I lie awake worrying—imagining my future, where I’ll be in one of those terrible places like my mother ended up, all alone, dying all alone.
–client, beginning of session (shared with permission)
Can you relate to that?
What do you lie awake worrying about?
My client’s inner pictures were taken by her mental camera when she walked into a nursing home to find her mother terrified, hair askew, having declined enough physically and cognitively to require round-the-clock care. As we often do when we experience such an emotionally-filled scenario, her mind decided to replay this particular slideshow with such incessant determination it required her to wake up at 4:30am for extra time to view it. Filtered through all her difficult emotions, her experience became her nightmare.
I can go there, can you? If my own fiendish inner videographer doesn’t provide enough details, I can easily find them in our culture (including last night, when I book-ended my day watching a show that enacted an uncannily similar scenario to my client’s). Collectively, we love a good story, and adding in tragic elements seems to tip a narrative more to a sense of heft, versus those fluffy feel-good plots.
Humans are fantastic at hypnotizing ourselves. I could sit down with any one of you and I still couldn’t create as convincing of a story as you tell yourself, even though I’m a trained professional.
Here’s what I mean. If I was in charge of the induction, perhaps with a goal of you going into a calm state, I’d ask you about a relaxing memory, then use that to describe back to you as many sensory details as I can—what you saw, heard, smelled, touched, tasted, felt—until you found yourself right back in that experience. Your physiology would pretty much match up with what was going on in your body the first time around.
Well, that’s what you’re doing when you worry. You’ll recall some experience (even if you’ve only watched it on a screen) and run through very vivid details, including what you saw, what you heard, and even imagining smells, etc. If this experience was especially important for you, you’ve likely run your inner film over and over, essentially rehearsing it until it just seems true.
In some ways, that’s what worry is for,
a way to prepare ourselves for life’s uncertainties
so that we can gain a sense of control
by continuously turning over and
imagining every detail.
If you’ve had a very upsetting or dangerous experience, of course your mind wants to figure out what occurred. We do this to process how in the world that could have happened, and how to prevent it in the future.
This very useful ability for walking through an unpredictable world, however, has an unfortunate downside. These ongoing stories and pictures end up creating our actual experience of the world. Like the director of the show I watched last night, your mind has set the stage for the world you’re walking through. You’ve unconsciously practiced your lines, your entrances and exits; you might even hear the soundtrack.
You can see this with my client. She doesn’t need to wait to see how the end of her life will unfold; she’s actually experiencing that very worst fear every time she lays in bed picturing it. When you really think about it, this is truly an amazing ability.
What that means, though, is that if we really understood how our amazing brains work, we could use them to generate a much more positive experience of the world.
Want to use your hidden inner movie makers to support you instead of torture you?
Here’s a path:
- Start with one of those stories that is so familiar to you, you hardly know it’s there.
You’ll find it if you look.
The one that says
-you can’t do it, or
-the world is too much, or
-there’s really something wrong with you, or
-there’s no point in trying, the world is ending anyway.
- Let yourself watch the whole thing so you can appreciate what a great job you’ve done fleshing out the details, practicing them so that you believe your great rendition of reality.
- Now look at the Inner Map to see where your first story is based—Shame, Guilt, Despair, Sadness, Frozen or Agitated Fear, Anger, Pride?
(Download your own Inner Map here)
- Next, look Above the Line, to those other states: Neutrality, Acceptance, Appreciation, Love, Joy, Peace.
Pick the one you actually want to anchor into.
- OK, here’s the fun part. Change the story to reflect which state you want to rehearse and actually live in.
-Add sensory details and let your imagination walk through those
as much or even more than you did when you were in those Reactive Brain states.
Here’s how this could sound:
Combining my client’s story with the show I watched last night: being old means being decrepit, having dementia, scaring people, and dying alone.
My body feels tight—looking at the Inner Map, I’m at the level of Frozen Fear.
OK, where I really want to live is from the level of Love.
So here’s my new story, that I intend to imagine and
feel and hear and taste:
I strengthen my ability to love, steadily, consistently. Through my lifetime, I connect deeply with those around me—both still in bodies, and all the entities that support me who aren’t in bodies. I am never alone. Support is always there, I just have to ask. I’ll handle whatever comes my way, and find infinite ways to be inspired, to learn, to connect deeply with others. Life will unfold perfectly for me, until my dying breath.
Anyone have an idea for a soundtrack?
So much of the work we do at the EPI is about discovering and applying the hidden treasures of our psyches. Join us this fall in the myriad of offerings we have, and find the gifts you might have only dreamed of.
Blessings to you, as you discover how to have your biggest, most powerful life!