Drop the Storyline and Feel the Underlying Energy

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Pema Chodron, the author of When Things Fall Apart, in a retreat cabin in Crestone, Colorado. The purpose of the interview was to create a question and answer session to be included in an upcoming Sounds True program by Pema entitled “Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience with Trust and Courage.”

The very first question I asked Pema was “How do you define this term, ‘unconditional confidence,’ and is it really possible to be confident in every situation?” Her response stunned me. She said, “Unconditional confidence really means unconditional gentleness, and yes, we can train so that we are gentle with ourselves in the face of whatever is happening.”

When Pema gave this answer, I “exited” in a certain kind of way. Everything turned white; it was similar to a blackout, but it was a white-out. The experience was brief, and I kept listening and moving along with the interview, but at the same time something had hit a deep nerve in me, and I wasn’t quite sure what the nerve was. It was as if her answer slapped me in the face.

Since the interview, I have been investigating internally the connection between gentleness towards myself and confidence in the world. The first thing I have seen is how many times a day I say something to myself that is ungenerous and even mean. I am sure this has been going on for, well, a lifetime, but the truth is I had never seen it so clearly before. Usually the commentary is about something minor: “Why weren’t you more articulate during that conference call?”, “Why did you say such and such to that person?”, and on and on. But sometimes this inner commentator takes on bigger issues, in a more aggressive way. “You will never be able to open your heart fully because it hurts too much,” or “You are not a real businessperson because you react instead of plan,” or other such indictments.

During the interview, I asked Pema what to do in these kinds of instances, times when we are just not gentle with ourselves. Her instruction was to interrupt the self-talk any way you can. I took the question further: what if interrupting this inner voice just doesn’t work? What if the situation feels impossible, and this mean voice is persistent, like a radio you can’t turn off? Her response was very direct and clear: drop the storyline and feel the underlying energy.

I have found this technique to be extremely effective (when I can remember to do it!). Dropping the storyline is like a thunderclap. A gap is created and what remains is pure energy.

At a certain point, this energy finds a direction. It moves. A friend of mine who is a psychiatrist once said to me something he learned through the therapeutic exchange, “Even if you say something you regret, what really matters is what you say next. It is all about what you do next.”

And this is what I have discovered about the connection between gentleness to myself and confidence in the world. When I am gentle towards myself, I take the next action that is needed in the situation; gentleness allows me to be resourceful and responsive. If I know I can count on being kind to myself, then I can risk “failure.” I can step into a new challenge, knowing that no matter how the situation turns out, I will be able to extend again and again. These days, I am consciously cultivating this kind of unconditional gentleness towards myself because this is exactly the kind of confidence I need.

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21 Responses to “Drop the Storyline and Feel the Underlying Energy”

  1. R Says:

    Another blog post I like. I learned the importance of what you say next mostly from Peter Fenner and my own personal experience. What you say first is said unconsciously–what you say next is said from the experience of waking up. Every time you speak up in a moment of realization, acting from that level of realization becomes more and more REAL for you. You’ll never be able to pretend away what you just said, but you always have an opportunity to transform it into wakefulness for both of you with what you say next. And you’re doing that with your blog posts too–by being real, you give all of us permission to be real too. I don’t think it’s so much about being enlightened or holy or even spiritual as it is about being real. As Jane Siberry said once, “Every time I tell the truth, a piece of me becomes real.”

  2. kathie Says:

    “Even if you say something you regret, what really matters is what you say next. It is all about what you do next.”

    as a parent navigating a bumpy last few weeks with my eldest, i can’t even begin to tell you how meaningful this quote is to me. the self-loathing that accompanies a clash with my kids can, i’m sure, do equal damage to our family dynamic as did the offending outburst itself.
    to be always as gentle with myself as i pray to be with my kids- there’s the work, right?

  3. mark Says:

    You have a cool job! Thanks for the blog.

  4. Jester Jed Says:

    Pema’s take on confidence is a new one to me. As an athlete I tend to think of confidence as that all-too-fleeting feeling I get when I know I am going to succeed at some competitive objective. Now I see that as sort of an aggressive confidence (especially considering how hard I can be on myself when I “fail” at something). Pema’s version of confidence sounds much healthier. I look forward to hearing Unconditional Confidence!

  5. Doreen Says:

    Simply becoming aware of the Now. All that is “needed.” I realize that nothing that I have ever “thought” about ANYTHING has been the Truth “about” a person, situation or experience. No intentions are ever fulfilled when I live as if the past and the future “exist.” Only from the Now, are intentions created… and they happen… out of intuition… creative thoughts JUST COME. Intention is inherent in Your Breath, only “right” action comes out of the field of Now…and the paradox is that it remains, always the Now.

  6. Jane Velten Says:

    Wow–thanks, R. I love the Jane Siberry quote! And yes, Tami, keep on keepin’ it real. Your vulnerability opens the heart of everyone who reads you.

  7. Irisha Says:

    Hi Tami,

    Thanks for the post and for the insightful programs you record. I really appreciate the in-depth questions. You don’t let anyone of the hook, indeed. 🙂

    “Feel the deeling and drop the story” works for me as well. My mind is scientificall inclined and I subject these kinds of jugements of myself to some serious questioning.

    -“What is happening REALLY?”. Asking myself this question again and again and then – “Is it SO?” – I bring myself to filter facts from opinions. When I REALLY know what the situation is, I start seeing things clearly, have more factual information and this sets my mind in the solution module that I know it’s brilliant in.
    – “Is this helpful?” If this judgement is not helpful in any way, I commit myself to tossing it away as an energy drainer and do it.

    Take a look after all.

    With all this sel criticism,
    blame, hurt, fault-finding,
    has improvement taken place?
    Do you now, at last,
    have every reason
    to be happy with yourself?

    Ed Brown

    Finally, knowing of the biological preconditioning (that our brains work that way for a reason – we have to strive to be better or “perfect” and judgemental not just towards others but ourselves as well) puts it into a different prespective: I can catch myself at the “Gremlin” talk and see it as something automated, unavoidable at this stage. I cannot fight the nature but I can choose not to be acting on my impulses to be better than anyone (inlcuding myself 🙂 I will definately add some gentleness into the tool box.

    Palms together,

    Uppsala, Sweden

  8. DennisVega Says:

    Your site was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

  9. Tnelson Says:

    Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya

  10. JimmyBean Says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  11. Rob Says:

    I’m really enjoying Insights At The Edge podcasts Tammy – keep up the good work and the robust yet fair questions!



  12. Amy Vic Says:

    This blog gives direction to my quiet Saturday.

    First, I’m going to sit, and imagine being in the retreat cabin, in Crestone, with Tami & Pema. Already, while typing this, I can picture myself as vibrating energy sitting near Tami & Pema. Their crazy wisdom moves through and around me.

    After my visit to Crestone, I’m going to read Great Eastern Sun, a book I was recently paging through. Pema’s “unconditional confidence… unconditional gentleness” makes me think of & want to understand CTR’s Shambhala teachings.

    Thanks Tami….for this and so much more.

  13. Daanish Says:

    thanks for sharring words of wisdom,I like the two step approach:
    Gentleness and Drpo the story line,feel the underlying energy !!

    Bottomline:whart you do next matters,because it is conscious !!

  14. Eduardo Gonzalez Says:

    I am surprised that you would doubt your ability to be a real business person. I think you are establishing a new paradigm for the business person by keeping a company like Soundstrue afloat. I have really enjoyed your podcasts which I upload for free and which I am sure take a lot of your time and effort. That only makes me a more loyal client of your company. There really is nothing else out there that puts the same quality material for the spiritually inclined person. You are really having a life changing effect on the life of many people, that vast majority of whom you don’t know. In the job I’ve held the last 18 years I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some very successful “real business people”, many of whom have become successful by squeezing their employees and caring only about the bottom line. Believe me they are not happy, fulfilled people.
    It’s curious that you were with Pema Chodron in Crestone. I suppose your were there in Reggie Ray’s facility. I became familiar with Reggie from the “Touching Enlightment” book and was impressed with the synthesis he has achieved of Buddhism with Jungian Psychology. I have since bought the two “Breathing Body” programs and have really enjoyed them, except that sometimes I find Reggie too solemn and serious and I listen to Pema to lighten up (and if I really need to lighten up I go to two other spiritual teachers of mine—Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin, whose movies constantly teach me to laugh at myself). Anyway, it’s a great combination because they are teaching the same thing with very different methods and styles. It might be a good combination for a future Soundtrue program.

  15. maryanne Says:

    Thank you for sharing this! SO simple and yet, it only works if you simply remember.

  16. Barbara Says:

    Thank you so much for your Insight at the Edge Podcasts, Tammy, it is a blessing to be able to share all this thoughts and information. Your meeting with Peema somehow answered to me a question I have been doing to myself along the last weeks. I rang up a friend of mine, some time ago, and I said to her: you know Carina, my lack of trust saved me my life several times, this sort of paranhoid side of me….( We are both psychotherapists).She answered to me: how interesting, because the opposite happened to me: my confidence saved me my life many times.And I felt as if something would stop me in her phrase. What have happened to my confidence? I could rationalize why I lost it along my life and experiences but I knew in that moment she said that, that there must be some deeper way to look at this from another perspective. And I found this another perspective in your words. Thank you for this.

  17. Abigail Says:

    By a strange synchronicity, I had my first real experience of dropping the story line today…it was extraodinary…the more I felt the energy and stopped listening to my mind’s commentary, the more the experience moved powerfully and swiftly through all the usual places I get stuck in….people have been telling me to do this for years, but I felt somehow afraid that if I stopped listening to the story I would be abandoning myself and my truth and actually it is the opposite, it as if this is the first time I have fully met and accepted myself.
    Truly powerful and amazing to read anothers tale of going into the darkeness, and finding the jewels to be mined there!

  18. Andy Says:

    When we say, Drop the story and feel the underlying energy, I get confused.
    Do I feel oil, gas, or solar. Oh my God, I feel methane.
    Is that code for the e word?


    So for example:
    I’ve dropped the story and the underlying energy is “I want to rip your head off”. (Not expressing this, just an extreme example to make the point)

    Is it permissible to feel the truth of that “energy”?

    Seems many in the “spirit” business don’t think so.
    For example, the other day I heard Dr. Dyer say “I think the greatest tragedy would be to lay on ones death bed and feel like one hadn’t fulfilled ones live purpose”, or something to that effect.

    Ones death bed is often the only place where some get to drop their story and feel the underlying energy (emotion). And, if that is regret, anger, sadness or all of the above.

    This is a beautiful thing.

    Not a tragedy! (thank you for your storyline Dr. Dyer)

    Feeling the emotions that drive our story
    Learning the stories that our emotions hold, because they are true, is where the door is.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant.


  19. Joel rumbolo Says:

    Stopping the story line and feeling the body is so powerful and with a little practice I have found it is quite spontaneous during daily activity. I’m a retired RN and so many times after a hard day I would come home and sit with the energy welling up in my body. I never forced against the story line but just made a choice to return to the sensations in my body when I realized I was off on the story. This practice should me two things. The impermanence of thought and sensations and the silent non judgmental nature of what we truly are. I don’t consider this technique or an activity anymore. It’s is the spontaneous way life flows through us.


  20. Michael Felberbaum Says:

    What a wonderful experience to spend some time with Pema Chodron. I’ve listened to many her of CDs and read all of her books. What a perk of your job!

    I can see why her answer to your question about confidence was so striking and profound. Who, besides Pema, would even think to put gentleness and confidence in the same sentence? Who else would so boldly claim that you can have confidence in EVERY situation despite the external circumstances?

    I think we’re conditioned to see confidence as somewhat intellectual, at least at the level of thought. How can we be confident when we don’t know something? How can we be confident when we’re wrong? For Pema to suggest that we can be confident in ALL circumstances, it would have to includes the (painfully embarrassing) ones where we’re the idiot and we just said the dumbest thing imaginable. In a room of people looking at us with blank stares, there typically isn’t a lot of encouragement for our confidence!

    I remember a professor I had at Wesleyan who struck me as incredibly confident, in a surprising way. There are plenty of professors who know lots of stuff, but what I loved about his particular manner was that he would say he didn’t know when someone asked him a particularly challenging question. He would just come out and say: “Hmm, I really have no idea.” If someone contradicted him, he would listen without defensiveness. What a surprise!

    Rather than shaking my confidence in him as an educator, it was very refreshing. Here’s a guy who is willing to care so much about our learning and his learning that he’s willing to fully admit that he really doesn’t know how to respond right there in front of a whole classroom — and, further, he’s not going to feel any pressure to save face, to pontificate, speculate or make something up. It reminds me of that quote from Rumi, something like: “Beyond right and wrong there is a frontier, I’ll meet you there…” This particular professor showed in his own actions that he was interested in the question – more interested in the question than being right. We always knew he’d think about it further. I really appreciated that. What a gift it is when we know someone will take our heartfelt questions and think about them too.

    Confidence (despite being wrong or not-knowing) reminds me of Fred Kofman’s teaching on the Knower vs. the Learner. His argument is that if we identify as someone who knows stuff, well, then there can be no confidence deep down, because on a different level of experience we understand intuitively that we’ll get stumped and surprised. So, our impressive knowledge is really a way of avoiding the simple, often beguiling underlying curiosity we have. We want to know. However, if we identify as a learner – someone who doesn’t know stuff – then when we say something silly or we can simply have no answer. We can say we have no answer, and we can be okay with ourselves too. In fact, it can spur our curiosity.

    It’s amazing how deep the notions of confidence, knowing and learning run. Even when we say to ourselves something like your example: “I should have had a plan” or “how could I have said that – of all things to say!” We can always do as you say and consider what to do next. We can ask ourselves: According to whom should I have a plan? Based on what should I have said something different? Right there, in that moment, we can see that it’s our knower judging away – resisting a surprise, fighting off being wrong, pushign away learning, and denying what’s going on – it’s our ego spiraling up and taking over.

    I thought it might be helpful to outline my interpretation from what you wrote. But I’m eager to learn more about this topic, and to hear this new audio program you’re putting together. I very much appreciate the work you are doing, and I love to see what new insights and ideas both you and Pema have to share.


  21. Marlowe Brown Says:

    Wow! This is one of the first blogs I have found in a long time where I actually feel BETTER after reading it. I have been a student of the Training In Power Academy for a few years now and one of the first things they teach us is to be gentle with ourselves. I’m now at a point where I can actually laugh at myself when the self-flagelation starts, but it was a long, hard journey to get here. A lot of duking it out with the inner critic.

    The cool thing about your post and Pema’s insights is that I never correlated “being gentle with myself” with increased confidence. Wow! You’re so right… she’s so right. Thank you so much for sharing this here and I will be sure to share this wonderful blog with our visitors.

    By the way, a fun thing I use once in awhile when my inner critic starts yapping away, I turn to it and say (very gently):

    “I see that you only want to protect me from pain and hurt. Instead of criticizing me, please tell me what you think I should do to make (insert whatever the inner critic is complaining about) it better. What would you do?”

    In other words, I can make my inner critic (ego/intellect) my ally by giving it a new way to protect me. I don’t know. I don’t always get a constructive answer, but it’s a fun little experiment at the very least.

    Thanks Again!

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