Hidden stories that cause suffering

Sometimes the beliefs that cause us suffering are hidden beneath strong and compelling feelings and not readily apparent. Though we may feel like we're being visited by a mood, we're actually in thrall to some very negative and judgmental thoughts that are simmering beneath the surface and generating ongoing shame, grief, fear, or anger. 

In a mentoring session recently, a student reported feeling confused and lost and uncertain about how to proceed in her life. She described it as a dark mood that had descended and that she couldn't see beyond. The feelings themselves seemed to be convincing evidence that something was wrong. Her therapist had encouraged her to feel the feelings but hadn't supported her in questioning them.

When we probed deeper, it became appareant that this student was actually happy and fulfilled in her work and friendships, but somehow believed that her life hadn't turned out as expected, hadn't fit the pictures of where she felt she should be. In other words, the feelings were based on a judgment, a thought, an invidious comparison that masqueraded as truth. Once she saw this, she could begin to reconnect with the inherent perfection and completeness of the way her life actually was.

Another student was constantly angry and frustrated at work because he believed he wasn't being appreciated or treated fairly in his job at a Silicon Valley start-up. But when we looked more deeply, he realized that he had constructed an elaborate interpretation of circumstances based on a childhood story of being mistreated that he was now more than ready to give up. In an instant, he could see that he had been manufacturing his own suffering and dissatisfaction; in fact, he enjoyed and respected his coworkers and couldn't imagine working in a better environment. When he talked with his boss about his concerns without anger or blame, he found that the appreciation was immediately forthcoming.

Most of the time, strong negative feelings and moods are just the tip of an iceberg that extends deep into the subliminal stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how reality should be. These stories make up the separate self construct, the core of the ego that mounts and sustains an ongoing argument with life as it is--an exhausting and ultimately fruitless enterprise. Diving beneath the surface, we can identify these stories, subject them to the unwavering light of awareness, and allow them to dissipate, revealing our natural state of peace and contentment.