August 2, 2013

Why I Chased My Stories off a Cliff. ~ Sapha Arias

What stories have you made up about your life?

Feeling the pull of nostalgia this weekend, I found myself watching old reruns of the original Looney Tunes cartoons. You know, the ones where Wile E. Coyote was mute and all other characters spoke like 1950s movie stars. Well, in any case, I was engrossed in this perpetual chase between the Road Runner and Wile E. when I was suddenly struck by the realization that I have, at times, been as stubborn, scared, angry, shortsighted and faithless as Wile E. Coyote.

All that time preparing, anticipating, building traps, getting “amped up” and yearning to finally catch that little runt led Wile E. to make an innumerable amount of mistakes, all of which wound up getting him blown up, leaving him injured, getting crushed by an anvil, or falling off a cliff. And, I am sad to say, I have now realized that I’ve spent quite a bit of my own time doing the very same things—well, in a manner of speaking, but you get the idea.

A few years back, I was told that we live our lives in a perpetual state of anticipation and regret based on the stories we create about our lives and the meaning we assign to them.

Think of Wile E., for example. All that time and money spent on buying useless items to settle a ridiculous vendetta against the one animal he could not and, in fact, would not catch simply because he generated a story in his head that this road runner must be the only animal worth eating. And if he was that impossible to get, it must mean—no matter what he tried—he would never truly get him. In Wile E’s mind, this little animal is the fastest, most obnoxious animal out there. So therefore, that must mean that no matter what he tries, he will never ever catch him.

This is particularly obvious when, in a moment of temporary confidence and maybe even lunacy, Wile E. has chased the Runner off a cliff, steps off said cliff and after a moment of suspense (in which he simply hovers above ground and realizes what he has done) plummets to the ground, effectively dashing his dreams of catching Road Runner one more time.

But what is most interesting is: while Wiley E. falls, Road Runner simply floats above ground before mockingly sticking his tongue out and running off. I mean, he is just floating there! The reason Wile E. falls is he has no true faith, no true footing to stand on, and so he allows himself to fall. But I will come back to that in a minute.

When I was told that my life’s perspectives had been shaped by my stories and the preconceived notions derived from them by the generation of false evidence, I could scarcely grasp the concept. However, as my yoga practice has evolved and the “monkey mind” has begun to recede more and more, there is a certain level of clarity being generated inside my soul that is helping me to finally grasp this massive lesson and let it take root with in my heart.

Growing up, I now realize I decided that I would believe the “story” that I was not good enough and that everyone around me would either leave me or betray me. These cruel stories became more “real” when, as the years went on, I began to assign meaning to occurrences within my life in an effort to prove to myself that these stories were indeed true and not just stories.

For example, my parents’ divorce and my two brothers’ move to the U.S. was, in my mind, a true sign that those people I loved most would always abandon me. And whenever a family member or school friend would make a comment about my weight, I would use those words to cement the idea that I was not good enough and that since I was so “fat” I could hold no real value to those around me. Therefore, I became obsessed with beauty and popularity. So, one evening, after watching Clueless, I determined that I would do everything and anything in my power to become popular in order to finally be worth something. I had found my road runners, and their names were Inadequacy and Self-doubt.

So the stage was set. I spent most of 4th and 5th grade pining to attain my place in “society” and panicking that, no matter what I did, those kids—you know the ones, the popular, super chic, and super annoying ones—would one day accept me and embrace my weird, nerdy, chubby, bookworm and anime-obsessed self and become my friends instead of my torturers. All the while I took for granted the one true friend in my life and the one who would become my soul mate as the years wore on. But much like Wile E. I was a woman obsessed and I wanted that bird!

This ridiculous story blew out of proportion when one winter, having been taken over by three types of salmonella (that ought to teach me not to eat street food in Mexico…and it did, actually, so may it be a lesson to you too), I was rushed to the hospital sick, dehydrated and just a few hours away from real danger. The next few days were a blur to me, but I know I spent the whole time dozing on and off and realizing that as an added “bonus” (I describe it in this manner because for most of my life, this was the way I chose to look at this event), I lost so much weight that I could finally be worth something. I went from a regular size to a size zero.

Yup, that stupid non-existing size that has for so long taunted so many with promises of joy and fulfillment. And all I could think was that I had made it! I had finally lost enough weight to go back to school and become someone, be worthy of love and understanding and even worthy of “minions” (Hey, don’t judge, I am just telling you what my 12-year-old self thought at the time.). I was “ACME” ready to catch me that Runner!

What was scary was that I did not notice how much I had allowed my story to control me or how much at the mercy of this silly idea I was. It was as if I had realized that every event in my life, positive and negative, could be used to cement the idea that I was not good enough into my very soul. So when I returned to school and suddenly began to attract boys, get attention, make “friends” and become as popular as I ever wanted to be, I decided to perpetually mark this story into my being. I was forever going to need to be a certain weight and look a certain way to be worth anything at all.

I got a chance at “changing” the story (this, by the way, would have been the real deal, not the obsession, the Runner on my plate, but a new animal that would fulfill me and set me free), but instead, I decided to perpetuate my story and made a crucial mistake: Like little Wile E., I looked down and noticed I was not grounded but rather floating above the ground, held by a non-existent footing. And I fell.

I plummeted down to earth much like Wile E., and I hit the floor hard because the second I decided to let the idea that “fat” determined who I was as a human being instead of having faith in who I was moment to moment, I had stepped off the ledge, tried to remain afloat, and panicked because deep inside, I knew this was wrong. I knew, like Wile E. knew, that you cannot exist in a space that has no real substance, you cannot keep your heart open and remain grounded in truth when all you have built—all you have worked for—has been a built on thin air.

I lacked awareness, faith, perspective, grounding and presence. I thought that I would be complete and find a way to matter, to be a worthwhile human when I lost all that weight and I used the approval of my peers, both young and old, to hold on to that ridiculous notion for years. In truth, however, the story only grew bigger, more distorted and I continued to use experiences to “prove” to myself that this massive story was my one and only reality.

I found I was only honest and 100 percent present and loving while reading, creating, acting and spending time with my best friend, a friend who holds a piece of my heart with her in heaven and whom I miss every day. She reminded me of who I was even when I wanted to chase that Runner through the desert, and in turn, I did the same for her when her stories took over. We kept each other safe without even knowing it and I get the sense that we would have run rampant across our own minds’ deserts, chasing our Runners for longer than we did had it not been for the support we lent one another, a support that was based on something real, not an “ACME” idea.

The time also came, when instead of stepping off the ledge and continuing the vicious cycle of this story, I came face-to-face with who I truly was and just how much I was worth through my yoga practice.

In the years that followed, as I had my first encounter with yoga, the stories began to look more and more like stories and less like a fearsome and unchanging reality. This has been thanks to the practice, the work of self-awareness, and the presence of mind that we can acquire on the proverbial mat. Through this presence of mind, I have been able to shift my perspective, realizing that all I was holding onto was a false story. I have had to change to generate and choose a new reality, a reality where I am present and aware and where I can see that I am stubborn and afraid and filled with stories that I must constantly work to change and morph into blessings rather than chase illusions for years.

When I am able to see the whole picture, I am able to let go of anticipation and regret. I am able to remain present with all the wonderful and seemingly un-enchanting aspects of my life and use them as transformative tools. No longer am I Wile E. chasing after a story. I am now the Runner: running, leaping and laughing, and stepping off a cliff because I am sure that what holds me is not fear or lies but truth and love. I am now allowing my stories to help me take a leap of faith and stay grounded, even when it may seem there is nothing to catch me and help me generate true faith and grace.

So when you find yourself chasing after a story, trying to find more and more evidence to make this belief “true,” remember that there is no room for faith, truth, freedom, love or life within your stories. They are mere illusions and lies you have chosen to tell yourself in order to explain an occurrence. And, in the end, the more you try to support yourself with these lies the harder and faster you will fall to the ground.

Just ask Wile E. Coyote.

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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Brianna Bemel

{Photo via: Irene Marino, Pinterest}

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