I love a good story. Articulate, colorful, emotional, steeped in rich personality and experience. We can all learn from a well-developed story. Fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, anecdotes, fairy tales; they present morals in an envelope of literature. Story telling, in some cultures, is a rich tradition passed from one elder to the next. The privilege to retell the stories of the village, community, culture is a coveted one.
Story telling in the present day is a form of expression. This website reflects my take on the world and its nuances. Thousands of others do the same, all sharing and re-telling the histories of our lives. However I find that my story telling is in a desperate tug of war with something else inside of me: the desire to stay present. The urge to collect and compose experiences defeats the purpose of said experiences. You are here, there, anywhere to experience life fully.
What you don’t know is that you are a very clever story-teller yourself. Some of us tell stories every morning, every afternoon, every night. You tell yourself the story of yesterday, last week, last month, last year, last decade, last time you ______. It is easy to listen to these stories, we know them already and we cultivate them to our liking.
The human experience is an odd one. We are able to consciously observe life around us, before us, beyond us. We cut and paste life, re-tell and reword our histories, dynamically changing it forever in our consciousness. Think about it: everything you believe about your self is a story you retell yourself. You are not objective. It is pure subjectivity in which we think of our past. You are an author with an agenda.
The importance comes in HOW we retell a story. If something difficult presented itself and you failed to overcome, you may victimize yourself. Playing the role of victim ultimately drenches a story in darkness, steeping it in a dark haze of “why did this happen to me?”. Focusing on the negative will recreate that negativity in the present, when you could just as easily leave the story behind and keep it from infecting your present peace.
It is a difficult task to remove your past emotions from a story in your life. I have done it many times. I detailed one story and my attempt at reliving it through a different lens on this very website. It is far easier to grasp that sadness, anger or betrayal and tell yourself “look what I’ve been through, it’s hurt me so, I will forever relive this to make sure it never happens again”. The comfort of familiar pain keeps us in the same stories, a cyclical life of harm and re-harm, a rotation of victimization.
Using the Right Lens
Observe the story-teller in you. Does it tell you the stories you want to hear? Does it bring up things you’d rather not hear about? Watch yourself; story telling could be the end of you. Whether it be self-destruction or self inflation, too much of either is harmful. Breaking down your self-esteem is one thing, inflating the ego is another. If you relive experiences through a dark and negative lens, you begin to see faults, nitpick the insecurities, zoom in on the problem areas, you have done yourself a disservice in your story telling.
Retelling a story from the ego, easily forgetting pieces of the plot where you caused harm, inflating the dialogue to create a more sound image of your heroics: this can affect your plot, create a heightened sense of superiority. This is another dangerous viewpoint for the story-teller.
I struggle with my objectivity daily, tip-toeing on a tightrope of subjective experience, do I become a participant? Or do I stay the observer? What will serve me? I try on different lenses for size, writing just after an event when the feelings and emotions are fresh. Some times I leave it for days, months, even years in order to remove myself from the story, write it and read it as if I didn’t know the protagonist or antagonist. We are all just characters after all.
Survive your Stories
No matter how hectic, traumatic or dramatic the past stories are, demand positivity, for it has brought us to the present moment… and if in this present moment you are alive and able to look back on the past, then we are lucky. The ability to reflect is a privilege. If you are fortunate enough to look into your own past it means your present is not demanding enough. You must not forget about the negatives, about where you were wrong. Use these as maps to navigate the next chapter.
Forget the emotional implications of the past, carry the plot lines in your back pocket but only bring them out when necessary, when you have time, when you know your inner storyteller will stay true. For dwelling in the past strips away your ability to relinquish the present… and then what stories will you have then? The same ones. Over and over. A cyclical storytelling becomes “why does this always happen to me?”… it always happens to you because you allow it.
The same is true with instances of what you can and cannot do. If you tell yourself the story of the last time you tried to do something and you failed, you will believe that failure as truth, take it as the only truth. Consider this: every day I watch stray dogs beg for food. Some times they succeed, most times they fail. However they still show up, every day and beg for food. They do not let past failures affect their present pursuit, there is no story being told (they are dogs after all) thus there is no prevention of success.
The Past is a Boring Plot
The lesson is simple: do or do not. Achieving a goal, telling a story, finding your path is as simple as that. Do the work, explore the possibilities, and alter your “goals” accordingly. Use your maps and your past chapters to guide you in times of confusion but do not demand the same story line. Mistaking the past story for the present one is a disservice. It makes for an awful plot and life is no rough draft.
Using the past as a reference point for the present and future is much like using Myspace to market your entrepreneurial pursuits now in 2014. You will fail, every time, simply because you have used what has not worked in the past and applied it to the now.
The now does not know about your past failures (nor your accomplishments), only you do, and if you let them go… maybe they will let you go as well.
Next time you find yourself steeped in your own historical re-telling of a personal event… think about that story-teller, what is their aim? Maybe it is time to let the story know that you’re busy with the current situation. I know I am.