A Mental Trick that Changes Your Relationship to Conflict
by Jordan Myska Allen, a lover of life and entrepreneur. He acts as a psychological, spiritual, and professional consultant and practices applied integral thinking.
The Secret of Story Telling
Why do the heroes of our favorite stories always get into worse and worse trouble? Because the mind loves conflict, and good writers take advantage of this. The worse the situation is, as long as we believe it is remotely possible, the more intrigued we are.
Simply put, more drama = more attachment.
And in storytelling, more attachment means more readers, viewers, fans, etc. The formula for a page turner is to end every single scene with a disaster that plunges our main character into deeper misery.
We Love Drama
Would you read a story without conflict? Do you want to hear about Han Solo and Leia washing dishes, cooking dinner, and taking out the trash?
Of course not. Without any drama, you have no attachment to the outcome. There is little entertainment value.
We love drama. It is fun! What if we saw our own lives this way?
Assuming A Happy Ending
At first glance, this seems cruel. But in fiction we often put up with the stress of compounding disasters because we are confident that the hero will eventually succeed in their overall goal.
We read with the basic assumption that no matter how bad it gets, by the end of the story the good guys will win. This makes the story immensely enjoyable, even if our favorite characters are suffering terribly. Stress is excitement, because we know it cannot last forever. We are thinking about current events from the end of the story.
What if we viewed our own suffering from the end of the story? Would some current terror suddenly make sense? Could our current stress be also experienced as excitement?
Bad Luck Today Can Be Good Luck Tomorrow
Most people have the experience of going through a tribulation—such as a break up, losing a job, or illness—that becomes the fuel for their liberation. What seems insurmountable in the moment is later understood to be an essential part of who they have become and the joy they experience in life that they never would have before the trial. While they might never elect to go through the trouble again, and while they would never recommend it to anyone else, they would also never go back and change the way it all went down. They get to see their suffering from the end of the story. The good guys (gender neutral) won, in the end.
Would your current suffering make sense from the end of the story? And if it would, does that change the way you experience it now?
The Difference Between Fiction and Life
Of course the difference between fiction and life is the natural orientation to a happy ending. Many people do not assume a happy ending to their life is inevitable. Such a presumption requires faith of some kind, because the future is unknowable in the way in which we experience reality.
I propose that all life has a happy ending—that our true nature is indeed divinity.
Yet this technique of embracing and enjoying the drama of our moment to moment experience of life—wanting that which we do not have, of always needing more (even more oxygen or water or food)—can fundamentally shift our experience even without that faith. Because even stories with sad endings can still be enjoyable.
Ask anyone who watches Game of Thrones.
Enjoying the Story Without A Happy Ending
This is not just a silver lining in a cloud. A silver lining assumes that clouds are bad. Storm clouds themselves can be incredibly valuable for the rain which brings everything to life. Rain is not a silver lining of the storm, it is inseparable from the storm. Rain is more than the purpose of the storm—rain is the storm.
Just like drama is the story.
Pushing away the drama guarantees suffering, because you are in conflict with the moment. It’s like trying to push away the rain. Yet seeing life like a story it is possible to embrace the moment and enjoy the story. You can even embrace the conflict of wanting to push away suffering, as that is a very rich story with a long and sordid history.
This is a simple reframing of experience, but it is deeply powerful. We can imagine that this momentary suffering will make sense in light of some future resolution. Yet even without a positive resolution, if we see our drama is just a story, we can enjoy it like a good movie or a good book.
And if we enjoy the story, is it really a sad ending?