This is a post about a *very* helpful little question.
I learned this question a while back. It’s helped me un-suffer (that’s my new word for something that stops our suffering) time and time and time again.
The question is:”What are you making this mean?”
If that sounds abstract, hang in here with me for a minute.
As we walk through our lives, lots of ouches happen:
He didn’t call back.
She snapped at me.
They gave the job to someone else.
Those are what I’d call the facts.
We think we are upset about these facts – about what actually happened: That he didn’t call back! That she snapped at me like that! That they gave the job to someone else.
But usually, we are not upset about these facts. We are upset about our interpretations of the facts, and particularly, when we take these facts to mean we are being attacked or rejected in some way.
It goes like this…
|He didn’t call back||He didn’t like me. I’ll never find the right guy. He didn’t find me attractive. I suck at dating.|
|She snapped at me.||She doesn’t respect me. She can’t deal with working with other people. If I don’t do this project perfectly, she’ll never be satisfied. She’s an out of control b—h.|
|They gave the job to someone else.||I didn’t do a good job on the application. I sounded ridiculous trying to answer their questions. They were looking for someone younger. They were looking for someone older. I’m not cut out for this industry.|
Listen today and you’ll see: it’s amazing how much of human “conversation” amounts to people ranting their own made-up interpretations of the facts. “She said blah! And if she said blah, she obviously has no respect for me. I mean, if you respect another human being, you would have said x not y. I decided a long time ago, I’m not going to work with people like that.”
Whoa. Maybe she said that because she was in a freakin’ load of pain. Or because she has a habit of losing her temper, and she hasn’t quite learned to manage her emotions well.
Maybe, just maybe, it has nothing to do with you.
It’s what we add on to the facts that makes up angry, resentful, defensive, hopeless, or self-hating. Because we are hardwired to be hyper alert for any dangers to our survival, what we add on tends to reflects our worst fears and our particular negative conditioning.
Let go of the interpretation, and what’s left? Sometimes, sadness and grief about what happened, yes, but without the feeling of being attacked, threatened, disrespected, or rejected.
Here’s a simple, easy way you can suffer a lot less:
1. When something upsets you, separate the facts from your interpretation. The facts will always be simple and short, like a movie plot without characters’ personalities, without mood music. The facts sounds like short, “See Jane Run” sentences: I sent in the job application. They called me for an interview. I did the interview. They called and said the job went to another candidate.
2. Then ask yourself, “What am I making that mean?” What interpretation am I laying on to those facts? See the difference between the facts and the story/interpretation you’ve layered on top of them.
3. If your interpretation is leading you to suffering, leading you to beat yourself up, or demonize others, question it. Be willing to let it go. It’s not the truth. It’s just one possible interpretation.
And most important:
iI your intepretation holds you as anything less than an expression of the divine with an unfailing strength and worth, let that interpretation go.
If your interpretation neglects the truth that people hurt others only out of their own suffering, weave that truth right back in to the center of how you are looking at the situation.
There is no seeing the truth of the matter without the wisdom of compassion transforming how you see.
When in your life have you let go of a subjective interpretation that was causing you suffering? What did you replace it with? Tell us in the comments.
p.s. You all wrote so many beautiful, moving comments on Monday’s post about the spiritual life. You can read them HERE.