We don’t tell the stories we live: we live the stories we tell ourselves. In other words, to a large extent, our outer lives reflect our inner realities, and we have more power than we think to shape our lives – whatever the outer circumstances.
We are born into this world as creatures of infinite possibility. From our first days, we connect dots of random experience that pour in through our senses. These connections become our foundational stories -- templates of expectation about who we are and how our life will be, deeply embedded in our unconscious and our senses, and generally inaccessible to the rational part of the mind.
Sadly, many of us become trapped in limiting stories about ourselves and our lives. These stories usually have nothing to do with our inherent gifts and everything to do with negative early experience or familial, gender-based, and cultural expectations. For the rest of our lives, or until we become fully conscious of these core stories and begin to intentionally express and transform them, they replay over and over again, in school, work, relationships, and self-sabotaging behaviors -- creating painful situations in our outer lives that mirror the inner pain from which we're hiding.
Often it takes outer crisis to drive us inward to really take a look around at what we’re projecting onto experience and how that may be contributing to our difficulties.
From a story perspective, the moment when life falls apart -- whether we are shattered by external events or bursting with inner yearning -- that moment is the call to life-changing adventure.
The good news is that no matter how harsh a story you have to tell, it is your strength, because it is your truth. You can honor this story and tell it as it is, or you can choose to rewrite it. Either way, you are a living story.
How Does Story Transform Life?
1. Story provides structure for safely expressing pain and negative beliefs that hamper development. Telling the story of difficult experience makes you its master rather than its victim.
2. At the heart of every creative or life block is an untold story that obscures who you really are and what wants to emerge. Once that story is fully told, energy can flow into the new realities you want to create.
3. Story and other arts activate your inherent powers of resilience and self-esteem, especially the generative, playful, and balancing energies of your body, mind, and spirit.
4. Story is a spiritual practice that makes you more present in your daily life, in touch with your senses, awake to your larger world, and alive to deeper dynamics and possibilities.
5. When shared with receptive others, telling your story releases you from loneliness and isolation, bringing you into community with others. I call these communities "story sanctuaries" and the storytelling process "healing as gift exchange."
Living story isn't about forcing change. It's about knowing you're exactly where you need to be, fully embracing and expressing every aspect of the Now through a story perspective, and allowing the natural emergence of a new inner story and outer reality.
Tools for Creative Practice: The "Five Elements" of Your Story
My arena of emergence is the page, with words, images, weather, landscapes and interiors, characters, needs, conflicts, and actions unfolding as they need to. They show me the way forward in life. Poetry, dance, visual arts, dramatic enactment, drumming, and song tell stories too. Express your story in your own language.
1. Time. Time gives story its basic structure and dynamic quality. Time has two dimensions. First, it bestows beginning, middle, and end. Second, time refers to a specific narrative moment -- a day, a season, a year, or stage of life. What is the time frame of the story you want to find and tell? Is there a moment in your life that's ripe for exploration?
2. Environment, atmosphere, mood. Atmosphere is the context or foundational quality that underlies everything else. It's the ground from which arise images, language, characters, and situations. What's the context of your life at the moment? Turmoil? Stuckness? Probably not contentment, or you wouldn't be reading this blog!
External settings often mirror the inner environments and landscapes of the characters who live there. What stands out? What are the features, qualities, and colors of your world? What do they reflect in your inner life?
3. Character. The passions and needs of characters propel stories. Often we draw people into our lives who mirror unconscious aspects of ourselves. Who populates your story -- both in the outer world and in yourself? What's their most striking feature? Tricksters, mentors, destroyers, warriors, caregivers, lovers, rulers, and sages -- they're all there. Look for them.
4. Situation. What's going on that brings you to this process? Where's the lack? What needs to happen? The conflict between a character's needs and external obstacles creates action. This dance between need, situation, and action is your roadmap, otherwise known as plot.
5. The Storyteller. This is your place of power and the voice of freedom from circumstances. To whom are you telling this? What do you want to give them with this story? Tell a story and it no longer controls you. Tell your story and you step out of isolation into a larger life. Tell your story and you give hope or companionship to another.
Once you've seeded your story with the above elements, give it a title. Then write. What wants to emerge from this raw material? Feel the deliciousness of letting go. Let the words lead you. If something arises that disturbs you, dialogue with it. Find out more. If another medium appeals, draw, dance, act it out, drum it, sing it. Compassionately or exhuberantly, tell it! We're listening.
Living story is the path of unfolding adventure. When things get murky and you can't see a foot in front of yourself, remember this quote from the poet David Whyte:
"If the path ahead of you is clear, chances are it's someone else's path."
by Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.