02 Jun The Useless Narrative — Prapañca
The “Spoiler of the Present”
I want to play through a few situations, many of which will be eerily familiar to you:
- Making a sales pitch to a big client
- Giving a Best Man (or Maid of Honor) speech at a wedding
- Forgetting your unlimited Metrocard at home
- Losing your luggage upon arrival at a big trip
Most of these produce anxiety, with probably #1 and 2 taking the throne. So lets start with a deeper analysis of the first one:
1. Making a sales pitch to a big client
You’ve got that meeting and you’re a key participant. Hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps millions) are on the line if the client decides to use your firm. You’ve spent weeks preparing the deck, the supporting notes, the anecdotes you’re going to use, even potentially presenting to a friendly audience or mirror.
The days leading up to the presentation are a blur. You’re not present for your loved ones. You can’t eat. Your habits go to shit, you stop working out and can’t sleep.
Say hello to my little friend — Prapañca
What’s racing through your mind at this point is probably:
I fuck up the presentation 👉 Don’t win the Business 👉 Boss Yells at me 👉 I get Fired 👉 We end up dead and broke on the side of the road
I’ve experienced this useless narrative hundres of times in my life. Now two serious questions for you
- Has anyone you know ever been fired because they delivered a bad client presentation?
- If so (and I call bullshit that it has happened) have they ever ended up broke because of said presentation?
Let’s take our next situation:
2. Giving a Best Man Speech
I had to give one for my best friend Lou in March of 2011. I carved out two entire weekend days to write it and then a third day to rehearse it as I wanted to give the speech from memory.
Then the Wedding Day arrived. Sweaty palms all day. After the beautiful church ceremony, the wedding party got in a small shuttle for some pictures. Everybody started ripping Bud Lights. Except me. I couldn’t be tipsy for my speech. I just sat there, sweating and reciting the speech in my head.
Same for cocktail hour. This wedding had an EPIC one with everything ranging from sliders to sushi. A top shelf open bar. Again, I think I dipped into a corner to practice the speech in my head.
Thankfully, the wedding gods were looking down from above me and my speech was right at the beginning. I did it, it went smoothly and then game on. I proceeded to get blackout drunk with my best friends in the world on a night that we still talk about half a decade later.
But man, talk about those 4 hours before my speech — a true “spoiler of the present.” I’ll explain
Fuck up the speech 👉 Get boo’d off the stage 👉 Best friend and other friends think you let them down 👉 Shame takes over 👉 You lose all your friends, get ridiculed by your community and you die alone
I think you’re starting to get the point, but for emphasis I’ll add the last two:
3. Forgetting your unlimited Metrocard at home
Forget the card 👉 Curse at yourself for [5–60 minutes] 👉 End up broke (and possibly dead) on the side of the road
4. Losing your luggage upon arrival at a big trip
Can’t find your luggage👉 Curse at airline (both IRL and in your head) 👉 Curse the fact that your vacay is ruined 👉 Calculate the replacement cost in your head 👉 End up broke (and possibly dead) on the side of the road
What the Fuck?!??!
I know that you are reading this and a) it sounds completely insane but b) you’ve had this useless narrative in your head.
In my early dabbling with Buddhist philosophy, this is the one concept that has resonated extremely strongly with me. Much of Buddhist philosophy is around noticing, or discerning. Our minds are messy — they are a delicious cocktail of fears, insecurities, emotions, judgment, value systems, trauma, envy, past experiences and so much more. Our minds are hoarders and we tend to over-index on the negative.
So of course when a small thing sets you off, like the perception of lost luggage, you will extrapolate to your worst case outcomes. (Notice the use of the word “perception,” as in my specific example the luggage turned up).
Taken a step further, you will Extrapolate To Your Worst Fears (and I’ve heard others refer to Prapañca as The Imperialistic Tendency of the Mind).
In my examples, the main fear is That of Poverty (which is a deeper Fear of Death) that you see in the Sales Pitch, Metrocard, and Luggage example.
A secondary one, in the Wedding Speech example is of Abandonment (i.e. being alone) and Ego-death (i.e. humiliation).
Are there any tools to combat this?
It sounds obvious, but the first tool is discernment — noticing that it is happening. Believe it or not, I never realized that this was happening until it was given the name Prapañca.
Second, there are little questions that you can ask yourself such as:
- “Is this conversation useful?”
- “Do you want to borrow pain from the future?”
- Or more simply — “Did anyone ever die broke because of a failed sales pitch?”
And third, which is where the hard (but meaningful) work begins is leaning into your fears. This is a lifelong journey, which requires deep self-inquiry, coaching, community, reflection, reading, and mindfulness. For me, Buddhist philosophy has really resonated because it helps you develop the frameworks to help with that discernment.
We spend a lot of time (and money) on our “outer technology,” skills, information, physiques yet our “inner technology,” asking the question why, our hearts, souls, emotions are left untended.
My personal journey has evolved into finding a better harmony between those two states.
Thank you for reading.
Reflect, flow, write, with a timer, Day 2
I’m experimenting with a daily writing process, focusing on just ideas and nothing else.