“Complete peace equally reigns between two mental waves.” – Swami Sivananda
A few years ago, I found myself in a rather unfortunate situation. As I was checking out of a hotel room, I realized that my purse – containing my driver’s license, my school ID card, and my credit card – was nowhere to be found, and neither were the purses of four other people I’d traveled with. Evidently, this was a case of robbery. And, as one may naturally think to feel when your valuables are stolen, I started to grumble and stomp around and be generally (and very, very visibly) upset.
Then I took a moment to stop and ask myself how I really felt. Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel angry or stressed at all. In fact, I noticed that my actual feelings were calm, collected and focused, and it almost felt as if I was “acting out the part” of someone who had their things stolen. In reality, I was not compelled to act grumpily, and was only really doing so because I “thought I should.” With this insight, I made a conscious decision to remain peaceful as I went through the process of calling, then meeting with the police officers who arrived at the hotel, and filing a case.
This taught me an important lesson: the story we tell ourselves creates our reality, not the other way around.
I was telling myself I “should” be frustrated, that I “should” grumble and complain and stop my feet. I was holding on to this story, disturbing my natural state of peace and rationality, like a monkey clinging to a peanut in a jar and being unable to remove its hand in its adamance. But the moment I realized that I was actually narrating and then acting this contrived story out to myself was the moment I realized I could stop, see myself and the situation as it was, and rewrite a better story. I gained clarity of my situation, I gained clarity in direction and action of appropriate measures I needed to take, and perhaps most importantly, I gained peace of mind.
This may be one of the most important lessons we can bring to all of the various stressful situations we encounter in our lives. Perhaps the next time we find ourselves stressing over a difficult assignment for class, or other stressful situation, we might notice that the moment we label it “stressful” or “scary” is the moment that the assignment becomes even more so. We’re writing a scary story and making ourselves the lead character. But in these types of situations, if we can notice that a narrative – one that may or may not reflect the truth – has started writing itself in our minds, then we can begin to differentiate mind-story from reality. This flash of insight, this situational mindfulness, restores our strength in a difficult moment. We become able to rewrite the story we tell ourselves, and the best part? We can spin a tale of peace.
Written by Roshini Srinivasan