We are brilliant fiction writers. Whether or not we ever put words to an actual page, we're writing stories all day every day in our minds without even realizing it. This is a good news, bad news situation.
The good news: Our ability to create fictional stories about everyone and everything is a wonder of the human mind. We can use our imaginations to do good in the world: to solve problems, entertain, and empathize.
The bad news: Much of the time, the fictional stories we write are incomplete at best and harmful and untrue at worst. These stories we write can lead us astray in our relationships, which can lead to ample suffering. They can also nudge us toward making lots of false judgments.
I've just completed a six-week "Introduction to Meditation" class at the Rochester Meditation Center. The course has been one of the more impactful learning experiences of my life, and that is not an exaggeration. Especially helpful is how the course has empowered me to develop a new, healthier relationship with what's happening in my cranium from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep.
All day long, our brains keep us occupied with thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are not inherently "bad," but they do tend to be all-consuming. They are based on our individual perceptions of reality, and we use them to write stories and draw conclusions.
We're always filling in the blanks of our stories with our imaginations. It's a mostly unconscious process until we become aware of it. Awareness is the process of becoming conscious of the reality that all day long we are thinking and feeling. Human beings have a bonus feature called consciousness that enables us to notice our thoughts and feelings taking place! Awareness is a good and beautiful thing! It enables us to recognize that we are so much more than what we think and feel in any given moment.
When we see or interact with another person, our brains often immediately try to put labels and judgments on the experience. They aren't always negative, but sometimes they are. We learn about a person's religion or job or political affiliation, and then our brains set about creatively filling in the rest of the blanks. Or someone interacts with us in a way we find unsettling, and we immediately write the story of why it happened and how awful the other person is for being such a bonehead.
If left in unawareness, we tend to categorize everything and everyone. Again, it's mostly an unconscious process. Nice. Mean. Loud. Bossy. Rude. Good. Bad. Naive. Extreme. Awful. Wealthy. Poor. Positive. Negative. Young. Old. Straight. Gay. Our thoughts will go on and on writing a fictional story about everyone we meet and everything we experience.
We all know the feeling of making a snap judgement about some person or event and then later discovering we were totally wrong. This happens to all of us (regularly)! It's an opportunity to practice awareness. When we're able to suspend the need to write stories and make judgments, then we're making real progress.
It takes an intentional slowing down of these automatic fiction-writing processes in order to live a more conscious, compassionate life. I fiercely believe the world needs more of us to commit to tapping into our collective loving kindness.
The truth is that we never know as much as we think we know about anything or anyone. We tend to write all kinds of stories about people's motivations, attitudes and choices, but we do it without ever knowing the totality of the lived experiences of those people. Usually we know a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the story of another person; it's a total waste of time to draw any judgments or write any stories based on such a small piece of the pie.
May we all have the courage to step away from our fictional stories and toward a life of compassionate awareness.