What do you do if someone asks you why are you sad? Usually, you will tell them a story behind your sadness. That, so-and-so did or didn’t do something for me, or that such-and-such person said xyz to me, or that my life is really difficult, and so on. What’s particularly interesting, purely from a psychological perspective, is that we don’t view these stories as stories but reasons. We believe we have a legitimate reason for feeling down or sad. Maybe that’s true but mostly it’s subjective, these are not the reasons but stories we tell ourselves.
Three bandits looted a family of wayfarers passing through the woods. They killed everyone in the family except the young wife whom they took with them. Late into the night, they got a bit drunk and tried to force themselves upon the woman. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to get out their grip with force, she played along a bit and served them more liquor. A wee bit later when they were tipsier and relaxed, she managed to escape unscathed. While trying to get out of the forest, in the pre-dawn hours, she saw the enlightened and serene Mahavira meditating under a tree. The calmness that surrounded him immediately put the young woman at ease.
What a stark contrast, she thought. Here was a man without a thread on his body, completely naked, and yet he exuded no desire nor discontent.
“You must be Mahavira,” she said to him, “the enlightened one of this age, they say. My life is in danger, I seek your refuge.” And the distressed woman narrated the horror of seeing her family killed by the robbers and her own ordeal.
“I will protect you,” said the sage, and asked her to hide in his thatched hut nearby.
Sure enough, the three men came looking for her and stopped to question Mahavira. “Did you see a young woman pass by?” they said.
It was not a simple yes or no answer for the awakened one because saying no would breach his vow of truth and replying in affirmative would harm the lady.
“A man sees what he wants to see,” Mahavira said. “When I was a man, I saw the woman in every woman, but now, I only see the soul.”
“Just tell us plainly whether you saw her?”
“I’ve told you already that I only see the soul. You saw me when you arrived but did not notice the trunk of the tree behind me or the branches or the platform I’m sitting on. You only saw what you wanted to see. Give up the ways of violence and lead a life of purity. That’s the only way to stop the inflow of karma and the debt it brings.”
The men bowed and went back the way they had come from. What became of them is anyone’s guess but legend has it that no more robberies were reported in that region for a long time. It is important to mention that I heard a similar story attributed to Buddha in one of Osho’s discourses. At the end of the day, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not about Buddha or Mahavira but the message.
And, the words that stood out for me are that a man sees what he wants to see. We all only see what we choose to see. You may have a companion on a journey and you are trying to show them the silent mountains, flowing rivers, blue sky and beauty all around but they may be focused on the carcass of a buffalo. You can’t help someone see the world differently unless they are willing to change the story they believe in.
Whether it’s another person posing the questions or you asking yourself, it’s immaterial, because our story in response remains the same. In other words, if you said to yourself, “Why am I sad? Why am I disturbed? Why am I unhappy?”, in reply, you will tell yourself a story that the reason you are feeling these things is because you are lonely or people haven’t been loyal to you or that things haven’t gone your way or you just aren’t cut out for this world etc. The reality, however, may be completely different. It could be as simple as my refusal to face and accept the truth or align my thoughts with my actions. And the most incredible realization is that the story could be any. Yes, any at all. It’s just a prop, a kind of scaffolding I’m using to climb up and repair the walls of my life. I may as well tell myself a good story then, the kind that inspires and uplifts me.
Mulla Nasrudin opened a hair salon, ready to welcome and serve his customers. Being the first day, a lot of people came and among them was a man in his early fifties with a flowing beard.
“Mulla,” he said sheepishly, “my new wife is coming home today, just take out all the grey strands from my beard. I must look very young.”
Mulla grabbed a pair of scissors, cut the man’s entire beard in one snip, and thrusting the hair in his hand, said, “Here is your beard, young man. You can take out the grey hair yourself, I haven’t got the time today.”
Taking out the negative incidents from your story can be rather painful and time consuming. At times, the best solution is to snip it all and have the courage to rewrite your story.
And, if you take a moment to reflect on it, you will discover that we have a story for everything that happens to us. For every single one of our feelings and actions, we tell ourselves a story. That narrative becomes an integral part of our lives; indeed, it takes over our intelligence and wisdom, reducing us to merely a character in the story. Even if that character is the protagonist, it’s still just a part of the story, whereas you could be the writer of your story. Pen a beautiful one, an inspiring story, as promising as your dreams you carry in your heart. Leave the horror stories to Stephen King (personally, I’ve never read or watched any works of Stephen King but Vidya Swami has been raving about him lately, so…). Go on, you write something full of love and hope.
Oh, and moral of the story? Change your story if you want to change your life.