I once flew down to Peter Island, and as I arrived at the hotel, the manager received me with a tall, iced rum cocktail and a heavy dose of frustration and annoyance. She shook her head and said, “Didn’t you check the weather? There’s a hurricane coming, and we’re sending all the guests home tomorrow.” She was really embarrassed for me, but I chuckled a bit at her discomfort—I was the one who had to schlep back to New York without having a lovely Caribbean dive trip, not her!
The next day on the ferry ride to the airport, the other hotel guests assumed I’d been down there for several days like they had, and not wanting to deal with their pity or even self-congratulations that at least they’d have 4 or 5 good days, I didn’t mention that’d I’d just arrived the day before.
Several hours later, back at JFK, I made a call while waiting at the baggage claim. I had just started dating a guy and thought we could go to dinner. I’d met him at work, installing a piece of software on his computer. We’d been flirting for a few weeks, and gone on a first date just a few days earlier. It had ended with a kiss that, well, had a lot of fireworks, so I thought seeing him would be a fun consolation prize. This was pre-cellphone days, so I called Information for his number, and then upon calling him, an answering machine picked up. A young woman cheerfully let the caller know that the two of them weren’t home. I don’t recall her words, but it was obvious she was not a flatmate or a relative, they were a couple. I was shocked that he not only had a girlfriend, but that they lived together! Now the evasive way he responded to my assumption that he lived alone made much more sense. I know I’m a glass half-full person, but I thought this revelation alone was worth the trip!
When I returned to work, I didn’t explain to my co-workers why I was back from vacation early. I was new and didn’t know anyone really well yet, but even so, I could see there was still an opportunity to make a big story about my disastrous trip—all the time and money wasted traveling there and back, the disappointment of not getting to scuba dive, and most of all, the idiocy of not knowing to check the weather before flying to the Caribbean during hurricane season. There was even more opportunity to tell the story about that guy over in Accounting I’d gone on a date with who, turns out, has a girlfriend! But instead, I simply didn’t tell any of these stories. I’d been meditating for several years, and the mind simply didn’t have the drive to tell these stories. I just did my job as per normal, and everything was calm. I didn’t tell these stories to my co-workers, and more importantly, I didn’t tell them to myself, and I literally, and happily, forgot about all of it. What I noticed is that without the story of disappointment, there was no disappointment. Without the story of embarrassment, there was no embarrassment. Without the story of frustration, there was no frustration.
It was after this incident that I became acutely aware that we have the option to tell stories or not. And if we don’t tell them, they don’t exist. It was a moment of recognition of how we make our world with our thoughts. The experience existed, the credit card bill existed, but all the drama around it simply wasn’t there, because I didn’t tell the story. It was a really powerful moment of watching no story arise, and observing how silent and blissful that no-story was.
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” —Dhammapada, The Sayings of the Buddha, Thomas Byrom translation