We Are Our Stories

As nations and individuals, we are the product of the stories we tell ourselves about our origins, our childhood, our life, and our close brushes with death.  In our personal stories, we might feel hurt by rejection.  Then, we have all experienced the loss of a loved one and feelings of being left alone to fend for ourselves in the world.

When we see ourselves as victims in those tragic tales, we might turn that hurt or that loss into an apology for not being creative, or into an excuse for not “showing up” in our marriages and families.  But when we can survive loss, defeat, abandonment, rejection, and failure and, instead, draw important lessons from those intense encounters with fate, then our stories become epics of great heroism in which we are the protagonist.

For this exercise, take a pen and paper and write a one-page fairy tale that start with “Once upon a time…”. Include a princess or prince, a warrior or warrioress, and a dragon, but allow the story to unfold and gain in complexity as you weave in other characters and adventures.  If you think this sounds childish, give yourself permission to be childlike for a few moments.

Later today or tomorrow select someone who will help you understand the significance of this fairy tale.  Read your story aloud to a friend or partner and look for themes.  What genre is it: adventure, romance, a tale of despair, or a quest for love or fortune?  Who is the main character: the princess, the dragon, the warrior, on another character?

Now change the tense from past to present and claim, for yourself, all the actions of the primary character.  For example, you might change “and then the king left the princess while her castle was being stormed” to “and then the king left me while my castle was being stormed.”

Notice how the tone and significance of the story changes.  This will reveal some of the beliefs inscribed in the primitive neural networks of your brain.  Now rewrite the story, casting your character as a hero or heroine who embarks upon a journey in search of meaning.  For example, you change from “a princess who is abandoned by her family when her castle is under siege” to “a courageous maiden who follows her heart’s calling to explore the world and discover her purpose in life, her reason for being, despite all the adversity she had to face.”

As you rewrite your personal story, you may discover, for example, that your parents’ divorce is not your story of abandonment but your opportunity to learn resilience and bravery early in life; that being unmarried is not your failure at love but an opportunity to develop your care and generosity toward others; that being humbled by life’s circumstances is a chance to set aside pride and practice humility.

Then read your rewritten story as the parable it is.  Identify with the lessons and gifts you experience in your life stories – and in your life.  And as you read, remember that your prefrontal cortex is laying pathways for your new neural networks of joy, inner peace, and enlightenment.

Be sure to write your story and share it this week before the next installment in this month’s finding your purpose series!