, it’s simply a real feeling. Whether we know it or not, we are often telling ourselves a story about the world rather than seeing the world as it is.
For instance, here’s how this may work with one kind of upsetting feeling that may weave itself into a personal story: sadness.
Sadness may arise. But sadness is often attached to some idea(s) that form a story about how the world could be or should be. Or the feeling of sadness may attach to a story about what could have happened or should have happened instead of what actually did happen.
Sadness is often something quite different than compassion, empathy, sympathy, or mourning and grieving, although it may manifest within each of these feelings. Empathy and compassion are feelings that do not upset us. Rather, they affirm our natural loving nature. Grieving and mourning are emotional states that we derive from sadness and have a beginning, a middle and an end. They do not necessarily have a story. By contrast, sadness that is based on a story that we tell ourselves tends to hold on and repeat itself, often symbolically, in one situation after another.
The same pattern may apply to a host of other upsetting feelings. Try, for instance, applying this to your anxiety or your anger. What’s the story?
  • Are you anxious because you think that something bad or disappointing may happen that may threaten your future in any way?
    (Do you know that will happen?)
  • Are you angry because you think that someone behaved in a way that they shouldn’t have behaved?
    (Do you know that someone did something they shouldn’t have done, even though what they have done may have caused enormous harm and generated unspeakable sadness?)
Who are you without a story?
What does life feel like without a story?

Thanks and credits here to both Byron Katie and to Adyashanti, spiritual teachers, whose writings and talks have provided pointers in this direction by inquiring into the nature of who and what we fundamentally are.