The Many Stories We Live In

By Paul Dunion | July 30, 2017

We tend to see ourselves as either knowing something or eager to know. We tend to forget about ourselves as the inquirer. Our personal identities become vague and opaque. There may be a richer way to both be informed by our experience and be clearer about whom we are. I would invite the consideration that if we are conscious, we are living in some story. Hence, we can pause and become familiar with the story we are currently living in. We can then allow the story to inform us about whom we are and our experience of life.


Anatomy of a Story

There are several key elements to any story, whether narrated or lived in. The first is the main character. We can expand our understanding of ourselves as the main character by asking: Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is life presently asking of me? What impact are my values presently having upon me? How am I responding to the impact? What do I currently fear? What are my internal and external resources? Am I willing to surrender to being guided?

The second component in our stories is the setting. In regard to the setting we can ask: What is the political and social climate I currently live in? What is the psychological climate of my home life? How would I describe the physical environment I call home? How would I describe the emotional climate in my work place?

The third element of our stories is the plot or events and choices related to some personal conflict. Asking can reveal the active plot in our stories: What do I desire? Is there some internal attitude limiting the fulfillment of my desire? What are the external events and situations in support of my desire? Are there any external impediments to my desire? Who is currently influencing me? What is my response to the influence?

The fourth aspect of our stories is some conflict or the place we are struggling. What do I need to do in order not to succumb to some limiting attitude I possess as I imagine my desire? Is there some societal norm or mandate that is in conflict with my desire? Is there someone whom I must confront in order to support my desire? Do I experience a conflict between two of my values or between a value and my desire?

The fifth component in our stories is the theme. What appears to be the current theme in my story? Is this belief constricting or expansive? Is this belief infused with my personal values? Does this belief reflect a recurring theme in my life? Can I continue to hold this belief and effectively access internal and external resources in support of my desire?

The key is not to get bogged down by this psycho-literary paradigm. We can enter our stories by any one of the five components of stories. The goal is to remain curious, allowing ourselves to explore: What is my current story asking for? As we respond to this question, we may notice resistance to asking for the help we need or discovering resources we didn’t know we had. If we allow our desire to lead us, then we inevitably gain more understanding about life and about ourselves. However, there are consequences when we live in unknown stories.


The Unknown Story

Let’s explore what happens when our current story remains unknown to us. It can take courage and devotion to remain curious about our stories. It will be challenging to notice some less than exemplary parts of our characters, or some conflict we wish would go away. There are mistakes and defeats that reflect the darker side of our experience. Losses and tragic events can remain overwhelming to acknowledge and feel.

There are several unfortunate consequences that result when we allow our stories to remain veiled behind resistance and denial.

· Loss of identity. Ultimately, we are the stories we live in. It is easy to get lost in pushing and pulling varied situations. We end up feeling a variety of reactions with no solid sense of who we are. We are defined by external circumstances, leaving us feeling empty and impotent.

· Loss of an inner observer. To know our stories is to have an inner observer activated. It is only through an inner observer that we gain enough psychological separation to exercise a much-needed watchfulness. Through our observations we can acknowledge what we are witnessing around us, what we are deciding about what we see and how we emotionally feel about it. With that kind of information, we can likely make choices that are compatible with our values and desires. We can say that the inner observer is actually the narrator of our stories.

· Loss of freedom. When we do not know the story we are living in, we lose the advantage of creating options. Our options allow us to change and modify the story. We can transcend either being completely defined by fate or falling prey to simply protesting what fate presents. When we don’t know the story, we don’t know the themes that might resolve a conflict or bring us more fulfillment. We can only exercise our wills effectively when we know the story or the context in which our wills are operating. A simple vignette might be the case where we are in a story about playing baseball . If we wish to score more runs than the other team, then it empowers us to know that success is defined by running around the bases and finishing at Home Plate more times than our opponent.

· Loss of meaning. An old definition of the word meaning is “to name”. When we name the story we are currently in, then we have more opportunity to bring more meaning to the story. We enrich the story by giving the character (ourselves) more choices, changing the setting where we live or work, bringing resolution to some conflict and expandlng the themes in the story.


Naiveté and Arrogance

Naiveté and arrogance bring a great deal of distortion to the stories we find ourselves in. Our stories are constantly being impacted by our wills and by fate. Naiveté tends to have our wills falling short. It doesn’t allow us to bring enough will to impact the role of fate in our stories. Events happen to us, and the naïve belief is that if we are good enough, adaptive and accommodating enough, then all will be well. Our stories unfold with a character who is not able to effectively engage the obstacles and conflicts that ensue. Naiveté leaves the character deflated, with allegedly diminished internal resources for dynamically engaging life. The best possible option is to pause and notice that you have significantly diminished the character in your story. What does the character need in order to right-size him or herself.

Arrogance, on the other hand, has us believing that we are capable of being larger than fate. We are convinced that we are destined to be victorious no matter what fate brings to us. The character’s will is deemed the most powerful ingredient in the story. With the ego not favoring any honest assessment of the power of the will, it will likely take a series of defeats and failures before a will-adjustment can be made. It can be a fortuitous time when the character pauses and acknowledges that he or she is in a story of defeat and is willing to ask what the defeat is asking for. Before we can truly enrich our stories, we will need to notice whether we are in a story with a naïve or arrogant character. A naïve character will likely surrender to fate prematurely, with insufficient engagement of will. While an arrogant character will likely exercise excessive will that impacts little or nothing, failing to notice the appropriateness of surrender to fate’s dominance.

Some Important Stories

There are some important stories that fate places us in. Naming these stories in ways that allows for more imagination, inspiration and vision is critical. These ingredients are capable of expanding and deepening the meaning of our stories. Enhanced meaning makes it more likely that the story avails itself to yielding some quality of awakening and transformation. The ego tends to get black and white as it names our stories. Stories are either about victory or defeat. Neither theme will unleash the swelling of our creative juices. The theme of victory leaves us self-satisfied and possibly deluded into believing we are bigger than fate, while defeat often engenders feeling victimized. It can be helpful to ask for help from an impartial observer in order to see who we are in the story, the actual conflict, the evolving plot and what the story might be asking for. Let’s look at several important stories, their names, and what it means to bring creative energy to the story.

*A Healing Story. To be able to identify that we are in a healing story is critical if we are going to be able to access much need medicinal resources. Some questions able to arouse creativity include: How am I wounded or ill? Am I holding what could be defined as a healing attitude toward myself? Am I holding a healing attitude toward life? What conflict has my ailment presented? Am I able to identify an external, medicinal resource? Am I willing to access this resources?

· An Initiatory Story. Stories of Initiation hold a great deal of potential and possibility of transformation. To initiate means “to begin something”. However, nothing begins without something ending. The Mythologist Michael Meade has suggested that any significant separation places the character in a story of Initiation. You could lose a friend, or a lover, leave home, leave a job or school, or separate from a group or organization. Getting creative might mean to ask: What is dying? How is this death impacting me? Am I giving myself permission to grieve and feel sorrowful? Am I being accompanied and supported in the death process? Is there ambiguity about what new life is unfolding, and how am I relating to the ambiguity? What do I seek?

· A Story of Being Lost – The ego abhors nothing more than stories of being lost. Hence, denial and pretending to not be lost are the ego’s favorite way of responding to being lost. In his book, “Deep Survival” Laurence Gonzales points out that even experienced Trackers go into denial repeatedly when they get lost. Denial may be more attractive when we are in the familiar surroundings of our living rooms, even though we may be deeply lost relating to our personal identities, our relationships or our work life. It appears we have attributed shame and other derogatory descriptions to being lost. How curious it is that being lost would be taboo when traveling a mysterious and unpredictable journey (life), which fate guarantees.

Being lost suggests you are either somewhere you don’t belong or somewhere you’ve never been before, or both. In either case there is ample opportunity for growth. If you are claiming you are never lost, then it is likely that you do your best not to wander away from the familiar. However, fate will bring the unfamiliar to you, hence, denial is likely the only way to pretend you are not on unfamiliar ground. Being lost suggests opportunities are present to move closer to where I do belong and to open to new awareness and choices.

Since denial seems to be an essential ingredient to being lost, it is helpful to identify indications of being lost. Being lost stories will have some common features or themes. Confusion is a major theme, which surfaces following pretending we know exactly where we are. Your will be confused abut what you desire, what you value and what choices truly serve you. Becoming conscious of being lost starts with: Am I willing to stop pretending I’m not lost? What will it take to accept how confused I am? What is my confusion asking for? Is there a narrative I being asked to release? Who might be a trustworthy guide into this unknown terrain?

· A Story of Awakening – “Despite the seeming awards of compliance, our souls grow weary by engaging in activities that are inherently against their nature”. (The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo) An old definition of the word awake is “to see”. As Nepo points out, a story of awakening often entails seeing that we have been “engaged in activities that are inherently against the natures of our souls”. To see with new eyes often feels disruptive, even though it reflects some expression of growth. The new vision often means separating from some place we conveniently fit in, and in doing so, received some measure of acceptance and favor. Sometimes, the showdown of awakening happens with ourselves only, who we have been and whom we’re becoming. We might see how resistant we are to accepting love, or how naiveté or arrogance interrupted our ability to fully engage life. Some more realistic perspective might replace some idyllic view of life. Being in an Awakening Story calls us to hold the limiting aspect of our old eyes with humility, and become responsible for eyes that see more. We can welcome ourselves into a Story of Awakening by asking: What are my new eyes asking for? Can I accept that there will be no final or ultimate way of seeing? Can I find gratitude for these new eyes? Can I allow my new eyes to help me live with more compassion for myself and others?

· A Story of a Broken Heart – This is a love story. It tells of love lived and love lost. What actually breaks in a Broken Heart story? Heartfelt ribbons that connect one person to another break. Ribbons of trust, love, respect, devotion and endearment become frayed. An old definition of the word break is “the application of a sudden force”. We can say that such a force in a Broken Heart Story could be rejection, deceit, betrayal or feeling shunned or forgotten. We may need to tell our broken heart stories again and again to someone we trust. The hope is that in the telling we are able to release whatever demeaning descriptions we carry of the person who hurt us. And as important, to interrupt any perception of ourselves as unlovable. A Broken Heart Story tells of the courage to live with an open heart. An old definition of the word heart is “courage or zealous”. Sometimes bravado masquerades as courage and when it does, a broken heart may allow us to live with fewer pretenses and more vulnerability. It may be that the willingness to feel vulnerable attests to the deep quality of living with an open heart. Here are some curiosities that can help bring depth and breadth to our Broken Heart Stories: Can I allow myself to feel the sorrow accompanying my broken heart? How did I come to choose the person who broke my heart? Can I find acceptance of the fool that inevitably guides us into a Love Story? What is my broken heart asking for? Is there a theme in my Broken Heart Story that reflects a relationship pattern of mine?

When we name the current stories we live in, then we have a better understanding of who we are. We explored several stories, which I would describe as Archetypal Stories. These narratives are not limited to telling us about our unique rapport with life. They also indicate themes pertaining to the core of the human condition. When the names of our stories are fear driven, they reduce who we are and deflate our relationship with life. For example, we say we are in a Going To Work Story that can be enhanced to: A Job or Vocation Story, A Story of Living My Gifts or A Story of Personal Purpose. Our human potential is enriched as we live in narratives that allow for more meaning, more freedom, more compassion and more fulfillment and learn to release stories that are constrictive and unnecessarily limiting.

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