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Episode 30: The Three Levels of Your Story

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You are listening to LOVE AT HOME with LDS Life Coach Hannah Coles

Last week I talked to you about the past. Your past is just a story you tell yourself and the biggest takeaway that I hope you’ve tried applying and implementing in your life this week is that it’s all optional. Really and truly, it’s all optional what you keep, what you choose to focus on, and most importantly, the way you talk about it and remember it. 

When I talk about the past I like to tell my clients a story. We have these three options of what to think about our past. When you think back to your childhood, to your school, to your experiences in the past you’re going to think about it on one of three levels and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

The first step is awareness, always so I want you to see what level you’re living at and to offer you options of a different level, IF you want it. Sometimes we don’t and that’s okay too.

So I want you to picture this house. I live in California so there aren’t too many houses with three levels. But I know that in Utah and other parts of the country there are homes that have a full basement, the ground level, and then the second story. So picture this three story house. Let’s start in the basement.

In this basement it’s functional. There’s enough down there that you could live and sustain yourself but it’s cold down there. There’s a cement foundation – a solid foundation and even though there’s carpet over it, it’s still hard and cold. The walls are brick and cold. It’s small, confining. There’s light, but not natural light. The only light you have is from the artificial light you power into that space and most of the basements I’ve seen are cluttered. It’s easy to throw the stuff you’re not sure what to do with down there – so there’s things from decades ago and just lots of clutter.

Can you picture it?

This is the basement, the first level. In this level in your past it’s the victim mode level. It’s the thinking that what happened to you was wrong, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way, things should have been different. If things had been different YOU would have been different and not stuck where you’re at right now.

This is the level that it’s not fair. This is the level we hold grudges. We blame. We’re stuck.

There’s no real options for a way out. The only way out is through one opening, one door up a flight of stairs and it’s tiring to climb. A lot of people don’t want to climb. They like living there even though it doesn’t feel good. They want to hold on to their stories because they’ve made their identity out of it.

I know you’ve heard and have spoken with people that introduce themselves as a victim. It’s laced into just about every example they share or story they give. It’s because of the divorce. It’s because of my illness. It’s because of the abuse. It’s because we moved when I was 10. It’s because of my Mom and how she raised me. It’s because my parents never said they were proud of me, they still never do. It’s because I lost my job. It’s because I never get picked for anything. I never win anything. My house is always a mess and my family doesn’t help. It’s always me.

Know anyone like this? Maybe a little of ourselves there too? I do want to say that there isn’t any judgement for any of the three levels – it’s your path, your journey, your life. You get to decide what kind of life you want to live and at what level. This is just to show you there’s options. It’s all about awareness. So if you’re starting to feel defensive – ask yourself why.

Byron Katie says, Defense is the first act of war – so calm your soldiers and keep listening. Allow yourself the opportunity to hear the possibilities and then you can decide where you want to live and what level feels best to you and serves you best.

On this level there aren’t many options because you can’t see outside. You don’t realize there’s a whole world of possibilities open to you. You’re blinded and confined to these four walls, these four hard, cold walls. I say cold because when you’re in victim mode it’s a harsh place. It’s someone or somethings fault that you’re unhappy and you’re just waiting and waiting for them to fix it.

So let’s start that trek up those stairs. It’s a hard trek. There’s a lot of stairs to climb. Each step is letting go a little bit of that story, of the blame, of the it’s not fair verbiage. But once you open that door it’s a beautiful space. It’s wide open. There’s so many windows and the natural light feels so nice and warm. The floor is softer. The walls are gentler. There’s a world out there with beautiful trees and vegetation. 

This is the ground floor. This is the floor that most  people live on. You can be highly functioning on this level. You feel that there’s a sense of freedom, there’s possibilities, there’s growth. It’s on this level that you take this almost Nobel approach. It’s the concept that, “because that bad thing happened to me, I am now…”

Here’s an example, one client struggled in her relationship with her Mom. Her mom wasn’t a real hands on kind of mom. She didn’t come by, she never called, she didn’t spend time with the grandkids. This woman was mad, she was hurt, she was confused. For years she spent a lot of time on the first level, down in the basement, down in the victim mode level. She felt that it was wrong. That somehow she was cheated out of the relationship she thought she deserved and that she should have had.

She spent years complaining, crying, hurting inside and arguing with reality that things should be different. Her mom should want to spend time with her and her kids. She should call, she should come by, that’s what Mom’s do. But the basement is cold. It doesn’t allow for growth or freedom. She was just stuck in her story for a long time. Then little by little she made that trek up the stairs and dropped some of her story.

She was able to forgive a bit and she started to feel better. She told me that all that in the past was okay because now she is the kind of mother to her kids that her mother wasn’t for her. It’s okay that things were negative and lacking because she’s more compassionate towards others. It’s because of what happened to her that she’ll never allow that to happen to any of her loved ones. She spun this tale as one of triumph and victory and it was. It was a triumph to move out of level one, out of the basement.

But there’s still another level. There’s still some unnecessary weight that is holding her down. See, on this level you’re still believing that something was wrong. You’re still a victim. You feel more empowered because you can at least function at this level but every time you think about it, it bothers you, it hurts you all over again, and you’re back in the victim seat again to this person, to the past, to your story. There’s still a portion of your power you haven’t gotten back. You’ve given this person, this circumstance a chunk of your power and you’re still waiting, hoping, needing them or it to be different.

I was talking to a woman once that said, “you know, I’m totally fine most of the time. Most of the time I feel good, I’m happy, I’m able to take on the world and this thing rears it’s ugly head and I’m a mess all over again.” This is the second level talking. There’s more functionality here. There’s more control over your power, your emotions, your actions, but…there’s still those thoughts tied to the belief that something should have been different. Something shouldn’t have happened and something needs to be made right.

So you’re stuck waiting, hoping, needing.

What I want to offer to you today is this level three thinking. It’s on this higher level that we drop all of that. We drop the needing, the hurting, the hoping, and the waiting. Level three is all about pure freedom, pure joy, and control over your life and your emotions.

This third level is what we call unconditional love. It’s going up to this glorious second story with a wide open balcony and seeing the entire span of your surroundings. You can feel the warmth of the natural light, you can see the bigger picture, you’re open to endless possibilities and potential.

This third level isn’t easy to get to. It requires you to drop the story that something wrong has happened, that something should have been different and embrace the knowledge that everything in your past is perfect for you. The family you have or had is perfect for you. The circumstances that happened in your life were perfect. Nothing needs to be changed on this level. It’s without condition. It’s unconditional and it’s amazing.

The Savior lived His life and ministry on this level. He, of all people could have said, “that’s wrong. They shouldn’t have done that to me.” But He never did. He just loved, invited, He WANTED things from us. He invites us to come to Him. But He didn’t NEED that from us to feel love for us. Because when you love unconditionally, who gets to feel that?

There are people in the scriptures that I can honestly say that I LOVE them. I love their example, I love that we have records of their expereince. I love that they weren’t perfect but were very human and offered me thoughts to adopt so that I can persevere. I’ve never met them – at least in my mortal life but I love them. They don’t feel my love – I feel my love towards them. I feel it. When I love you, that’s something for me to feel. 

Dallin H. Oaks said that, “love is the most powerful force” and I agree. When you feel LOVE you’re more motivated to go and do and love some more. You want to reach out, to serve, to help, to uplift, to encourage and as you do that, YOU get more of that in return. This third level is unlimited in potential as to what you can do, what you can create, what your options are.

But it comes at a cost. It requires that you let go of past grudges. You recognize that it’s your story that is crafting the hurt and you take that responsibility and decide to adopt a new belief. 

Try this thought on, “My past was perfect for me” – how does that feel? What comes up for you when you think that thought?

When I offer that to my clients they feel pushback. Thoughts come rushing forward, like, “But it wasn’t perfect because…” Then they share their story of what shouldn’t have happened and why it wasn’t perfect. 

One thing that I’ve learned over time is that we need to be very articulate about our definitions. Sometimes we make PERFECT mean that we were happy all the time and that the sun shined everyday and just daisies and rainbows and all gloriousness but that’s not perfection. That’s not JOY.

Google defines it as:  having all the required or desirable elements OR absolute; complete

Never does it say, that you were happy all the time. 

There’s a quote that I love and rely on at times from Richard G. Scott. He says, 

“You may not always know why your Father in Heaven does what He does, but you can know that He is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. He would have you suffer no consequence, face no challenge, endure no burden that is superfluous to your good. He would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love.” “Obtaining Help from the Lord,” by Richard G. Scott, General Conference, Oct. 1991

I love this truth. Believing this helps me let go of my attachments to the second level and propels me upward and onward. It helps me drop the belief that, “because this bad thing happened to me I can endure because it’ll help others.” To the higher and holier belief that, “Nothing has gone wrong. It is exactly as it’s supposed to happen. This is exactly what I needed, what my loved ones needed. This is the perfect path for me.”

There’s a huge difference in these beliefs. On level two we’re still holding onto some entitlement. There’s still some resistance. We still cling to the belief that things shouldn’t have happened the way they did. The belief that we’re entitled or owed the happy life, the easy life, the comfortable life. But that’s not what Heavenly Father promises. He promises that we are here for JOY. 

I love the scripture in James that says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions.” (JST, James 1:2.) 

We’re here to learn, to grow, to become, to be refined. We all want to be perfect but none of us really wants to go through the refiner’s fire to become perfect. Can we just skip that part? That hurts. It shouldn’t hurt. It should be easy. This isn’t fair. Why me?

But when you can embrace each circumstance with the belief that your Father in Heaven is perfectly just, perfectly merciful, that He would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed, that this path, this road, this experience is perfect for you.It drops the resistance. It drops the need to argue and limit yourself to the second level. Letting it go frees you’re from the unnecessary weight you’re carrying.

Sometimes I struggle because I don’t understand and we humans really, really want to understand. So when we don’t understand, we struggle. I love Nephi’s response to this.

In 1 Nephi he writes, “I know that He (Heavenly Father) loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

This one scripture has helped me through so many times that I feel stuck on the lower two levels. I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense. A big part of me wants to know why. I want to murmur. I want to go back. I want things to be different. But then I remember and strengthen my resolve and commitment to my faith that, I don’t know why things are the way they are sometimes. I don’t know why that happened but I know that my Father in Heaven LOVES me perfectly and because I know that, I don’t HAVE to know all things to move forward with faith.

Neal A Maxwell once said, “There have been and will be times in each of our lives when such faith must be the bottom line: We don’t know what is happening to us or around us, but we know that God loves us, and knowing that, for the moment, is enough.” (Not My Will, But Thine, p. 120)

Knowing this, believing this creates an amazing feeling inside of me. When I believe this I feel directed. I feel LOVED. I feel courageous. I feel peace that everything is as it’s supposed to be. That I’m on the right path. I also remind myself of what Henry B. Eyring once said, 

“If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill.”

Our mortal life is not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be uphill. It’s supposed to stretch us, to strengthen us, to refine us. Think about those words. They’re not pleasant words when you think about it.

Stretch – to pull, sometimes it feels like we’re being yanked. Have you ever taken a yoga class? Ouch! I thought I was limber and I feel pretty flexible but then I went to this yoga class and I was feeling pretty awesome being able to fold and bend easily until the instructor came over and applied pressure to my back putting extra weight on my pose and creating so much discomfort as there was still some room for improvement there. It’s uncomfortable but it’s not wrong. It wasn’t wrong of her to help me. I knew that this was the way to get better. I needed her help to do so. Just like we need these experiences to stretch us.

What about the word, to strengthen – What comes to mind? Weights? The gym? What happens to your muscles when you lift weights? How do your muscles grow and get stronger? 

Your muscles tear and rip to expand, heal and as it heals it grows allowing you to become stronger and adapted to the demands placed upon it. Ouch, though, right?

It’s one of the adversaries biggest ploys to thwart us off course of keep us stuck and limited by believing that things should be easy, comfortable, and happy all the time. It’s this believe that keeps us on the basement level or the ground level. It’s only when you drop this entitlement and this belief that growth should be easy and on our terms that we’re able to soar.

“You are a Child of God of INFINITE CAPACITY.” – You were meant to soar not to be confined by a roof of limiting beliefs. 

I want to go through the three levels again, this time with a scriptural account so you can understand this concept more deeply. 

I’ve always loved the example of Joseph. I’m taking a lot of liberties here so bear with me. He lived a good life, raised by good parents, taught many things and was loved by his parents. His brothers were envious of his privileged life and when he was 17 they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery. I read somewhere that scholars believe he was in slavery for over a decade.

A decade of wondering why. A decade of replaying the circumstance over and over again. A decade of feeling hurt, offended, mad, angry, confused. 

I don’t know if this is how he felt, but this is how I imagine I’d feel if I were in that position.

I know that I would be in level one for sure. This isn’t right! They shouldn’t have done this! It’s not fair! I didn’t do anything wrong.

Then years later he is wrongly accused by Potifar’s wife and thrown into prison. For two years he’s in prison. There’s enough here that anyone would think, “why?! Why me? This is wrong. It’s not fair, it’s not right!”

Skipping ahead we know that Joseph was able to interpret dreams and after two years of being in prison had the opportunity to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which he does and because of this he gets the title of being second to Pharaoh. 

Finally, some relief. Finally, I’d imagine some light. Maybe he’s on level two now. I can imagine him thinking, “okay, because all these wrongs happened to me it placed me where I needed to be to help all of Egypt.” It’s starting to make a little sense, there’s a little light. There’s some understanding.

Then the famine hits and as Cannanites are coming to Egypt for relief his brothers come for help too. 

Think about what this must feel like. In our own ways I know that we can each relate a tid bit to this – when you’re apart from the issue that hurt so long ago and then something comes back up and you’re knocked down all over again. You can feel like you’ve moved up to the top stair towards level three only to be dropped right back into the basement again. 

When he sees his brothers we know that he’s feeling something other than unconditional love for them because he creates this ploy to frame Benjamin, the youngest, the favorite of stealing from him. He wants justice. He wants something from them, to be validated that this wrong happened to him, that it shouldn’t have happened to him. This is level one talking. This is basement thinking.

His heart is softened when he hears his brothers plea’s for mercy and seeing that Judah would sacrifice himself so his younger brother wouldn’t be condemned. It’s in these moments that Joseph, with the Lord’s help is able to make the trek back upstairs, back up two flights of stairs  to the third level. The level of understanding. The level he drops the entitlement, the victim mode, the grudges, the resentment, the hurt and he reveals himself to his brothers. He forgives them because he knows that this was all part of his journey. That he was always on the right path. That he was being stretched, torn, ripped, refined by fire so that he could soar. 

In Genesis (45:2) we read,  

And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard…I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life…And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

I think these are some of the most beautiful words in the old testament. The forgiveness not resentment. The love instead of anger or hurt. The understanding instead of entitlement. 

Letting go of those past hurts, the things weighing you down believing that this was part of your journey. That your past was indeed perfect for you – not easy, not by any means easy, but perfect nonetheless is the third level. 

When you can look back and count all your afflictions as joy instead of holding onto that that thread that things should have been different will release the bindings tethering you down to the first and second level.

It’s when you can drop the thoughts that are weighing you down. 

Recognize what level you’re on. Here’s a recap of the three levels again:

First level or basement floor – victim mode. This is wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. They need to fix it. Justice needs to be served. Anger, resentment, hurt, despair, blaming – all of these are basement level thoughts and feelings.

Then you move up to level two – the ground floor – Here you are able to function, you’re highly functioning. You can move about, you’ve grown. You’ve accepted what happened and you’re moving forward but there’s still the belief that something is wrong. Something should have been different. The past isn’t what it was supposed to be but because of that I’m like this. I’m elevated or changed because of it but it’s still wrong.

Some feelings for that level are: empowered, strong, acceptance, some forgiveness, but also, hurt, offended, entitled

Then the third level, the second story, the balcony, the higher view. Here there’s no entitlement just faith that everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be. The main thought here is: “my past is perfect for me.”

Feelings are LOVE, unconditional love – loving without any conditions, pure forgiveness, abundance, gratitude, humility, and power.

There’s a huge variance between all three levels and the thoughts and feelings are vastly different. Notice the feelings each level creates. Be aware of where you’re at and please know this isn’t to tell you to drop everything and hike it to the third level – if you’re on the basement floor. It’s okay. It’s part of your journey. It’s okay to be there because you’re supposed to be there, you’re supposed to learn, grow, and use your agency to decide if you want to stay there, how long you want to stay there, and what you’ll do next. There are countless examples in the scriptures where people are on the basement level. It’s okay. Heavenly Father is unconditionally loving. He is perfectly patient. If that’s where you’re at. It’s okay. Just know that when you’re ready there’s two more levels to experience. There’s options. There’s growth. There’s light, warmth, and freedom IF you want it.

How do you want to feel? What thoughts and feelings do you want to be experiencing? What level are you on? Know that where you are at is a choice. It’s not a sentence. You’re not locked in to any level. There are no bars on the windows or locks on the doors. You can move forward whenever you want to. You are only one thought away from experiencing an entirely different world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as always. I appreciate those that leave reviews for me on iTunes. It makes such a difference. Thank you! I’ll talk to you next week everyone, goodbye!

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