I was recently taking a walk with my closest friend, hand in hand, enjoying each other’s company and kidding around as we usually do. My friend, who is a bit of a loner, made a joke that he doesn’t make friends easily, to which I sweetly and playfully replied, “Well you made friends with me, a long time ago.”
His response was, to my ears, a lukewarm, unenthusiastic “yeh” or it might have been an “eh.” Either way, it was upsetting. We had been having a good time and, in an instant, I felt hurt and angry, and, for a moment, I saw no alternative other than to turn around and head home, which I did.
For the few blocks it took me to get home, a tsunami of thoughts was building inside my head, at the center of which was the thought that my best friend had just taken a sweet moment—a moment of real connection—and intentionally thrown it away. My thoughts were also saying that he chose to reject me because he didn’t really think it was such a great thing that we became friends back in high school, and that he would actually rather have other friends than me.
With each tree I passed on the journey home, I was becoming more hurt, more resentful, and more convinced of my storyline. By the time I got the key in the door, my thoughts had convinced me that my story of rejection was the absolute truth.
But then, thankfully, it occurred to me to ask myself the following question: Is this choice I’m making right now—to stick with my story about what just happened (and what it means)—moving me closer to happiness or unhappiness?
The answer was easy; I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I stuck with what I was thinking and kept feeding it with my attention, my evening and maybe even my next day would be prickly, tense, and just plain bad. I wondered, was it really worth it when I could actually, right in this moment, make a different choice and change the whole trajectory of my next 36 hours? I pulled myself out of the micro and considered the macro.
But the question I asked next was the one that snapped me out of my binge-thinking, convinced me to put my thinking fork down if you will, and propelled me to act differently. I asked myself this: Is it true that my friend said what he said for the reasons I’m telling myself right now? Is the meaning I’m assigning this interaction actually true?
With these questions posed, I could immediately see that I was thinking myself into a lather about something that, when considered deeply, I not only didn’t and couldn’t know was true, but that I deep down believed was untrue! I did not believe that my friend wanted or intended to hurt me and also did not believe that he would rather be friends with others instead.
Realizing that I did not believe in the truth of my own story allowed me to recognize the ridiculousness of hanging onto my storyline and staying looped into such thoughts.
Considering these questions allowed me to feel an entirely different feeling towards my friend. It shifted my emotional weather from resentment to gratitude. In considering how much he did not want to hurt me, it made me appreciate his kindness, his deeper intention to make me happy.
I will also say, however, that through the investigation of what was true, I discovered that indeed I had been feeling a bit under-appreciated by my friend, and maybe even a little hurt. What was true was that I knew he appreciated my friendship deeply, but that lately, I had been needing a little bit more acknowledgment of that appreciation. And so, the inquiry into what was true uncovered my love for my friend and also, the hurt in me that needed a voice.
While in this example, it was clear to me upon asking this question to myself that what I was telling myself actually contradicted what I believed to be true, there are also many times when the answer is not so clear cut, and when it’s not so easy to break free from the thinking pattern.
It’s often the case that we do in fact believe what our thoughts are telling us. We may believe, for example, that another person is intending to hurt us. But here’s the thing: Even when we believe it, we can open up to the possibility that we don’t know for sure what’s true in another person’s inner world. When we can say to ourselves yes, this is true as I see it, but I don’t know what’s true for the other, in their reality, then we’re on our way to freedom. It’s just that little bit of wiggle room we give ourselves when we say, “I can’t know for sure what’s real for another; not at least until I talk to them about it.”
The mess we get into with our thinking is that we assume our thoughts are telling us the truth, which includes what’s true inside another person’s reality. Asking ourselves, “Is this true?” Or possibly, “Is there anything else that could also be true?” allows some air into our airtight system of thinking.
Once we deeply comprehend that we can’t really know what’s true inside another person’s mind or heart, we are relieved of the suffering that comes from having to believe in the stories we create—for others. We are still free to write our own stories, make meaning or truth for ourselves, but we no longer have to write the motives and intentions, the parts if you will, for all the other characters in our life.