Mind Stories Create Our Experience II: Nausea and the Colour Maroon

Here’s my personal story on how my mind’s attempt at keeping me alive (Ciarrochi & Bailey, 2008) MESSED with me in the present moment, and how changing my mind stories changed everything:

When I was seven years old I visited my grandmother in Texas and I became very ill.  As I lay ill on my bed, my grandmother covered me with a warm, richly coloured, maroon blanket and brought me some soup.  I ate the soup.  I promptly threw up the soup.  I lay on the bed moaning and looking at the maroon blanket covering me.

After 24 hours of moaning and illness, I felt better. I got up from my bed, and played all day outside in the beautiful Texas sun. Then I came inside my grandmother’s house, feeling ready for a nap.  I went into my bedroom.

The problem was, once I saw the maroon blanket on my bed, I again felt nauseous.  I couldn’t be in the same room as the maroon blanket without feeling nauseous. Months later, back home in Canada, my mother bought me some maroon clothes.  I couldn’t wear them because every time I looked at them they made me nauseous.

The colour maroon became my enemy: as an adult I avoided clothes, furniture, books, anything that was maroon because just a glimpse of the colour could bring on a wave of sickening nausea.  For years, my mind took the experience of the colour maroon, connected Maroon with nausea, decided Maroon was NOT SAFE, and put every later experience of the colour Maroon in the category NOT SAFE.  I learned to look out for Maroon, to actively avoid Maroon, and to actively avoid the experience of nausea that my mind told me meant that Maroon was making me sick.

I could have kept my avoidance of Maroon going for more than 35 years.  However, life has a way of curing avoidance.  I was cured of my repulsion for the colour maroon when I was accepted into graduate school at Texas A&M University.  The school colours of Texas A&M are – yes you guessed it – Maroon.

At Texas A&M everyone wears maroon, parties are “Maroon Out” events, and students boast that they actually “bleed Maroon.”  It was face Maroon or give up my chance to do a Ph.D..  I had to soak in Maroon for years to counter the one original experience that drove my mind’s persistent stories about the nausea-inducing qualities of Maroon.  To reverse my mind’s active story-making,  I had to change my story about the colour Maroon to a story where Maroon could mean opportunity, growth, and joy (Maroon = SAFE) rather than Maroon = NOT SAFE.

I went from a story about repulsion for the colour maroon to a story about celebrating victories surrounded by thousands of people wearing maroon.   The mind as the “don’t get eaten machine”  (Ciarrochi & Bailey, 2008) makes a plethora of well-intended but inaccurate stories and judgments about what our experience means.  Unexamined mind stories can often override the reality of our senses.  In reality maroon was no more responsible for me getting ill at age 7 than my grandmother was.  Avoidance of new experiences based on unexamined mind stories can rob us from following our goals and dreams.  The good news is that the mind and its stories can change.  My stories changed. Your stories can change too.

What do you choose: stories that bring suffering and avoidance, or stories that help you embrace life and move you towards what you love?  Mind stories do “change everything” (Ciarrochi & Bailey, 2008).

Here is a fun sample of the whole culture of Maroon at my alma mater Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

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References
Ciarrochi, J. & Bailey, A. (2008).  A CBT practitioner’s guide to ACT.  Oakland: New Harbinger.

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