Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl


The 1950 Japanese film Rashomon is the story of a murder told from the perspective of four witnesses, each of whom tells a very different tale. As you watch the movie, you are caught up in each version, thinking “Oh, this is what really happened.” But then a new witness begins to speak, and you are thrown back into the anxiety and frustration of uncertainty.

This film was the origin for the term “Rashomon effect,” used to describe the subjective nature of perception. As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” Most of us live our lives in the virtual reality of our thoughts, of the stories we tell ourselves – about ourselves and the world we live in and those who live in it with us.

When something happens, we immediately start telling ourselves a story about it. If what happened was confusing in some way, our stories seek to make sense of it so that we can find comfort in “knowing” what happened. The story often judges what happened as good or bad. Our stories generate feelings of desire or aversion, and are the basis of how we react to what happened. Our world becomes a closed loop of engaging with our own stories, stories that form our own “reality bubbles.”

Recently, some things have happened that have defied my attempts to explain and understand. Various stories swirl through my mind. Before one can really settle in, another one replaces it. I can’t seem to “catch” one and hold on to it. It’s like trying to control a room full of kittens on catnip. It has left me standing in the middle of the maelstrom as a befuddled witness, trying to pick out the “right” story.

Naturally, I prefer the stories that make me look good – the hero rather than the victim, the sage rather than the fool. I like the ones that make me feel transcendently serene rather than agitated and embarrassed. I reach for the ones that offer grand spiritual gifts rather than disappointment.

But here’s the thing – they are all just stories. What happens if I just let them all go?

Start with “I don’t know.” Why not just start where you’ll end up anyway? ~Adyashanti

12 thoughts on “Life-omon”

  1. I don't know what I loved more- the part about "we start telling stories", which makes me feel less all alone on that one; the maelstrom, which in my case I think has to do more with the failing with age to be able to mentally multi-task as well as before; or the ending quote, which I should have smeared onto my forehead!

  2. Ha! You and me both, CW, regarding that quote. I now have a sticky note on my computer (the next best thing to a forehead) saying in all caps "I DON'T KNOW."

  3. I sometimes used to read the end of a novel, first, before committing to it. It’s the same kind of impatience that makes me want to cling to my stories. Thanks for this!

  4. You're welcome. Our brains do not tolerate uncertainty very well. They are programmed to find an answer. I've looked at the end of books, too! Thanks for commenting.

  5. You really made me think with this one, Galen. We do tell/believe our own stories, don't we? Certainly makes it more difficult to walk in someone else's shoes, seeing the world as they perceive it, and therefore, might cause us to be less understanding and empathetic. Letting go of the stories? Easier said than done.

  6. Wow, I did like this one. I can see where we get caught up in our own story and also our perceptions as to what we are seeing and believing. We each do have our own story to tell.
    Over the last 10 years I have completed my own mother's history, I started my Aunt's history when she was 97 years old and then I have my other Aunt's history that she completed when she was 95 years old. They all grew up together and went through many of the same things and they each tell the story in a different way from their view and perspective. It was so interesting.
    As always, I am giving greater thoughts to your post today.
    Blessings and hugs for you dear friend. Wishing you a very sweet Christmas Celebration with your family.

  7. Like you, LeAnn, I had several aunts who lived to be almost 100. I grew up with their stories, along with my mom's, of their childhood. I was always struck by how they remembered the same events and people so differently. You would never know that they shared the same parents and the same siblings! I hope you too have a wonderful holiday with your family.

  8. Loved this and can relate. A writing tutor once used the expression that people who shared the same family past can have 'different versions of a life' and that stuck with me. I used it in my novel for interpersonal conflict,but also have reflected it with regard to my own family and past. Another time I came across this concept was within a counselling course i was on, where the idea that people create their own stories cropped up. They tell their 'stories' to the therapist, and the therapst enters their world stories to see them from their point of view,while looking for ways to perhaps challenge what they are telling themselves. And yet again, when I was reading a book called The Happiness Trap, the author pointed out that we relive these personal stories,over and over if they have led to conflicts, but we actually edit them according to our own vision or intepretation – they are not fact, they are subject to our own manipulations. The idea is we should develop a healthy objectivity about our pasts and work with the now. Thanks Galen, for a thought provoking reminder of this. Wishing you a happy Christmas!

  9. That is fascinating, Lynne. Since I used to blog about happiness, I was especially interested in your last observation about The Happiness Trap. I also appreciate and agree with the part about working with the now. A Course in Miracles says that "the only wholly true thing we can say about the past is that it is not here."

    Thanks for your comment, Lynne. Wishing you a happy Christmas too!

  10. Alexandra David-Neel explains this beautifully in the Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects (the title is much more mysterious than the book). Like the first step in ethics is epistemology. Improve your perception. Because you probably have no idea what's really going on! How humbling! I've noticed that people who are 'good at school' really struggle when dropped into an area where they just can't know everything. Like I can't function until I know everything (I'm learning to play bridge. Constantly asking, "Can I get a rule here?" I want, "Well, if you have 16-18 points, and even distribution, then…bla bla"). And studying hardcore with pens and index cards helps. But also it takes a lot of confidence or maybe faith to just not know. Beginner's mind.

  11. Interesting observation about people who excel in school. "Confidence or maybe faith to just not know"–well said. Our brains are literally wired to know things–to label, sort, organize, and understand accordingly. Our brains do not like not knowing! But entering that "cloud of unknowing" takes us into the mystery where the action (or nonaction!) really is.

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