I love story. I think we’re wired for it. Books and movies, fables and mythology, all tap into a powerful desire to learn about life through metaphor and example. This desire probably lies at the root of our collective human experience, harkening back to tribal nights gathered around a fire, a ritual our parents introduce us to in the form of bedtime stories. We’re born wanting to hear them, to nestle in and sponge them up eagerly right from our youngest days.
We continue to collect stories and create them ourselves throughout life. I have a heritage of them— dear, familiar helpmates that buoy me up or guide me, glimmering in my family history, in recipes from friends, a teacher’s voice I hear while doing yoga, the house I live in.
Woven into the warp and woof of me, they feel inevitable. Which makes it difficult to tease them out in individual strands.
But lately, I’ve been wanting to do just that, because I know that not all the stories I belief are productive or even benign. They are not all honest and true.
So, I’m stalking core stories. And, it’s becoming clear how pervasive and persistent they are. For example, I’ve a silent mantra that I’m not smart enough. Nor pretty enough. That I have to try even harder. That being big makes others small.
Thoughts are powerful in shaping our life choices, big and small. The beliefs we hold filter each and every one of our experiences, our perspectives and our interpretations.
It is only when we make these beliefs come out of the shadows to speak, that we take some authority over them.
I’m the youngest of five children. A random birth order event that resulted in me never being as smart, able or strong as the rest of my family when I was young. I turned this into a belief that I never quite measured up. No amount of striving or success has fully eradicated that self-judgement. However, identifying it has given me an opportunity to counterbalance it when pernicious voices poke at me.
Fear is frequently a telltale of an undercover story. A foundational emotion, it often lurks behind anger or judgment or resistance. Any of these emotions can be a sign that my status quo is being threatened. My story is at risk. That awareness is a door opening, giving me a chance to peer in. Is what I’m afraid of real, or is it an imagined monster under the bed? Is what I’m feeling about myself reasonable, or does a wicked witch have me under her spell? Am I powerless here, or can I walk behind the curtain and take a hand at the control board?
It’s a patient process. Old stories have long tentacles wedged into lots of crevices. Mine balance me in life as I know it. But I’m realizing that so much of what I think is absolutely true, sometimes only contains grains of truth. Many of the things I’ve lived by as certainties, under examination, end up being a perception, an assumption, an opinion which I may not even consider valid any longer. I like this. I like having less and less territory to defend these days. And more and more new ground to roam around on.
Creating a meaningful, satisfying life requires that we cultivate stories that support that experience. Just as we choose the stories we read our children, selecting those we hope to be instructive and positive in their lives, we can choose the stories we tell ourselves, emphasize those that help us be who we want to be.
I could keep telling myself all the same old stories. That I’m not enough. That asking for what I want is brazen. That it’s better to keep quiet than risk looking like a fool. But with a whole new constellation of stories out there, I’m enjoying discovering some new stars to navigate by.