Many people reach old age still carrying the baggage of childhood traumas. How different life would be if they understood that we are the authors of our own stories – and we can change them at any time! We can shed the stories of our past, just as a snake sheds her skin. In the process, we cease being a victim of what happened to us, and instead become empowered to write our own valiant tale of strength, healing, and beauty.
Our personal stories are just myths, they are not us. Suffering occurs when we believe those myths to be true – whether we created them ourselves or someone else did it for us, we confuse them for reality. When we discard those stories, we free ourselves to explore the mystery of who we, and the other people in our life, truly are.
Our stories are so powerful and convincing that they get internalized and become lodged in our muscle tissue as cellular memories. We embody the image of who we are in the way we walk, talk and behave – and people respond to us as such. And we find ourselves repeating the same drama over and over again, with different jobs, partners, and friends.
We cling to our tales because we derive some benefit from them, even when they also cause us suffering. Often, the benefit is a false sense of security and purpose – that of the wise authority figure, the creative rebel, or the nurturing parent. But what happens when we retire, or the children grow up and move out? We will have to create a new identity for ourselves at that point, and it can be frightening because we don’t know if we will find an identity that has meaning for us.
When we drop the limiting characters that we identify with, along with the beliefs that these characters hold to be true, our characters become what we do, but they are not what we are.
We can continue to perform as a parent, son, nurse, salesperson, real estate agent, or retiree, and be immensely effective at each of these tasks. We can be in the world but not possessed by that which is ultimately unimportant.
The following is a simple exercise to unravel the energetic cords that keep us bound to a particular role. It is best done in silence by a fire, but can also be done by candlelight indoors. You’ll also need toothpicks, a pen, and strips of paper.
First, on each strip of paper, write the name of a character you play in your life. Be sure to include at least 20 roles, including, for example: mother, son, father, provider, nurse, healer, recovering alcoholic, lover, sympathetic friend, poet, person who is trying to quit smoking, and any others you find.
Then wrap each piece of paper around a toothpick, and use your breath to “blow” into it your intention to release that role. Then hold the toothpick to the fire and watch it burn. Hold each burning stick in your fingers as long as you possibly can without getting singed. As each wrapped stick is blazing, imagine that you release the future of that character until it’s extinguished, until you are no longer mother, son, man, or woman. In doing so, you’ll unravel the energetic cords that keep you bound to that character.
The best reason to shed your stories is because you can never heal yourself within your story. You can only resign yourself to accept the lot in life ascribed to you in the script, and then doom yourself to the suffering written into the drama. Your aging mother will never stop being devious, and your ungrateful children will continue to ignore you. But when you craft an epic story for yourself, healing and transformation will inform your psychological and physical world.
If you’re going to spin yarns about your life journey, make them grand, ennobling ones. It’s better to see yourself as a brave traveler who made a harrowing, narrow escape that taught her to trust her instincts, than to see yourself as a victim of betrayal who lost everything of value to some cruel persecutor and now cannot bring herself to trust men.
Even the empowering tales you’ll use to replace the old, oppressive ones will still be mere trail maps. They’ll help you navigate through life and climb the mountain, but they’re not the mountain itself.
Learn more about shedding the disempowering stories that no longer serve you in my book, The Four Insights.