Put Aside ‘Story’, Be Present To The Phenomenon


In our default way of being something occurs in the world and instantly we find ourselves in the domain of explanation; we are almost never present to the phenomenon itself: that which occurred.  Does this matter?  Let’s explore through an example.

Yesterday evening, wife was talking to sons and one in particular. She floated the idea of him putting his brother on his insurance policy, driving his new (to be) car. Instantly, I intervened, dominated the conversation, and made my wife wrong about bringing up the subject.  She was not at all happy. How did I respond to the situation?  Not well: I did not listen to her objections instead I made her wrong for objecting to my insistence on having the conversation go my way.  Where was I whilst this ‘conversation’ was occurring?

I was in the land of ‘story’: explanation, reasoning and excuse.  What kind of ‘story’?  This one: “The boys don’t get along at the best times. What is my wife thinking? Has she forgotten the animosity between the boys?  Is she deliberately stirring up conflict?  Surely she can’t be that stupid! I have to put an end to this right here, before this plan gets any wind behind it. It is the right thing to do.”

What was the ‘story’ that I found myself entangled in when my wife objected to my attempted domination of the conversation?  This one: “Is she stupid?  Doesn’t she get that I am doing what I am doing for the benefit of all?  That my way is the best way: it will avoid conflict further down the road. If this thing gets ‘wind in the sails’  we (wife and I) will find ourselves involved in sorting things out. And whatever we do we will end up disappointing one of the boys!. No, I have to stick to my guns and stop this stupid idea!”

As you can imagine the situation did not turn out well. My wife and I ended up going to sleep upset with one another.  What showed up when I slept on the matter? In sleeping on the matter, I focussed on the phenomenon itself: that which occurred and not my interpretation-explanation (‘story’) of that which occurred.  And this is what showed up for me:

When my wife brought up the idea of one son putting the other son on his car insurance for his new car, I became alarmed. My body sat upright as if an alarm bell had gone off. What was the cause of this alarm? I saw in my minds eye, tension-conflict-fighting between the boys over who did what. And I saw myself being sucked into the situation – at the very minimum listening to, seeing, experiencing this conflict.  I hate conflict!

How might the evening have turned out if I had been present to the phenomena – that which was occurring for me – as it was occurring?

1. I would have realised one of my ‘hot’ buttons had just been pressed. That I was alarmed, I was fearful, I saw myself being sucked into a pit that would be hard to climb out of.

2. I would have said to wife: “Listening to your suggestion, I find myself fearful. I am afraid that this idea will not turn out well. The boys will argue-fight. You and I will be blamed for coming up with his idea – even forcing this idea on to our eldest son. And whilst you can tolerate conflict between the boys and see it as a learning opportunity for them, I find in unbearable. Finding it unbearable I will find myself sucked into sorting it out. And that will be a thankless task. So I finding myself vulnerable, alarmed, fearful about what you are suggesting to our eldest son. What can you do to help me out here?”

3. Wife, I, and the boys would have been given an opening to a honest conversation. It is even possible that the boys would have found an opening to share how the situation showed up for them and how they were feeling about my wife’s suggestion.

4. Wife and I might have gone to sleep within the context of mutual understanding and affection.  We might even have gone to sleep understanding each other better  – at a more intimate-deeper level.

So next time, you find yourself enmeshed in story feeling what you are feeling, telling yourself what you are telling yourself, put aside the ‘story that you are spinning and which is spinning you’ and get present to the phenomena. Being with the phenomena, without the ‘story’, may just give you the opening that you need to take an alternative (more effective) course of action.

What did I do? Having gotten present to the phenomena during the night, I apologised to my wife for my conduct the previous evening, and shared the phenomena (that which I had experienced). I am confident that this allowed her to forgive me, and put the previous evening behind us.

Explanation: The Access To Generating Breakthroughs?


PHENOMENON

Definition:

1. An event or situation that can be seen to happen or exist.

2. A fact, occurrence, or circumstance, observed or observable.

Etymology:

1570s, “fact, occurrence,” from Late Latin phænomenon, from Greek phainomenon “that which appears or is seen,” noun use of neuter present participle of phainesthai “to appear”…

What Is So

There is the phenomenon e.g. widespread flooding in the southern England (UK)

There is the interpretation-explanation (‘story’) about the phenomenon e.g.” it is due to government neglect through cost-cutting.” 

Notice: the phenomenon is always distinct from the ‘story’.

Notice: we can invent an array of stories for the phenomenon at hand: “serves people right for building homes in flood prone areas; it serves the middles classes right for voting in this government; it is due to climate change; it is God showing his displeasure; this government is uncaring and incompetent etc….”

The automaticity of the ‘human machinery’ is such that I am almost never present to the distinction between phenomenon and story: the story shines so brightly in my speaking that I cannot see (am not present) to the phenomenon that lies in the background.

Exception = breakdowns.

Breakdowns occurs when the novel-unusual occurs: I find myself faced with the phenomenon as there is no ready made ‘story’ to understand-explain and thus slot the phenomenon into my ‘already always listening-interpreting-explaining’ of phenomena.

Even when breakdowns occur I will do my best to concoct a story that enables me to make sense of these breakdowns and fit them into the ‘story that I already am’ with the minimum disturbance to my way of being / showing up in the world.

What drives this entire play? The ‘story that I already am’. The story that gives my way of being / showing up in the world. My ‘already always listening’: of self, of you, of others, of us, of the world’. Behind my ‘story’ lies the ‘Story’: the story given by the culture that I find myself enmeshed in and of which I am an embodiment.

The Access To Breakthroughs Lie In The Domain Of ‘Story’

Notice, that the phenomenon does not dictate the course of action we will take. For example, the fact that there is flooding in southern England is simply what is so.  What is so does not in any way dictate-determine what is done about what is so.

What determines our course of action regarding the phenomenon?  Our interpretation, our explanation, the ‘story’ that we make about the phenomenon: the dominant ‘story’ determines the course of action taken.

Notice: For as long as the existing ‘story’ explains-dominates the phenomenon we will continue to do some variation on what we have done before in relation to the phenomenon.  Put differently, the course of action that is taken in relation to phenomenon is always given-dictated by the dominant ‘story’ used to interpret-explain the phenomenon.

Which means that if the actions that you are taking, in relation to a specific phenomenon, are not generating the kind of results that you are wanting then you may want to stop. Stop!

Stop and be with the phenomenon just as it is and as it is not. Listen to, observe, touch-feel, live with, be with the phenomenon.  What is it that is unveiled?  Something is always unveiled for it is simply so that one cannot ever see the whole apple: some aspect of the apple is always hidden.

Now, with a fuller-richer-more rounded grasp of the phenomenon, you are in a position to invent-choose an alternative ‘story’: an alternative interpretation-explanation. The trick is to choose a ‘story’ that is in accordance with the phenomenon and generates actionable insight: insight that leaves open the space to take fruitful action.

All of which is to say that the access to generating breakthroughs – in our relationships, in our families, in our workplaces, in this world – lies in the explanation: the ‘story’ that we create around our relationships, our families, our workplaces, our world.

Want a breakthrough in a realm of your life?  Want to generate a transformation in your experience of your life? Then let go of the ‘story that you are and which gives you your way of being and showing up in the world’ and invent-nurture-cultivate-grow a different ‘story’. One of the most important shifts is to move from ‘not enough’ to ‘enough’; from ‘victim’ to author of one’s life; from spectator in the game of life to being on the court playing full-out.

Ultimately, to play BIG is to let go of the dominant story about what it is to be human. And what it is to be successful. And what constitutes a good life.  What does that open up: a space, a big space. And what can we do with such a space. Invent and actualise new possibilities.