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cognitive behavioural therapy

Ten Thousand Days

Virtual Reality

January 17, 2017

Photo: Samuel Zeller

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 953 – Day 969)

We walk around every day thinking the world we see is real.  We make decisions based on thoughts and feelings.  Many of us never question whether our feelings and our thoughts reflect the truth of the situation.  Our feelings and thoughts are the barometer of what is happening outside of ourselves.  They are our virtual reality.

If I’m having a feeling about which I have discomfort, there is undoubtedly a thought that will go with it.  If I am kept waiting for my friend Johnny for 20 minutes I may start to feel hurt.  “He is so irresponsible and he always keeps me waiting,” I may think.  And the thoughts continue:  “If he was my friend, he would know that I hate being kept waiting.  He doesn’t care about my feelings.  He is not my friend.  That’s it, it’s over.”  And hurt turns to rage.   Perhaps there was an accident on the highway.  Perhaps he got a call from his agent and landed that giant part in the major motion picture he’s been waiting for.  Maybe he was comforting a friend.  And maybe he just lost track of time.  It is highly unlikely that Johnny was sitting at home dreaming up ways of demonstrating disrespect.  And yet…our thoughts (if we really listen) sound something like this, much of the time.

We can get caught in endless spirals of negative thinking and blame and shame or equally, we can get hooked into idealization by the same external locus of control.  We replay these stories every time we are triggered.  Johnny is late again and that means he is trying to make us angry.  Jane is late – well, she’s just like Johnny, was and so she must be discarded as well.  And so it goes.

We construct stories about our world and our relation to it out of these thoughts and feelings.  Our stories create the narrative that explains our life and integrates our sensory experience.  Then we say that what is happening out there  created our feelings in here.  


When the would-be paramour created a fiery inferno, he did so with angry accusations.  I felt victimized and outraged.  I am none of the things that he said I am.  What is true is that he was upset.  What is true is that he associated those feelings with me.  What is not true is that I created these feelings or that a true story about me can be constructed solely from his feelings and thoughts.  My actions may have triggered his response but to know whether the story fits, one would have to look into my intentions.

Even good intentions can create distress in someone because of their own associations. We must take responsibility for our words and deeds and make amends where we have intentionally or unintentionally caused harm.  Most of us don’t want to cause distress and so, where we can, we alter behaviour to ease someone’s suffering.   But our actions, words, or very being can never create the suffering that is in someone else’s head or heart.  We don’t have that power.  The suffering belongs to the sufferer alone and it is created by the attachment to the story.

We all get fooled by the ego; it is a trickster.

This weekend I let the ego take the decks and spin the soundtrack of my life for a little while.  I heard from the would-be paramour and there were things I didn’t like about his email.  I had a lot of thoughts about it. My thoughts became feelings that fed further thoughts and on and on into an endless spiral.  And in the end, I was angry and decided his character was ‘X’, and I responded to him from my certainty that he was that.  Ego never paves the way for harmony and peace.  My response probably triggered thoughts and feelings on his end.  And so we enter the endless loop of suffering and illusion that never leads to Truth.

If we take the Buddhist approach to life, then our thoughts, feelings, intentions and stories are all just the material which ego uses to create this virtual reality in which our souls incarnate.  Emotions and thoughts are constantly in flux and are not a part of our true and eternal selves.  Ego tricks us into writing stories that become our narrative and our narrative is how we perceive ‘reality.’ We live our lives in this illusion of virtual reality – what the Buddhists call maya – often never being aware that we had the power to tear it away and live in Truth.

My feelings and thoughts created a story about the would-be paramour.  That story is part of a narrative of victimhood.   If I can not prevent myself from being caught up in ego as I play my part on the stage that is this incarnation, I have to wonder if my soul really needs that narrative of suffering any more,  or whether I can question my thoughts and feelings to create new stories and a more joyful and useful narrative for this virtual reality.

I am grateful that I had a weekend away with a dear friend who held space for me to process this event.  I drew an angel card from her bowl when I arrived, to set my task for the weekend.  I drew “integrity.”  Integrity means to act with complete honesty and uprightness but it also means to be whole and undivided.  I am grateful for the focus this gave me.

Honesty led me to realize that I was doing to him the same thing that he had been done to me.   I was creating stories based solely on my feelings and thoughts without recourse to checking his intention.  We are all One when we are our highest and most loving selves but we are also One in our pettiness.  I am grateful for the reminder that to get caught in ego is to be divided from our true nature.  And so, to live in integrity, my service this week was to examine my thoughts and feelings  and to let go of my attachment to the story of suffering.  It is a joy to be free of it.

What I think or feel about him is of no consequence to his soul.  What he thinks of or feels about me is not relevant to my soul.  But if I choose to believe the best of him, I may just end up with a more peaceful narrative.

I’m not saying we should deny our thoughts and feelings or stay in abusive situations.  But if our old stories have written a lifetime of victimhoood, it may well be that new events are labelled abusive only because it is  filtered through our thoughts and feelings in such a way that it can create a story that will not disrupt our view of reality.  We can’t control the event. We can only control our interpretation and response.

What I am suggesting is that we keep questioning our thoughts, feelings, stories and yes, even our intentions, and seek another way of seeing the event, the story, and to look for alternate realities.  Simply through this act, we can break free of the cycle of karma that is like an automatic loop, a groove in the record that keeps us spinning in circles of endless negativity, victimhood, rose-coloured fantasy or whatever it is that our past experiences have carved into our souls to be healed.

If there is any meaning in the pain we feel as incarnated beings, it is to recognize that we have a choice in constructing this virtual reality of incarnation.  Like a 90’s raver, we can either move unconsciously to the beat of an endless loop, or we can dance our Divine nature.


For what are you most grateful this week?