These serotinal days are conducive to reflection. I look at my new grand-daughters and the miracle of life becomes ever so apparent. They are not yet three weeks old but have already gone through heart wrenching crises. I wonder whether they are even aware that they have successfully weathered these crises.
We go through life and we tell stories to ourselves. And these stories determine our mood at that instant and, cumulatively, shape our experience of life.
We do not recognize that we are telling stories to ourselves. And when someone points it out to us, we get hung up on trying to determine if the story is ‘true’.
A few years ago I was addressing the Global Executive Summit of the Entrepreneur’s Organization in San Diego. I was barely ten minutes into my talk when three members got up and left. They were in the center of the second row from the stage and it was a packed hall. One of them tripped over a stray pair of legs and fell. It was a noisy exit and I had to struggle to keep on track.
Even while I spoke, I was wondering, “What did I say that upset them so much they had to leave immediately?”
It bothered me a great deal. I read audiences pretty accurately and I thought my talk was being well received when this exodus occurred. So obviously I was mistaken. I just couldn’t figure out where I had gone wrong.
Unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion I decided that “You can’t win them all.” And dropped the matter. But the incident rankled.
There was a grand buffet dinner on the final day of the summit. A member, wearing an EO badge that identified him as an officer, came to me and I recognized him as one of the persons who had left my session abruptly. He apologized profusely before I could speak.
It turned out that they had not meant to walk out so conspicuously. The three had been discussing something and the hall had filled up without them noticing it.
Curious to resolve the issue that had been troubling me, I asked him what I had said that had disquieted them so much they left.
“No, no, no, Professor Rao. You got it all wrong,” he said astonished. “I am so sorry you felt that way. It was our fault entirely.”
He apologized again.
The three of them constituted the ‘learning committee’ of one of the larger EO global chapters. They were tasked with listening to the speakers at the summit and deciding if they wanted to invite them to speak to their chapter.
“We knew right away that we wanted to invite you to speak to our chapter so decided to move to the other sessions. In fact, we would have left earlier but you were in the middle of a story we found enthralling, so we stayed to find out how it ended.”
Now I felt good about the same incident that had troubled me earlier.
Let’s play a thought experiment.
Suppose the gentleman who came up to me had conferred with his two colleagues earlier. And one of them said, “We should really apologize to Professor Rao because we caused a disruption in his talk. Let’s leave him feeling good by telling him that his session was so good we decided to invite him and there was no need for us to stay. So he does not have to know that we think his talk was so terrible that we were not going to invite him.”
Could this have happened? Certainly!
Did it happen? Who knows? Should I try to find out? I had no clue how to do this.
But this would have taken me right back to being despondent.
And games of this sort play out in our life all the time and every day.
“What did he mean by that comment?” “What does she ‘really’ want?” “What do they think of me?” “Will he support my application when it comes up for review?” and so on.
We tell stories to ourselves, believe those stories and go on wild emotional rides.
The way out is simple.
Recognize that they are stories. Don’t make heroic attempts to determine the veracity of these tales but do a simple check if you can. Is there a lesson you can learn that will help you improve? Learn it.
And then let it go. Pick the story that you tell yourself carefully. You can choose this — it is not an objective, immutable ‘reality’.
And always be aware that what you really want to do is transcend all stories and lodge your locus of awareness in the consciousness that you really are.