It’s Better Not to Follow the Storyline

Ajahn Viradhammo

It’s Better Not to Follow the Storyline

Sometimes it’s good to bear in mind how our uncertainties or fears compare to what other people have to go through. At times, this can help us to gain a perspective on our own situation.

Nevertheless, we’re still affected by what we’re feeling… So when we have a life circumstance that brings up uncertainty or fear, the key thing is to practice with that mind-state. We can learn to bring awareness to the uncertain situation—whether it be our health, our job, or whatever circumstance brought about the uncertainty. Socially, we do our best to deal with this challenging situation. But we also need to look inwardly at our reactions around the sense of uncertainty and then learn to train with them. This is true of any negative mood or emotion that arises: rather than getting lost in it, we use it to strengthen our understanding of it, which then gives us the wisdom to practice letting go of it.

For instance, I might be feeling anxious about the future. Even though I’ve done everything I can to plan for a positive outcome, my mind wants to keep going to the future to try to figure out what will happen. It’s fear that’s driving my mind to want to try to solve this problem of the unknown future. So I say to myself, “This is what fear feels like. Don’t follow that thought.”

Of course, I may have to do that hundreds of times, which makes the process of inner change seem almost as slow as the process of Darwinian evolution. But no matter how slowly things go, the miniscule changes that awareness brings about have a profound cumulative effect on human consciousness. That’s because the whole direction of our thinking—which was oriented towards fear and delusion—is no longer being encouraged. We’ve turned around and are heading the other way.

Once you’ve made conscious what’s going on in your inner world by either naming it or acknowledging, for instance, that “This is disappointment. Disappointment feels this way,” you can choose how to respond to it. And making choices is the way you train the mind. For example, you can make a determination not to follow some negative mood that comes up. This is important, because if you follow that negative mood through a lack of awareness, you can end up thinking in ways that cause unnecessary suffering for you and possibly for others, too.

When we observe our actions and their results, we can see quite quickly that it’s better not to follow the storyline that the reactive mind presents. Instead, it’s better to introduce into the mind input that will produce a good result.

This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, (pdf) pp. 69-70.