Shedding what no longer serves us

Do you feel you could be holding yourself back from your full potential because of a belief you have about yourself or a story you've been telling yourself about who you are? What if that belief or story is no longer true for you... and you are free? You can reauthor these stories and live with more authenticity. John Welwood, psychotherapist, teacher, and author, says that we all live with some degree of dis-ease (absence of ease) that he defines as the cocoon function of alienation from ourselves in the face of pain.

Welwood says that dis-ease has three levels:

Level 1: The initial pain we feel as a result of a life circumstance. For example, if we experienced an unpleasant event as a child that was too much for our nervous systems to handle or understand, and the adults around us were unable to help us relate, we protected ourselves by shutting ourselves down (or contracting.)

Level 2: The contracting away from or trying to escape from the pain when it arises. It is a natural human preservation response to turn away from pain (in body, emotion, mood, etc.), thus causing a secondary pain of living in a state of contraction. By state of contraction, Welwood means that over time, an overall style of avoidance or denial develops, creating an identity that is based on grasping what we like in ourselves and rejecting what we don't like. For example, we might avoid anger by trying to "be a nice person."

Level 3: The energy vested in this contracted version of self. This creates a third kind of suffering that comes about in our story lines or the stories we tell ourselves (and others) about our life. These can be overt thoughts and beliefs, or ones that are unconscious, which have tremendous power. This creates a partial or contracted identity that is not the whole of who we are. It requires ongoing maintenance to keep up and defend an elaborate web of rationalizations to justify this avoidance (perhaps not consciously.)

These stories become self-fulfilling prophecies because we create a reality that reinforces the story and keep up behavior that provides an illusion of stability and permanence. It's likely that we're all walking around with old stories about ourselves that no longer fit for who we really are or that no longer serve us. There was a time that the story served a purpose of protection, but it's okay now to drop that storyline in favor of living with more EASE and truth.

How can we begin to do this work? Bringing mindfulness to ways in which we may have crafted these stories and how we support them can help us to live in a more authentic state. We can observe contractions we may be experiencing due to painful thoughts, feelings, or stories - some of which may be very old and longstanding. (These are called sankaras.) By naming these difficulties, we are open to whatever arises.  Mindfulness is a practice of NOT contracting away, but instead, bringing more attention and awareness to the pain, further exploring the cocoon and not trying to change it. The contracted part isn’t alone anymore; it is supported by mindfulness and maitri, or unconditional self-love. By slowing down and observing our own stories, we have the power to shed what no longer fits and reauthor our own lives.

If you'd like to read more about this concept from John Welwood, I highly recommend his book: Toward a Psychology of Awakening.