I have hayfever, amongst other allergies. None of them are life-threatening (unless I didn't learn from that one time I felt compelled to take part in an ultimate frisbee game in a hayfield and discovered that life is somewhat precarious when you can't breathe). Allergies really suck. You feel discomfort all over your body. If you don't have allergies, then you have no idea what I'm talking about when I say that it is expressly irritating to have an itchy throat and ear canals. Scratching that itch isn't easy and you don't look intelligent while you try.
You may wonder why I'm talking about my allergies. Apart from the fact that I've been dealing with them for a couple of months now, they also serve a higher purpose as a great metaphor for the effect of our reactions and believing our stories.
See, the thing is, when my body reacts to an allergen, it's actually not the allergen, be it grass, pollen, animal dander or a mosquito bite (all of which, and then some, I am actually allergic to, by the way) that causes the discomfort. It's my body's reaction to it that does me in.
Lots of people are around grass, trees and flowers. Millions of people get bit by mosquitos and enjoy animals as pets, like I do, but they don't have to take antihistamines to avoid being debilitated by itchy innards, swelling welts and hives. I don't know what's worse, the physical irritation or the profuse whining and self-pity it inspires.
So, what's the difference? Well, my body thinks something is a threat and it goes bucknuts to protect me from it. I mean, it gets all Three Musketeers on that mosquito bite. It's all for one and one for all, and dammit, all my histamine producers ride into the fray to save me. If I were more of a damsel-in-distress kind of girl, I'd be flattered. Instead, though, I suffer because it's my own physical reaction that creates the real pain and distress.
Thank God I'm not allergic to The Dreaded Peanut. Or perhaps we should call it The Misunderstood Peanut. It doesn't actually kill anyone. The victim's own reaction to the peanut is what kills them. People die because their bodies can't tell a threat from the benign. Their throats close and they go into anaphylaxis. I saw it on House.
Why all this discussion about peanuts and mosquitoes? Well, if you haven't already guessed, we tend to do the same thing with our perceptions and stories about the world. We get so used to our stories that we end up believing them, be it for better or for worse (and it's worse when it's for the worse, obviously).
What I'm saying is that it's not the thing that you think is the problem that is the problem. Your reaction to, or story about the thing is what creates the problem. You create the problem with your perspective of it. Or make it worse, or last longer. So do I. So do we all. We create our own cages.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't problems and hurdles in life and that bad things don't happen, but a lot of the time, our reactions to minor troubles are a major pain in our you-know-whats. Out of proportion.
We all have a view on the world and a story about our place in it. Actually, we have a story about just about everything that happens to us. There's nothing wrong with that—our stories as a human race can be a beautiful thing. But, when our stories inspire negative actions and reactions, we limit the possibility to create a new story.
See, a feeling is just a feeling. It has about a 30-second lifespan, if we don't hang onto it, which of course we usually do, because it feels sooo good to suffer. How we hang onto our feelings, our reactions to events and circumstances, is where the pain is. We are the source of our ongoing discomfort and our long-term suffering, long after the circumstances have past, all because of the story we created in reaction to it.
Can you think of any stories that created harmful reactions? Harmful reactions that made the stories true? I can. Think of World War II (or any other war, really). Wartime propaganda is a perfect example. Stories were invented and told, and they became the cause for horrible, terrible things, regardless of the story being true or not. The outcomes caused abhorrent pain and suffering, hatred, discrimination and loss of human life and spirit.
What about those heartbreaking stories of youth who believe their bullies, who are unable to hear anything louder than the mean-spirited and vengeful taunts of their peers. Those poor lost souls who believe there is nothing left for them but to end it all, all because of a really crappy story that they believed to be true.
When we believe our stories, we make them true. It's the reaction that carries the consequence, not the circumstance, just like it's my body's reaction to the grass/mosquito that creates an uncomfortable physical reaction, not the grass or mosquito itself.
Just for the record, it's possible to believe in positive stories, too. Think of Martin Luther King: He experienced pain and witnessed the discrimination and suffering around him, but rather than get mired in hatred, he shared a dream and he created a better story (and ultimately a better world). Think of Ghandi, who believed in a different story than the one in which he'd grown up. Think of any person from discouraging circumstances who rose above it to live in a new story.
While it may not be possible to overcome my allergies by telling myself that my triggers are not nefarious or troublesome (though I have certainly tried), it is possible to decide which story to create in the wake of your circumstances. It is possible to choose an empowering interpretation and create a new and positive chapter in your choose-your-own-adventure life.
Have you ever prolonged your pain by believing your story? Have you seen this in someone else? Sometimes, it's easier to see in those around us than in our own reflection.