Have you ever seen one of those science textbook pictures that shows how your eye perceives a tree?

Basically, your eye turns the tree upside down and then brings it back right side up in your mind. That’s how your eye perceives the tree.

Well, in addition to how our eyes work, when we see something, we also filter what we see through channels of perception that hold all our beliefs, memories, and stories about how the world works.

Here’s an example— Let’s say Person A, Person B, and Person C are looking at the same Christmas tree. Person A sees ornaments that bring back memories of happy holidays and remembers cutting the tree and decorating it with their family. When Person A sees and smells the tree, they feel cozy and at home.

Person B looks at the tree and feels lonely. As a child, they wished their family had celebrated more holidays, and they’ve wanted to start similar traditions but never have.

Person C may feel angry that this traditionally Christian holiday is so privileged in our country while other holidays that are just as important to folks who practice non-Christian religions are virtually ignored.

We could go on about the many ways we might perceive this tree based on the beliefs and stories in our channels of perception. Each person is looking at the same tree, but the sight of the tree is traveling through their channels of perception, picking up on different memories and beliefs held there, and creating different emotional experiences.

Now, this Christmas tree example is relatively benign. How is it relevant to you?

Our emotional experiences are largely influenced by the different beliefs and stories in our channels of perception. By shifting your stories, you can shift your emotional experience.

Now, I’m not saying that any emotion is bad or good. Righteous anger can drive us to action. So can guilt. In my opinion, this is not always a bad thing (though that’s a topic for another post.) Nor am I saying that any story or belief is good or bad. I certainly hold certain beliefs about right conduct, which I choose not to relinquish.

What I want for you is not to necessarily stop feeling or believing a certain way. What I want for you is to be able to understand why you feel the way you feel and to consciously choose to live by stories that serve you and your community.

Where this teaching about the channels of perception shows up most often with clients is when someone gets really angry at them or they get angry at another person.

For example, has another person even gotten really angry at you about something you did or said, and you felt the attack wasn’t wholly warranted?

Or, have you ever gotten really mad at someone else and spun out in a loop of telling yourself how horrible they are? You couldn’t quite figure out whether you were overreacting or if you were entitled to your response.

When you’re really angry, I encourage you to take a step back and separating fact from fiction.

By shining light on the stories you’re telling yourself and looking at the bare bones of what’s actually happening, you can release your grip on stories that no longer serve you, understand what’s really going on and choose wise steps forward.

Let’s say someone asks you to bake cookies for the PTA fundraiser, but you’ve recently committed to ending work at 6pm so that you can spend more time with your family, and you just don’t have it in you to bake cookies. If you say no and the person who asked gets mad, they may have a belief  in their channels of perception that goes something like, “Women who put themselves first are selfish” or that “To be a good mom, you have to put other people first.” If you feel guilty, it’s likely that part of you subscribes to these beliefs too. (Of course, these statements could apply to dads, too, but the judgment is all that much harsher for moms in many cultures.)

Instead of getting stuck in your guilt or taking on too much, when you identify the story you’re telling yourself, you access greater emotional freedom to choose your response.

And when you learn how to separate the stories you’re telling yourself from what’s actually happening, it also becomes easier to not take other peoples’ upset so personally.

The Bare Bones

A powerful way to separate story from reality is a practice called Bare Bones, which I learned from Lewis Mehl-Madrona, a Lakota-Cherokee psychiatrist who practices narrative medicine.

The bare bones are the observable data, the hard facts, what is actually happening. Our stories and assumptions are like meat that covers the bones and makes them hard to see. By finding the bare bones, you can gain space from the story you’re telling yourself, discover what you need to learn and get clearer about your response.

I invite you to try this now.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and draw a line down the center. At the top of the left-hand column, write “Bare Bones.” At the top of the right, write “Story.” Then, think of a recent situation when you felt upset with yourself or someone else.

In the left column, write down the bare bones. What actually happened? What did you do? What did other people do? How do you feel? Physically? Emotionally? For example, “I asked Carol to come at 7pm. She called at 7:45pm to say that her friend was having a crisis and she would need to reschedule. I felt sad.”

When you notice a story come up about the situation, write it down in the right-hand column. For example, you could be telling yourself, “Carol doesn’t care about me. She doesn’t want to spend time with me. No one likes me.” Or, “Carol’s friend sucks. She’s so selfish to take Carol away from me.” Or, “Carol’s such a caring person to drop everything when a friend needs her. I know she was really looking forward to getting together. I hope her friend is alright!” So many stories!

Keep going back and forth between the two columns until you feel complete. This may feel like an inner sense of relief or having nothing left to say.

I’d love to hear from you!

What did you notice when doing this exercise? Were you able to see the difference between your story and the bare bones?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, and I will be sure to respond.

With much gratitude,

Katherine

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