When the Story Falls Apart: How Beliefs and Emotions Interact

Beneath the stories we tell are emotions waiting to be felt. In this episode, we talk about how our stories and emotions interact and how feeling our emotions can help us find deeper stories.

"If you allow the emotions to move you, your stories change, period. Every time."

What We Discuss in Episode 52:

01:34   What stories are and how they impact our emotional experience.

09:14   Expanding the connection of stories to belief systems and identity.

11:42   The intellectual and emotional components of stories — how they interact and how they differ.

18:04   How moving our emotions also changes the story.

26:39   The paradox of stories both pointing to emotions and having the potential to slow down the movement of them.

30:24   The different stages of stories and the purposes they serve.

Follow us on Instagram at @artofaccomplishment to learn more about our guests and share your own experiences.

Transcript

Episode intro:
Allowing themselves to really move some anger can immediately create clarity in their world, or allowing someone to feel a deep well of sadness can immediately change their stories about somebody who has died, etc. That's how that works. That's how that part of it works. If you allow the emotions to move, your stories change. Period. Every time.
Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host, Joe Hudson.
Brett: Good morning, Joe. How are you?

Joe: I am good. We just had a connection course session. At the end, we did this cohort thing and so I got to do some hot seat coaching with some people. It was really fun.

Brett: Anything interesting come up from that_

Joe: Actually, the thing we are going to talk about today was present in it. A lot of what I do when I am hot seat coaching is to see through people’s stories or limiting beliefs and to see how the emotional component interacts with that story. I was noticing it a lot because I knew that’s what we were going to talk about. It was really cool and very present for me.

Brett: You are talking about seeing through the story. We recently did an episode on limiting beliefs. How do the story and emotions link together in the way that you are envisioning talking about right now?

Joe: Story is used often in our work, but there’s a good question about what it is. I would just describe story meaning any idea that you have, the idea that you put around a situation. I am outside and I am in nature. I am like this is enjoyable. That’s a story, it being enjoyable. Nature is beautiful. That’s a story. I wish they hadn’t cut down all these trees. That’s a story. Mankind is destroying the environment. That’s a story.

It’s not that they are true or not true. It’s not about. It is literally the idea structure you put around whatever it is that you are experiencing, and to some degree, it separates you from the experience. At some level, it informs your experience, and it can actually make the experience richer.

Brett: I am thinking about how this might interact with emotions is there is some emotion that comes up in us. It is like wow, I am angry. That’s a story. Also, you could use the recognition of being angry as a story, but that story might point to there might be something to feel underneath this.
Joe: That reminds me. When I was learning to have emotional experiences because I was very cut off from my emotions in my twenties, and I learned that if I could name the emotion I was having, like I am angry, it would help me feel it. Then, it was some years later I was with a friend, and I was like I am really sad. He said no, your telling me you are sad is a way to not feel it. He was dead on. I recognized that. Oh crap. The story can do both, and it does do both at different times, especially different times of development. This story is just the idea structure you put around an experience. That’s what it means.

Brett: I am going back to a couple of examples you just mentioned. I am looking out the window at some trees, at nature. This walking around in nature, wow, this is beautiful. That being a story separates me from just experiencing fully the nature, fully letting the sensory experience in because it is getting funnelled into the story.

Joe: Yes and no. I would say the more you believe the thought to be true, the more that it separates you. There are ways in which a thought can actually bring you more deeply into connection with yourself as well. The thought can do either. The thought can make you either more or less connected. What I have noticed is that in deep emotional experiences the stronger the story, the more stuck the emotional experience, typically.

Brett: In more of a personal development context, this might be I am angry because my parents did this to me back then, and now I am all fucked up for whatever reason. Now I just keep living in this pattern, and this pattern is just something I can’t get out of. It defines me now. I feel so angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad and bereft at all of this. To the extent you buy that story and hold it to be true, those feelings can only circle around inside the story.

Joe: It might be very necessary for somebody at some point in their development and some part of their journey in this is to be able to say that. For instance, I work with a lot of people who say their parents were perfect. That’s the first thing they will say. My parents were perfect. Usually if they are coming to me and saying that there’s going to be a moment when it is really important to them to say no, my parents had issues. That story needs to change, and they need to say it out loud and believe that story for things to be able to move. They also have to let go of that story that my parents screwed up in some way to also continue moving through it. All of the stories are very necessary, and they definitely interact deeply with the emotional experience to some degree almost the same thing, in a way.

Brett: It sounds like there is a hopscotching from story to story on the journey until eventually the stories become more and more diffuse and further and further apart. Eventually you just land in the full experience of yourself with all of its complexity. Stories come up maybe as something that’s useful in the moment. A thought is a story. Every sentence that I say is a story in some sense, but it is partially true and partially false, not my entire thought process, not my entire being.

Joe: Yes, that’s exactly right. I can’t find any thought that I have that’s hundred percent true, and I can’t find any thought that I have that’s hundred percent false. I would say the same thing with my identity and the same thing with everything. Thoughts by their nature are limited, and they cannot describe reality. I could not paint an accurate portrait of the world with one color, and I cannot describe the world accurately with only one function, intellect. To describe the full experience of something, I need something besides the intellect as well.

Brett: How do we see through stories? When we start to identify things that we might not have previously identified as stories, such as for some listeners it might be surprising to think those trees are beautiful is a story that separates me from them. What?

Joe: All of your thoughts are a story. You don’t have to look. Unlike a limiting belief, which is a story that is actually limiting you, every single thought you have is a story. There is none that isn’t.
Brett: Even the story that humanity is destroying nature could be the story that is making you feel constriction and blame, which separates you from the heartbreak and thus the personal responsibility of being a part of this morass of humanity.

Joe: Or you could tell the story that humanity is taming nature. You could tell the story that humanity is destroying nature. You could tell the story that humans are a part of nature, and we are like the forest fire, which helps recede the forest. There are infinite stories you can tell about the situation, and there is beautiful truth to all of them. There is lack of truth to all of them.

Brett: I have a favorite story there where humans are something that trees sent to go dig oil back up from the ground and put carbon back in the air for them.

Joe: Yes, I’ve heard the same thing. I think George Carlin had something that was like the Earth invented humans to make plastic. There are thousands of stories you can tell around it. The thing about it is we have an emotional experience all the time. We have stories that are about nature, and we have stories about ourselves. We call the stories about ourselves an identity, and all of them will have an emotional component to them.

Some of them are somewhat benign emotional components, and some of them are not. My dad loves me. My dad hates me. My dad is critical of me. Those would have a much deeper emotional component. You have the thought and identify in a specific way. I am lazy or I am no good or worthless. It is going to come with an emotional component to it. They are deeply tied together. Our belief systems and our identity all have an emotional correlation.

Brett: There is almost a way that the story comes up as the description of the emotion. We have the emotional experience, and then we try to understand it and come up with a story. The story is something that we want to be internally consistent that we can then use to predict and act upon.

Joe: It is never consistent. We all think it is, but it isn’t.

Brett: There is an attempt to make it somewhat logically consistent, and that’s the intellect coming in. You can then also use those stories as a path to the fully, fluid emotional movement underneath or what is trying to happen there.
Joe: My experience is using the stories to do that eventually means taking the stories all apart with other stories. It is deconstruction, and then the emotions move most fluidly when there is no story. If you look at animals, their emotions move very fluidly and there are fewer stories.

Brett: It sounds like something you are pointing to here is if there is a story, there are emotions behind it because stories are constructed of emotion. There is not always a story with emotions. It is possible to move an emotion.
Joe: Correct. The other thing that happens is we can tell ourselves new stories that change our emotions, which is a really interesting thing. If I listen to somebody talking on a podcast and I see myself differently because of that, then that new identity will have a new emotion. Maybe I feel relief because I am like wow, I see myself differently. I don't have to be constrained by that anymore.

If you look at this as far non-dual teachers or a lot of spiritual teachers, they are just sitting there telling teachers, but they are telling stories that change the emotional components of people. It's interesting. They do interact. There is a dance. It is not so much causal as it is one or the other. One is not greater than the other, and they do interact.
Brett: Tell me a little bit more about the way they interact and what makes that really important for this work and for this journey.

Joe: There is the intellect and the emotional way. This is the way I did it because I was very head-based. I just deconstructed all of the stories until I couldn’t believe any stories anymore, which allowed for a lot greater emotional fluidity. Then I found out it works in reverse, meaning if I am really stuck on something, and my head is doing that thing that most people’s heads do, which is cycling over the problem over and over again. What did I do? How do I fix it? I can’t believe I did that. That kind of thing.

You can release an emotion, and then boom, the story gets clarified. You can see things differently. You have seen this all the time where somebody has a big anger release or a sadness release, and all of a sudden, they feel so much clearer about a problem they were having. Oftentimes when I am working with people, I try to work on both, both the emotional and the intellectual, the story side of it.

We have attempted to give an emotional developmental model in one of our podcasts, but most of the developmental models that are cognitive talk about getting to a place where you can’t believe your own story or where you are using stories because they are useful for you, not because you believe them. Those are the ways intellectually or emotionally to see through the stories, to see they are not true if you believe them.
How do they interact? I think you said it perfectly. There is always an emotional experience happening. As long as you are awake and I would assume when you are asleep, there is always an emotional experience happening, and sometimes there is a story happening. Sometimes you are in a space of no thought, and there is no story happening, but the emotions are still occurring.

Brett: I think a lot of people are not very familiar with that place of not having thought or at least maybe they don’t recognize they are. There are times, but a lot of us really identify with always thinking. The first time we have that experience where thought drops and we are in the emotional experience, it is very disorienting because without a story, what do I know about myself? What do I know about the world right now? Is everything going to fall apart? Am I going to dissolve into a puff of smoke right now? What’s going on?

Joe: Yet we have experiences of it that people don’t even know they are having. In a wingsuit, I am sure you had moments of full non-thought. It is just presence.

Brett: That was one of the draws of it. This is a moment I am not thinking about my taxes or the laundry or whatever I did wrong last week. It is just presence with my environment and myself, and my body is doing the flying.

Joe: For some people, they look at a vista and have this moment, five seconds or something, where they just like [exhale].

Brett: When you are awestruck.

Joe: Awestruck is a way it happens. Hey, where did you go? I just spaced out. We have them, but what’s interesting is because we aren’t thinking during those times, the mind that is thinking has a hard time identifying them. I asked my daughter when she was nine years old if she had ever had that moment when you are looking out behind your eyes and you know there is something greater than you looking out behind your eyes, like its vastness, and she was like oh yeah, all the time. I was surprised. I think it is something that is very natural that we lose track of it, or we get into our neurotic thoughts and our churn, and we forget it is happening, that it is there and possible.
Brett: I recall sometimes when I was younger having a stare, and I would zone out. My consciousness would mix with the space, and I would be this not identity. Then I would pop out of it for some reason. Somebody would say my name. I would be like I zoned out, and I even had a story that developed around it of like I am a little bit of a space cadet. Then I get into doing meditation retreats, and it is like wow, all of this work to get back to something that eventually feels like that place.

Joe: That’s right. That’s the interesting thing. Even when you talk about people who have had what they would call awakening experiences, which I will just say it is a shift of identity, meaning when you are a little kid, you ask a little kid what mom wants for Christmas. I want GI Joe with a Kung Fu grip. What does dad want? Dad wants GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip. You see the world as you are the world in this very personal way, and then as you get older, you can see it differently. You can see I am different than my mom and than my dad.

When the identity shifts to the universal, let’s just call that awakening for whatever purpose. What happens is that there are people out there who have that shift of identity and then they have a story of this is bad and I don’t like this. There is another group of people who are like I have been working for this for 20 years, and finally I got it. This is a huge relief. Even that has a story to it, and so if you look at the readings of monks who have woken up and have this great sense of freedom and you read their stories, and then you go online and read the stories of depersonalization disorder, about 70% of the story of depersonalization story are almost identical to the monks waking up. It is an amazing thing. We can even have stories around that.

Brett: Something you pointed to there is this idea of awakening not being a particular thing that happens once, and it is complete. The process of growing an identity as a child, you have these micro identities that come up for just a period of time and then you grow out of them like you do a pair of shoes. The moment of growing out of it is the moment where you are in the unknown of what if mom and dad don’t want the GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip. What is real? Then you sit in that, and it consolidates into a new story.

Somewhere in there, there are emotions that are moving. There is a subconscious re-shifting. When we move emotions, how does that change our story? You were alluding to this a little bit earlier.

Joe: Sometimes moving the emotions change the story. Sometimes moving the emotions helps us discover the deeper story, like the next level of story that creates some freedom. Like I said, a lack of story often makes the emotions move much more fluidly. If you are not willing to feel the emotion, then there is a story in there that you haven’t found. Sometimes people can walk around feeling like I don’t have a story, but they are not moving emotions. That actually seems to be a very particular time of development where you see that happen.

Brett: There might be a subconscious shame you are not even logically aware of to the point where you have a story around it but that makes certain emotions, when they start to come up, be somatically suppressed before you realize they are there. To find those emotions, you might go through a series of stories, starting in some form of therapy or coaching that brings you into contact with what it is in your life that first of all is being affected by this suppression. There’s going to be some kind of frustration going on or some kind of depression or sadness, some dis-ease. Then you could find your hopscotch of stories that get down to what emotion is not being able to move.

Joe: I will give you a practical example here. Tara and I were looking for a place to live, and this was during the crash. I didn’t want to buy a house because I knew the crash was coming, and I had done the math. 2011 was when all these short-term loans were coming up, so that was going to be the down part of the market. We rented. It took us a long time to find this rental. We were about a year away from where we wanted to buy, and we were friends with the neighbors who owned the property. One day the neighbor yelled at our daughter, and Tara was not accepting that. They kicked us out. Every time I drove past this house, I just got this kick in the stomach. Wham. I would just drive quicker and try to push it down and not feel that experience.

One day I was like no, no, I am going to feel this experience. Every time I drove by the house, when I felt that kick, I would just stop the car and I would feel it. I would invite it. I want to milk this thing for everything. I am not going to avoid this. I am going to run right into it. It took a little while. I can’t remember, maybe two or three weeks, because I drove past it every day. All of a sudden it was like I could drive past that house with nothing but love. I had felt through all the pain of it. There was nothing I was trying to avoid. There was no more resistance to it.
In that, my story changed from these people are assholes who screwed us to I could see their pain, and I could see their anger. I could see all of them. It wasn’t just one aspect of them anymore that I was looking at. That’s how feeling your emotions can change your stories, or somebody really allowing themselves to really move some anger can immediately create clarity in their world or allowing somebody to feel a deep well of sadness can immediately change their stories about somebody who has died. That’s how that works. That’s how that part of it works. If you allow the emotions to move, your stories change. Period. Every time.

Brett: I can imagine how this can show up in a personal conflict as well. If someone has a story and you are really disagreeing with their story, and you are trying to deconstruct it and fight it, and then they are holding on to the story each tighter, they are less likely to move the emotion and come to a deeper story that includes more of both of your shared experiences.

Joe: I look at two people who are having a conflict. Neither of them feels seen, and neither of them feel understood. They can’t move the emotions. If you allow both of them to feel seen and understood, then everything can move and change. A lot of times what people will do is say I shouldn’t think they are assholes because they are trying to avoid the emotion. They will tell themselves they shouldn’t think this or that or this story is bad instead of thinking this is a story. It is what it is, and there is an emotion. Let’s feel the emotion.

Brett: They could have the story of I don’t want this person to have a story about me. I don’t like this story that I am being held to, and then that’s also a story that locks your own emotions in place and interacts with the others.
Joe: That’s exactly right.

Brett: How can you use the emotions to help find the deeper story? I say ‘use’ like they are a tool to use, not some deep part of us.

Joe: The story I have there is I was at this party once, and I was noticing a trend of mine. The trend was that anytime people were having superficial conversations, I would just be like pissed, judgmental and shitty. Oh yeah, I went shopping and I really liked the green but the chartreuse was a little bit better. I would just be wanting to throttle them. I thought this doesn’t make any sense, and it’s been ruling me for decades. I started to really feel into that. I would start finding people having what I would have at that time called shallow conversations and I would just go and be in it. It got awkward. I have to tell you there were some awkward moments. Two people talking about shopping, and I am just tearing up, crying, weeping over this.

I didn’t know why this was happening, but as I felt the emotions all the way through, it became clear. The story that became clear was when I was a kid, I was the guy shouting there is an elephant in the living room. I would talk about the pink elephant. We had an alcoholic household, and my job in the house was to say there is a problem. Everybody else’s job in the house was to say what problem, I don’t know what you are talking about. That’s not an issue, and to keep it superficial. That’s where the anger actually was. The anger was that. Once I felt the hurt underneath the anger of not being seen for all those years and not being respected for the role I was playing and being made the problem child or whatever it was, then there were just tears.

I can’t remember exactly how old I was then, maybe 35 or something. I was just like weeping while people were talking about driving to Santa Barbara. It was awkward, but it was great. Just by going into the emotional experience, it brought out the story that was hidden in there and that was holding me back. I think that happens a lot, especially people who can see through their own identity, but their emotions aren’t moving. I think that’s often the trick, really look for everything that’s uncomfortable and dig in and feel all the way. It will bring out the subconscious stories about who we are and what we have been through.

Brett: It sounds like there is a trap or a dodge that can occur where you see a story that you are in, and then you see through that story but then you see past feeling the emotion. You are thinking nothing is real. What is free will?

Joe: Yes, yes. That’s what I am talking about. You can do that, and you will still be bothered the next time somebody is having that superficial conversation or the next time that somebody cuts you off or whatever it is. You can overcome it in the moment. You can mentally sidestep it, but it doesn’t get you out of the pattern. If you want to get out of the pattern, you have got to feel the emotion all the way through.

Brett: Diving a little bit deeper into this paradox, the story is the pointer to the emotion, but the story also slows down the movement of the emotion if you cling to it.

Joe: This is something I discovered when Case died. Case, who I think I have mentioned here before, passed during his first silent retreat. I remember at that time one of his close friends said that I told you the silence would kill him. This guy talked all the time and was always with people. He passed, and I engineered a situation where his closest friends, a lot of people who had done deep work with him, all sat in a circle, and we all had a session together where we all expressed what was going on for us.

What I noticed at that point, not at that point but over the next months, is that the stronger the story, the longer the grief cycle took for them. There were lots of stories. He was happy. It was a perfect time for him to go. He died too soon. He was only 54. He was the light of my life; I can’t live without him. The stronger the story, the more personal the story was, just the slower the grief process was for people.

I remember none of those stories existed for me. It was interesting. Everybody was doing their thing, and when it came to me, I wailed and got really angry, really pissed. I couldn’t describe why. It didn’t make any sense to be pissed. It moved right through me, and my grief cycle was very short with Case. I’ve just noticed that generally.

In fact, I had a client the other day. One of the things I do for my L10 clients, clients who are executives, is if they want to do silent retreat, I will guide them through a silent retreat. I talk to them for 15 minutes a day and just help them negotiate their experience. That’s not the right word for it. I will help them see what they might be avoiding and then give them some sort of instruction to put themselves right in that spot.

After this retreat, this woman was crying. She said I don’t know why I am crying. I said great. She was disturbed by it, and I thought it was wonderful. I was like this is great because that means it is going to move very quickly. You don’t need to have a reason to have an emotional experience, and it will present itself to you most likely afterwards, whereas she was like I am crying for no reason. Something must be wrong. What’s wrong with me?

Brett: Then blocking the emotion and waiting until it is figured out before it can move.

Joe: Exactly. It became the way to block the emotion. I cry weekly usually. I get angry regularly and almost all the time I don’t know why. I don’t have a reason or a story. I don’t have this happened and therefore this happened. It is just stuff moving. It is just the emotional experience moving, and probably before we had thoughts, we had emotional experiences. I mean who knows what kind of thoughts all mammals have, but all mammals have these emotions. They move so much quicker that way, so much nicer.

Brett: Something else that comes up here around emotions that came from the story of Case and the funeral, I recently had a good friend die a couple months ago. I went through the stages. Everybody was posting things, like some thoughts. All of these thoughts are some form of story, and you could see people in different stages of their process, different stages of story. I wanted to write something for him, too, and post it to Facebook so our community could see it.

I recall just going from story to story. I would write something and see that it was a story. I would feel the emotion underneath it and I would write. I did that process for a couple of weeks, and then eventually it just dissolved. I didn’t have anything to say. Then I had this story that I should have something to say. My fucking friend died. What the fuck? I should have something to say on Facebook, a couple of paragraphs of words about this human that I loved. It just dissolved.

This story that I have to write something is gone, too, but there is also a weird paradox, which is here we are in a podcast. We are talking about a lot of our experiences, but sitting down and writing something, sometimes we want to have a story. A story is a way we can convey our life and our experience for others to consume. If you develop this habit of deconstructing a story the moment it comes to your mind, how do you stabilize any story to ever write a description for one of our recent podcasts I’ve been stumbling over for the past several days?

Joe: The way we are doing it right now is what my experience is. We are sitting here. I told three stories. You just told me a story. There is a way in which they all dissolve as soon as you tell them. Imagine the freedom of that, not you in particular but the people listening to the podcast. Imagine the freedom of watching the stories about your parents dissolve, the stories about yourself dissolve. Each one of them is moved through and there is relief in the freedom of them on the other side.

It is a strange phenomenon that I don’t entirely understand, which is everything I have just told you, I am not attached to it, and yet I can talk about it. I can talk about it even with an air of certainty to it. At the same time, it is completely illusory to me. There is nothing in me that buys into it. For a while, I was like that. I just couldn’t tell stories. There was a good year and a half where I was like I don’t even know. Now I realize how important they are. They are what make us humans. Stories are so important. I love them. I love watching them. I love seeing them.
Brett: That leaves me with my experience after we complete this podcast. Alexa actually suggested this to me yesterday while we were struggling with the description for the last episode. I am going to free write about what we just talked about and see what comes of it. Maybe it is a description for the episode.

Joe: Exactly. Let’s see what happens. Just to close it off, the reason I thought it was really important to share this is that if there are people who are listening to the podcast, the emotions are starting to move and the story is starting to dissipate, that’s not a problem. That’s progress. It can be disorienting, and you can ask yourself who you are. I want to point to the fact that that is great. That is a wonderful step that’s happening. It is not to be chased after. It just happens naturally.

Brett: It is a moment of growing past an identity into something larger. Beautiful. Thank you, Joe.

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