Stories are the way that we make sense of our worlds, at least for most of us. We make sense of our day through narrative. “Oh, today was a good day, because I got a parking place right away at work, and I had lunch with a good friend, and I was productive at work, and my favorite song was on the radio during the ride home.” That might not sound like much of a story, but it is certainly a typical way for a person to make sense of experiences. There is also judgment within the story, an indication of pleasure or displeasure about the way that the experience unfolded. And that story can have a lot of power. For example, a story about a “good day at work” can influence mood and social interactions for the whole evening, and maybe even predispose the storyteller to experience the next day in a positive way.
Of course it works in less obvious ways, as well. We can tell ourselves stories about how we’ve been badly treated, about how the world dispenses injustice, or about the things we would like to do to act out on feelings we’re having. We can tell ourselves stories about how we can do something or about how we cannot do something. Stories help us to construct our sense of ourselves as well as our sense of the world around us.
When we hear stories, we often respond viscerally. That is, we have a feeling about the story we hear. There is a set of sensations in the body, responses that happen just as a result of hearing a story, reading a story, watching a movie or tv show. We don’t even need to be “into it” very much to have a response. In fact, distancing can be a response to a story.
The story you tell yourself helps to create the YOU that you are. You can choose the story, though. You are not stuck with the story you have already in place. Perhaps you could tell yourself a story about a person who was stuck in old patterns, who had few different ways to behave, who was not so spontaneous, who didn’t feel feelings very clearly. Perhaps this person was learning about other ways to be in the world, was starting to think about taking some risks to be different than before. Perhaps he or she was getting ready to become someone different. Below is an exercise using a metaphor around this kind of story.
- You can bring your body into this exercise, or just attend to your thinking and notice that your body comes along. For example, you might imagine that you are going through a change process, perhaps like the one that turns caterpillars into butterflies. You could imagine yourself all wrapped up tightly in a chrysalis, change happening but not yet visible to the outside world. If you want to, use your body to help your mind in this imagining.
- Feel the tightness of the hard case around you; feel your own desire to break out and begin to move freely.
- Notice how your face and head feel, how your back and legs and torso feel, while in this tight casing.
- Notice your own awareness of the changes in your consciousness as you have been learning more about yourself.
- Notice the parts of your body that particularly want to expand and open.
- Then using your powers of mind, imagine the hard casing of the chrysalis easing open, gently splitting to reveal …. what? Now just let that opening happen and allow whatever is there to emerge, providing a welcome to whatever is present for you at this moment. Welcome the new sensations, images, feelings, ideas, with compassion. If they are not what you wanted, still welcome them with kindness, knowing that there is something there for you, even if it might not be what you decided in advance should be there.
Acceptance of what is allows things to change.
Many thanks to ” Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org ” for the insect photos, and to Brenda on Flickr for the books. My apologies for using an old saw…the butterfly metaphor….but it works.
How do you see yourself reflected in the stories you tell yourself? What would it mean for you to know that you are not your stories? How might your life open up?