Instead of sitting on my meditation cushion, I began this day by playing Leonard Cohen’s Ten New Songs. His words resonate as I feel my age and look back on a storied life. Then a song line begins to stick: “We live our life as if it’s real.”
In the Buddhist view, the only life we live is this moment, and this, and this … everything else is either past, future, or fantasy. What then is “my life”? Looking back, it comprises stories I remember and stories I suppress. Researchers in narrative analysis say that without stories, there’s no “me.” We know that stories are open to constant interpretation: they are subjective accounts we construct to make sense of our world. They’re made up of fragments, emotionally charged and uncorroborated. And yet, and yet … I’m continually telling stories, some going way back in time, others dealing with things right in front of me, others imagining the future.
There’s nothing wrong with story-telling per se–they’re a potentially rich source of tribal wisdom. They’re also problematic and dangerous when left unexamined and taken as Truth. Take this example: With the death of my mother at an early age, the infant-me created a story casting himself as not-worth-loving. As the boy grew into a man, this worldview shaped his behavior and each time he reached out to be loved, he swiftly rejected all offerings with suspicion. Over time, the self-fulfilling spiral confirmed his story. Only by revisiting the story and excavating its flawed foundation, was he able to re-write the story and free himself from its limiting punchline.
What to do, what to do? The past is gone, the future has not occurred, right now everything’s possible. I’m learning to see “what is real” by escorting my mind’s attention to NOW, where “not knowing” resides, where everything is possible and new and different.
image: “Mother and child” by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973).