I used to be a grudge holder. If someone hurt me, I would forever remember who they were and what they did. The hurt would be filed away in my inner memory vowing never to visit with again. We were done.
What I didn’t realize while holding these grudges was that I carried the pain I felt around with me. Like a rock wrapped in paper that held the words of my pain, the story was gripped in my hand and carried everywhere. The story defined me, my story of pain. The story shaped my core beliefs. I collected many stories of pain.
After my daughter was born so sick, after my divorce happened, after I came to terms with the toxic dysfunction of my family, on reflection, I felt like I finally understood why I think the way I think and act the way I do. I felt validated by these stories that gave me license to accept my dysfunction because I have been through a lot and that’s why I am who I am. Of course.
As time went on, awareness grew, I realized I was still gripping onto the rocks wrapped tightly with my sad painful stories. I was holding them with all my might just to prove to myself and others how strong I am, how worthy I am to have survived. I couldn’t feel the cramped fingers grasping any more. I couldn’t feel my whole body wrapped in the identity of these stories, these painful stories of my life. I couldn’t see who I was anymore because I was the stories.
It was suggested to me in therapy to define who I am beyond my stories. I thought this idea was ridiculous because I am defined by my experiences, aren’t I? My strength lies in my struggle, doesn’t it? My kindness resulted from years of feeling worthless, doesn’t it? My relentless fight against my daughter’s illness proves how much I loved her and how good a mother I was, doesn’t it?
I’m remembering the first time I found me before I became defined by my stories. I had a vivid imagination which brought me on adventurous travels on river houseboats. I galloped through mazes on a unicorn discovering new lands. I made dear friends with trees and animals and visited them often. I interacted with the world in an imaginary safe place. I was curious. I was excited and welcoming to new adventures.
Like Sisyphus and the rock, all my tales of pain wrapped in rocks became my focus. The rock became bigger than me, always present and stronger than me. My helpless, hopeless innocence became so laden with real stories of pain and loss, all I saw was the rock.
I was unhappy and wanted more. That’s what forced me to use my awareness and find the ways and means to change. I learned to step aside the path of my resistance, holding all my stories in place, and let the rock roll down the hill.
Fighting, resistance, standing up against the wrongs are all words that kept me in the game and the fight. I changed the habitual dynamic of fighting into acceptance. I stepped away and sifted through the painful stories and pulled out the glimmering lessons I learned. Every story became a teacher in my life. Every painful memory held wisdom that strengthened me. The characters, the wrongs that couldn’t be righted, the things that weren’t fair, I let roll down the hill.
It's a simple exercise that represents a metaphor of letting go. When I feel resistant, anger about what’s not happening, clearly seeing the right of a situation, the story becomes real. I hold it in my hand gripping the rock like there’s no tomorrow and then I let it go. I drop the rock and feel the relief as I let go. Relaxation flows in with renewed blood flow. I see the story rolling down the hill. The gifts in the story rise up like birds taking flight as the rock rolls down out of sight.
I breathe, imagine a struggle, grip my hand around the struggle, breathe and release, let go. Repeating is welcomed.
I grab the gift, the insight, the silver lining, the aha moment and give gratitude thankful for my willingness to learn and grow through the stories of my life.
As is often the case, your words penetrated at a subconscious level rather than actually hearing them. Thanksgiving is coming up and for the first time, like many of us, I’ll be alone for Thanksgiving. On some subconscious level, your words penetrated and while I was meditating, I felt this gigantic set of arms come around me and a sense of peace. And once I had that, I was able to send that peace outward to everyone else. So you are gifted peace.
I have about four places I can zoom from: my bedroom, my living room, my kitchen, and on my couch. This morning, I started to take all of my books to the couch and as I looked at it, I thought if I sit on the couch now, I won’t get up all day. I’ll go into my cave and hibernate. I’m great at nesting. I acknowledged there is nothing wrong with that; it’s natural, it’s winter. But then I looked outside the window and saw the birds and trees and the light. I thought, this morning I am choosing to sit in the light. I can hibernate another time. I realized that all day long I’m going to have to make that choice. You reminded me of how we make our choices and the reasoning behind those choices. I’m making a choice rather than a decree.
I appreciate what you wrote about letting it go down the hill and the birds rising up. I want to work on that. It’s still painful to think about what happened to me at a job years ago. So hurtful what happened. It softened a little bit but obviously it’s still there. I like the analogy of letting it roll down the hill. One of the lessons I learned from that is that I did nothing wrong. It was a desperate situation. My heart would have been with anyone who did what I did. Going forward in the future, just being mindful about that and remembering to be protective of myself. To listen to my radar inside regarding who to share with. That’s what I got out of it. Discernment is healthy. Learning to discern is good.
Thank you. That was an incredible and clear statement. It really clarified for me how to take the stories of the past and to not just let go of them but to embrace the gift I got from the experience. All the pain I had around my family member and how he treated me for so long, the gift is that I was able to have a career where I could see the big picture and apply it to my life. I am not that story anymore. I’ve gone beyond the story. I appreciate the clarity you provide for understanding the difference between the story and the gift.
Thank you for succinctly and clearly labeling how we hold our stories. One thing that came up for me is the story that I’ve been carrying around my work and it is all-consuming. You just named it and shined a bright light on it. I went to some of my stories that have been significant. And one of the things I realized is that it’s not always my mind telling myself what to do with it but some of these stories are anchored physically in my body. I might have shared this before, but I need to take my consciousness and start to unhook the memory because just wanting to let it roll down the hill wasn’t enough. That it was physical. Some stories landed and took up residence in my bones.
You made me think of Sisyphus and that poor man having to push the rock up the hill, and having it roll down, and him having to do it again and again. But you unclenched. You just let the rocks roll down, and then you found the birds. Very powerful.
I’ve always loved the image of dropping the ball. The idea being so overwhelmed and juggling so many things trying to do it right. And then realizing, you know what, someone else has to pick up that ball. Just drop it. That’s what I was thinking about. There are times in my life when I had to. One Easter, I could not go back down to be with my family, it was too much. My mentor asked me if I have to go and I said emphatically yes. She asked do I really have to? I called my mother and told her we weren’t coming. I don’t know if they ever forgave me for that, but it was the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s like breaking through an iron door. But it is breakable.
I was really taken by, and it felt liberating, to hear your description of acceptance in the way you described it in the process of looking at it. What we learn from it, the richness of that experience. There is a part of me that dwells on the pain and it feels like it nourishes me—I get something out of feeling the pain and identifying with that situation of what happened. As opposed to seeing it. That’s one piece of it. Also, like anything in life, what does it have to teach me when it is meaningful and catches your attention. I appreciate that take on it.
I think there is a question to ask. For me, when I am stuck and repeating something. Why am I bringing myself back here? What am I hanging on to? What keeps me stuck? Sometimes it’s just my stubbornness.
I have all kinds of thoughts after your reading. Someone said let it come in, let it be. One of the things I thought, if you are brought up by a man who, if you didn’t do what he wanted you to do, he held a grudge. I kind of brought that into my life. If people didn’t do what I wanted them to do, that was it, I cut them off until it was brought to my attention and I was able to see. It wasn’t useful, it didn’t help me or anybody else. It’s been a process. A discernment. Discern if they were good or bad, and look at my behavior towards them. I try to be kind and neutral to people. What a process. A lot of stories I’ve told myself, it’s like I’m needing validation from everybody. I know I have to get it from within myself and from my Higher Power. Someone asked, what’s the payoff for that? Maybe it’s being stuck. I’m trying to figure it out and let it percolate.
I know there is a seduction in being a victim, then I can be felt sorry for and then I’ll be appreciated and I’ll feel loved. It’s all tied around being a victim.
Thank you for listening to my words, trusting this process, trusting yourself enough to sit with yourself for 15 minutes every day. The power of silence. I hope you all have a wonderful, gentle day.