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Real Love

The Art of Mindful Connection

By Sharon Salzberg
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Real Love by Sharon Salzberg
Synopsis

Real Love (2017) draws our attention to the habits and cultural conditioning that stop us from forming deep connections with others. By inviting us to expand our notions of love and the ways in which we practice it in our day-to-day lives, Sharon Salzberg provides practical advice on how we can strengthen our relationships and experience more joy. 

Key idea 1 of 9

The stories told about our lives have a significant impact on how we see ourselves, for better or for worse.

No one knows our lives better than we do, right? It follows then that the stories we share about our experiences will be honest accounts. Well, it turns out that’s not the case. None of us are reliable narrators, no matter whose life we’re talking about – not even our own.

Our brains constantly seek to make sense of the events that happen in our lives, filling in any gaps to create cohesive narratives. These stories are so powerful that we assume they must be true, but they’re often misleading. For instance, a child bitten by a dog might believe that all dogs are aggressive. This story will create a lifelong fear of every dog he encounters. 

These faulty narratives not only shape how we see the world around us, they can also unconsciously influence how we view ourselves. For example, when Diane’s fiancé broke off their engagement, she dismissed her own serious doubts about the relationship and concluded that she was “unlovable.” This story of unlovability was one Diane had been telling herself since childhood, so it felt logical to her that she was the sole reason her relationship had failed. 

The stories other people tell about our lives also muddy how we see ourselves. Through their words and actions, our family members and friends can significantly shape our attitudes toward ourselves.

This is the experience Gus had as a child. Gus had four rowdy brothers, and his love for books and music labeled him as different in his roughhousing, outdoorsy Montana family. His dislike for their passions – camping, hunting and fishing – meant his family members often put him down. 

Luckily, Gus also experienced the positive impact stories can have. His uncle Don saw value in his sensitivity and would stand up for Gus, calling him gifted. Over time, Gus’s family began to celebrate his uniqueness, which helped Gus embrace who he was.

Once we’re aware that we can all be unreliable narrators – whether we’re telling stories about ourselves or others – we can pay attention to the angle from which we’re telling our stories. For example, remember Diane’s story of being unlovable? She was able to identify it and then reframe it into a more healthy story by practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, which we’ll be looking at in the blinks ahead.

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