The stories we tell ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves matter a lot.  They make a huge difference in our own lives…whether the story is about the universe itself, our place in the Universe, about the planet, about our lives, who we are and what we’re here for…or whether the stories are just for fun. The stories we tell ourselves matter a lot… to us and others — what we think and focus on defines us, and ripples out and affects the whole world.  

A key story in most cultures is the about the creation and unfolding of the universe.  The site, Creation Myths, gives a fascinating overview of many of these stories. In our culture, and several others, one widely accepted story is that man was made and then given dominion over all creation.  It seems clear that this dominator narrative is no longer serving us.  Many believe that this story has been one cause of our separation/alienation from ourselves and each other, and violation of our incredible planet.  We, and our planet, would be served by adopting and living from/within an alternative story.  

There are several to choose from.  I’ve just been reading a book by a Canadian author, Pauline Le Bel, called Becoming Intimate with the Earth.  (Here is Pauline’s site.)  I am deeply moved reading her book.  She  delves into the story of the cosmos.  She presents The Universe Story… A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme and Wendell Berry.  Simply magical.  True inspiration.  I suggest you delve as well.

In summary, when our story of the Universe is about dominion and separation, we get to where we’ve gotten! We need to recognize that we are not separate, but connected and interconnected with all life, all creation.

What about the stories about what’s happening on the planet? Well, there are the doom and gloom narratives.  I don’t need to give you any references on this.  They abound.  Again, I believe that what we focus on not only affects our lives, but also ripples out and affects everything.  So my belief is that we need to focus on a positive vision of where we want to go, and how we want to get there.  Many many authors, writers, spiritual teachers are doing this.  Here a short list:  

Joanna Macy speaks and writes about Active Hope, and Climate Crisis as a Spiritual Path.  

Guy Dauncey, working to Change the World, is indefatigable in his work to move us to a positive future.  He is indeed A Practical Utopian.  

Paul Hawken, who contributed Drawdown: a Resource for Climate Solutions, now presents Calling Team Earth: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. 

And there is the incredible good news site: Future Crunch. “If we want to change the story of the human race in the 21st century, we have to change the stories we tell ourselves.”

What about our personal stories, in and about our own lives?   Remember telling stories around a campfire, or a dinner table?  They create connection and help us get to know ourselves and each other. And there can often be shared laughter.  What a gift!  

The stories we tell ourselves

And what about “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves“. Stories are one of the ways we make sense of our worlds, but also one of the ways we trap and limit ourselves… they can free us, or keep ourselves locked into old patterns that don’t serve us. 

One of my favourite essays in my book, BECOMING, is called Filters and Frames.  (If you have the book, it’s the introductory essay.)

First, I tell the story of my life with a negative filter: challenges about my family, my school experiences, my insecurities, the difficulties in my marriage, my mother-in-law!  (I ran this one in my head for years and years!).

It was really useful to reflect on how I can see my life as a series of misfortunes and troubles and struggles and pitfalls and problems.

Next, I share all of the same events with a different frame: of challenges and triumphs, learnings and gifts, growth opportunities (fucking or not!) Welcoming the many experiences that have helped me emerge into the being that I am today. 

And as I sat with the filters and frames, the stories, a larger perspectives emerged.  I realized how each of these stories was just that: a story… certainly not “the truth”, but a filter on my experience that made it look one way or another.  “A story I was telling myself.” 

Each of the stories contained some “truths”, in the sense that certain events actually happened, but neither story was “the truth”,  was not reality, or the way things were, but simply a frame the made things appear one way or another, depending on how I was feeling at moment.  

My “Journey to Authenticity”  has involved seeing and owning this truth: I can let the stories be stories, see them for what they are. I/we can take the wisdom, the insights, the deep learning from our stories, our experiences, and then maybe just let go… leave the story and drop into something deeper, something beyond any story…move toward toward authenticity, just being here… with what is.  Oh my! 

How does this resonate with you? What stories do you keep running? How else could you tell this? What is the deeper wisdom or learning for you? The stories we tell ourselves matter a lot.

So I invite all of us to reflect on our universe story: are we part of something bigger? Is it important to care and engage and do what we can, like the hummingbird, or is it a more impartial detached story that has been going around for millennia? And what about our personal stories, what are we telling ourselves?  Are we happy with the effect that our stories are having on us, day-to-day, month to month, decade to decade?  

I’d love to hear some of your favourites, stories that nourish and guide you. We are in this together.

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity.  BECOMING is an invitation for self-reflection, and to mine our memorable moments for insights, meaning, andgrowth.  Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.  Follow me on Twitter, let’s be friends on Facebook.

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