I figure it this way: All suffering comes from stories. There is not one stressful or painful incident that does not have at least one believed story behind it.
I learned much of this theory from Byron Katie (http://www.thework.com/index.php) years ago and the tools she taught me continue to help me let go of fear and stress. They also help me in being more honest with myself and others.
We are still in our solar rv spot in Arizona. As I have said before, this place is a very diverse mix of lifestyles. Luckily it is mostly a live and let live place. And, luckily, we are not parked right next to each other…..we have lots of elbow room and thousands of acres of mountain/desert. People fly American flags or Canadian flags at their camper. We fly an Earth flag. I never thought of a flag as being offensive. Certainly not one that represents our HOME (Earth).
Last week one of the folks here was telling me about a couple who were here a few years ago who had a Peace flag flying at their place. Some people complained about the Peace flag and wanted them to take it down. It didn’t happen. I never thought of a Peace sign or Peace flag as being offensive. The Peace flag couple had drumming circles every evening and most of the people here loved those circles and would happily attend them. (Must have been the people who weren’t offended by the Peace flag.) I could not imagine any of the people I know here (or anywhere) complaining about a Peace flag.
When I told one woman here that I used to be quite a little hippie, she told me to never say that. I asked her why. She said, “A hippie is a very bad thing, Rae. A very bad thing. Just say you are an earthy person.” I never did quite get the reasoning behind it all. I do know that people are afraid of certain labels. I was doing a program at a church and I was carrying my stainless steel water bottle. A man started going off at me…accusing me of being an “environmentalist”. I said, “Aren’t you an environmentalist?” “No!” he shouted. I then asked him if he cared about living in a clean environment. He answered “yes”. “Well”, I said calmly, “in my definition, that would make you an environmentalist, too.” He walked out of the program.
A few days after I heard about the Peace flag incident here, I asked some folks I was hanging out with if it was true. Turns out it is not only true, but some people don’t even think that the Canadians here should be flying their flags. Then everyone started talking about all these flag rules that I had never heard of: “Never fly any flag higher than the American flag. That is disrespectful.” “If you fly a state flag you never fly it higher than the American flag.” “When you are in the USA, you should never fly a flag from another country.” Everyone had rules they knew about the American flag. I asked the most vocal person what that meant to him when he said it was disrespectful. “Rae, you have obviously never been in the military”, was his reply. It is true, I have never been in the military. That is no accident.
What I found interesting is that the same person who was the most adamant about respecting the flag eats living beings everyday. Reminds me of Gary Yourofsky’s (http://www.adaptt.org/bio.html) talk where he says that if he burned a flag or a bible people would want to have him arrested…but if he burns up a pig or a goat, people will go get some beer and be ready to party. Cloth and paper and ink compared to a living being. Stories.
We all have so many stories about how things should be or shouldn’t be. My story that people should not abuse or needlessly kill living beings can often cause me incredible suffering and stress because I think the world should be kinder than it is..not everyone believes my kindness story. The story that flags should be respected seems to cause people suffering because not everyone shares their story. The story that living beings are food causes suffering to the living beings who are raised/trucked/killed and the earth and the people who consume these products that cause disease.
Some of the stories do not cause much suffering. My story that eating lots of organic fruits and veggies is the best path for me, does not cause me any suffering. I feel great physically and emotionally. But even this seemingly harmless story could cause suffering. In fact, in the past, it caused great stress to my family members and friends who wished I would just “eat normal”. Combine my vegan story with their story that eating “normal” meant eating the products from captive or dead living beings and there was a whole lot of suffering going on. Or, just my story alone could cause suffering or stress. What if I think that I must eat organic vegan food and I am in a place where none is available and I am hungry?
I knew a woman in the Midwest who insisted that her children never consume ANYTHING but organic food. She was stressed every time her kids went somewhere without her. She could not control what other people fed her children. She stormed into my house one time and screamed at me for quite a while….accusing me of feeding her children non-organic wholewheat pasta. She was in the midst of shouting that she could not trust me anymore when I silently went to the kitchen, took the package out of the trash and showed her it was indeed organic pasta. About 4 years after that incident, this woman died of cancer. I cannot prove my theory on this, but I would say that stress was part of her health issues. She left behind three great kids and a sweet husband.
If I observe my mind through the course of a day, I can identify story after story. Some of the stories are pretty harmless. Some of them are strong judgments about me or others. When I let go of these stories I can feel myself breath deeper. I can feel the absolute freedom of not being in what can often feel like a prison of stories. If you let go of your stories, not everyone around you will be happy with you. That is their stories to deal with. It is none of your business. You are being true to yourself. They are being true to their stories.
Can you go through this blog and pick out all the stories that cause suffering or stress? There are so many.
I even get to let go of the story that people should not have stories! Because the reality is, we all do. Examining the stories is a lifelong process.
Byron Katie often asks, “Who would you be without your story?”
Who would you be? Who would I be?