Two young fish are out swimming and pass an old fish, “nice water today” the oldtimer says, a little bit further one of the young fish turns to the other: “what the hell is water?”
Is this you?
Life is going pretty well, but… there are moments. Moments that you lose your cool unnecessarily, moments when you hide what you think unnecessarily, moments when you feel you are holding yourself back unnecessarily. Is this you?
One of those moments had me standing just inside our frontdoor in Amsterdam with my coat and scarf on, waiting for my girlfriend to get ready. My foot started tapping. I had said we needed to go 10 minutes ago. We didn’t want to be late for this party. She had once said she never took long getting dressed. So this was not only frustrating, it wasn’t fair.
My hand started tapping the hallway table with the keys I was holding just to make sure she did hear that she was responsible for making my existence less than idyllic in that moment. My mind went over a few sarcastic utterances that would release the tension I felt inside, though I also knew they would only make the situation worse. She would most likely slow down or even decide not to go if I said them, but yet my mouth opened and… At that moment a brilliant question popped in my mind. Not for her, for me.
What story am I creating here for myself?
It had the effect you can have in a dark cinema, when you are completely engrossed in the story and then all of a sudden you see the heads of the people in front of you in the dark and notice that there are sides to the screen and you realize with a relief that there isn’t really a monster behind the trees, but that it’s a story someone made up and that got produced really well… but that it’s not real!
The anger left my body as I thought about what story I was creating in my mind. The cognitive exercise of analyzing the story, something I also do for a living, took away the perceived reality of the injustice of having to wait for a few minutes. To my surprise I didn’t feel angry and impatient any more. I re-ran the story; she had said I would never have to wait, I gave her fair warning and sure enough I started to feel the anger and impatience come back as I got sucked into the story.
What kind of story was this? I asked again and as I truthfully tried to answer that question I felt the feelings go away. It was a story of scarcity and survival. There wasn’t enough time. There weren’t enough parties. There was not enough respect. There were not enough expectations being met. There was not enough. It was a story of not enough.
She tapped me on the shoulder. Can we go now daydreamer?
Ah yes of course, I smiled. And the next twenty minutes became a pleasant transit through Amsterdam of a couple on their way to a party, while without my asking the story question it may well have been an irritated, grumpy, somewhat petty affair.
So it starts with seeing the water. Seeing the story.