As stated in the first Part of this series, one definition of metacognition is “being aware of our own awareness” — to consciously assess the overall quality and characteristics of our direct experience. Self-reflection and evaluation of our thought patterns, skills, and behavior is critical and necessary for effective learning and healthy development as Human Beings; and the foundation of this process lies in the establishment of clear Intention(s) regarding where and how to direct our Attention.
For this Part 2 we discuss the practice of setting clear Intention to recognize, explore, and transform our self-limiting stories; the various narratives that we’ve constructed to establish our boundaries and define our identity. All of our self stories need to be examined and assessed as to their impact (positive or negative) on our overall health and well-being; as well as their impact on our ability to completely “show up” in our daily lives.
I’m sure we all know what I mean by “our stories”. The great majority of us recollect, tell, and discuss them almost every day — our childhood stories, teenage and early adulthood, jobs and careers, love relationships, family, marriage, parenthood, and so on. They contain our significant life events and key lessons — our likes and dislikes, victories and defeats, ups and downs, joys and sorrows; and we tell our stories to describe who we are, and who we are not. We also change and add to our stories as we grow and mature — all of which is completely natural and commonplace.
However, every story does not carry equal weight and influence in our minds. Some of them are much more important, powerful, and dominant than others — our core beliefs, character traits, strong passions and dislikes, and most importantly, our self-doubt, deepest fears, and emotional wounds. These stories largely define our personal role(s) and associated behavior patterns, and they are strongly embedded within our subconscious and unconscious minds. Because they are central to our self-identity, they also generate the most powerful negative reactivity when threatened or triggered.
This is particularly true of the stories which contain our self-limiting beliefs, fears, pain, and trauma; and we will often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid them. We become experts at crafting ingenious strategies to justify our self-limiting doubts and avoid our pain; and we willingly change our life circumstances and behavior to make sure our demons remain at bay, out of our conscious attention, versus the possibility of facing them in the light of awareness.
Over time, our pain and self-doubts can become fused with our identify.
They have been an integral part of our lives for so long that we can’t imagine being without them, and we’ll vigorously defend and rationalize their continued existence and validity. We often blame these demons when life doesn’t go our way, or when we struggle to fully show up and participate.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way — we can transform these self-limiting demons by consistently bringing them into the healing light of our own awareness, and consciously holding them in loving embrace. This is where clear Intention and Metacognition become essential ingredients of a strong and potent medicine. We can learn to skillfully work with our self-limiting doubts and pain; and although we may never completely rid ourselves of them, we can greatly reduce the reactivity and paralysis they produce when triggered.
So how do we recognize these demons and bring them into our direct conscious awareness? One way is to look for their footprints and markers. We honestly examine our lives and assess where is fear holding us back? What life situations and relationships make us feel “not good enough”? Where do we always seem to fall short, or sabotage our success? Where are we jealous and unfulfilled; and very importantly, what aspects of our lives contain the most blaming and complaining? These are the areas where we’re caught by our self-limitations, fear, and pain; and projecting them out onto the external world.
Once we’ve done an inventory, the most direct approach, and the one requiring the most courage and strength of will, is to address our strongest and most debilitating reactivity. In other words, go after our biggest demon(s), not ones which are small annoyances.
If we can transform our biggest fears and pain, then lesser ones will get transformed in that process as well.
After identifying the self-limiting demons to work with, we then need to bring them into our practice. The first step is to establish a consistent, strong, and clear metacognitive Intention to bring self-limiting doubts and pain into conscious awareness each day. During meditation practice, as well as several times throughout the day, we reinforce our commitment and intention to recognize the aspects, relationships, and situations of our most difficult self-limiting beliefs and behavior. Once these appear in the body-mind, and in whatever form, (e.g., thoughts, images, or powerful feelings); we simply hold them with loving embrace, much like a mother holds and soothes a distressed child. We don’t try to change anything or make them go away; simply hold them with love.
Do this over and over, day-by-day, and we’ll watch these personal demons slowly metabolize and dissolve. Their negative impact on us, as well as the strength and depth of their reactive response will slowly diminish; and we find ourselves becoming more and more open and engaging with the world. This is not an easy process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. When we bring our deepest fears and pain into conscious awareness it is of course difficult and painful. However, that is the only way to metabolize and dissolve them. Ignoring the problem never works.
As our self-limiting beliefs and pain dissolve, the good news is that we can step more courageously into our lives and fully show up for every moment, and every situation.
Somehow we paradoxically become more vulnerable and open, but at the same time, stronger and more confident. We realize anew, each day, that we are not our limited individual stories; we are much bigger and more powerful than that. We are in fact Boundless Beings full of Limitless Love, in intimate relationship with all other Beings; and that is The Story we should be telling ourselves.