Recent psychological studies have shown that people remember what they have seen, heard, and experienced less than 30% of the time. Less than 30% accuracy means that up to 70% of our memories did not happen the way we thought. Instead, our brain filled in the gaps with our thoughts about what we experienced.
Think of all the arguments that you have had in life. Think about arguments about who said or didn’t say what, and all the differences in the meanings that you have tried to impart. Think about all these pointless arguments about what each of your brains made up about your experiences. You were arguing over things that never really happened, for the most part!
Additionally, it has long been known that everyone has literal blind spots in each eye. We do not notice this, because our brain fills in what we think “should” be there. Most of what we consider to be real is just an animation created by our ever-so-creative brain.
Recent studies also suggest that people do not see things they do not expect to see. That is pretty shocking. If you don’t expect to see it, you might just not see it. People who are highly concentrated on one particular thing in their field of perception may be completely blind to everything else.
The brain frequently substitutes what it thinks should be there for what is.
We have all experienced this. Remember the last time you saw a sign and were certain it said one thing, and then later looked at it again, and realized it said something completely different? So much of what we perceive as reality is really just brain story. The brain chatters away, continually creating the screenplay of our lives. And we unquestioningly go along with it.
The boss is always the evil villain of the piece? Well then, our brain will not even notice the nice things that the boss does or see them as a whole person. Mom is a hero? You won’t even notice the abuse. I am a good person? I will excuse everything I do that is not praiseworthy. Nobody likes me? I won’t even see the smiles, hear the praises, or remember the fun that I had with people.
Why is it important to know this? If you realize that the majority of your life is just a story being made up inside your head, you can change the story. You might say to me, “Wait, my mom died, that isn’t a story.” Or, “I am ill, that’s no story.” On a deeper level, even those situations are stories. What is death? What is illness? Much of the suffering caused by life events we consider “bad” does not come from the happening in itself.
Psychological studies have shown that suffering comes from the stories that we tell ourselves about what is happening. Pain happens, yes. We feel if and move on, it does no lasting damage. Suffering however, must be cultivated. It comes from thoughts.
In my adulthood, both of my parents were taken from me suddenly. I grieved their passing. I miss them sometimes. All this is pain. One day I found myself thinking, “I am an orphan,” and feeling terribly sad. This is suffering. I felt guilty about things I had done and did not do, things I had said and did not say, when my parents were alive. All this is also suffering.
In order to stop suffering, change the script. Or better yet, do away with it all together. Many spiritual teachers have given systems for doing just this. You might want to look at the work of Eckhart Tolle Lee, Byron Katie, or Martha Beck. Their work can help you to stop telling the story. A simple way to change the story is just to ask yourself if what you are thinking is kind, caring, and loving towards you and everyone else. Is it creating love, joy, and peace in your heart? If not, it’s time to change the story.