Oh I love a good story. Who doesn’t?
Winter isn’t my favorite season, but I do try to appreciate the gifts that it brings us in the northern hemisphere: an abundance of citrus, snow for skiing and snow-shoeing, and fewer daylight hours which in creates more opportunities for hygge reading (“hoo-gah”; the suddenly-hip Danish concept of coziness). Curling up with a book on my couch or in the bathtub in the winter is a lot easier than pulling myself away from the seductive pull of being productive during longer daylight hours in the summer.
We have the practice of story-telling to thank for moving our culture onward through the ages from the time that we lived in caves until this very moment that you’re reading this sentence on a screen. And yes, while all stories are subjective and have their slants, biases, and limitations, they are an integral part of what makes our worlds go round.
Stories have been showing up for me in a variety of ways recently, in book form, social gatherings, and emotional intelligence. In case you’re wondering, the last story that I read was a collection of wisdom in “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu which I recommend highly to all spiritually-oriented beings who enjoy the learning from the distilled teachings of the masters. Currently, I’m reading “Snow Country” by Yasunari Kawabata, a Nobel Prize-winning tale which takes place in the area in Japan nearby where I’ve lived and worked the past few summers. Honestly, it’s pretty depressing so far, but it’s a short read and one more soak in the bath on a cold night should help me get to the end quickly. When I’m done with that, “Palmeras en la Nieve” by Luz Gabás is waiting for me, as is “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. My reading list continues to grow and it’s the best problem in the world; every time someone tells me about a book, I add it to my Goodreads list and think: “Will I ever get through all these stories?”
Last weekend my neighbors and I gathered and listened to my neighbor who’s in her 70s tell stories about her Overland journey across the world. You read that correctly: a night of one woman’s recounted stories of traveling solo in the 1970s. We had an international-themed potluck, looked at some of her postcards and travel documents, and then we sat down and listened to her stories which correlated with images from a slide projector. Remember those?! Hearing travel stories from a woman (who by the way, reclaimed her damn time and made a rule from the start that none of us could ask questions during the show because it would distract her train of thought; my heart soared) was endlessly fascinating. It was such a treat, this social gathering of honoring the retelling of one woman’s epic journey, accompanied by the loud whir of the projector, the 2×2 square dimensions of the images, and the anticipation that the slides might get stuck after the *click click* of the feeder button that mechanically advanced the journey forward. I could have listened to her talk for days about the places she went, her impressions as a woman in her 30s, and her gumption to listen to her inner voice telling her: “go travel the world solo as a woman” at a time when not many women were encouraged or even allowed to travel alone and the logistics of the 1970s made the travel planning and journeying orders of magnitude more difficult than travel planning today. Something that I loved about the evening: when she wanted the person working the slide projector to change the slide, she said: “Onward”. Every time. That made the night even more magical for me.
So yes, story-telling in the form of books and social gatherings are soul-filling and the opportunities for cozy gatherings are consolation prizes for dealing with the less lovable parts of winter. The emotional intelligence story telling is quite different. This kind of story-telling has to do with how we speak to ourselves. This has less to do with telling stories and instead has everything to do with watching them get told by the different parts of me.
There are two parts of my brain that are constantly operating in tandem with each other. If you comment about nothing else in this post and just say: “me too” in reference to this part of the, I would feel less alone and deeply grateful.
These two parts of me, let’s call them the Protective Ego and the Wise Self, are always talking. The Wise Self is creative and tapped into the feminine and she says things like: “You know what we should do? This really amazing life plan that we’ve always dreamed of! Let’s make it happen!” Her ideas surface like bubbles and there is never any doubt about the greatness of her plans. The gut agrees with her wholeheartedly that this plan is what we’re destined to do. After a few beats, the Protective Ego, which is very much in its masculine, sends up warning flares and says: “Hey, yeah that does sound fun, but it’s impractical/expensive/not possible right now.” Another conversation might look like this:
Wise Self: “What if we made a few big changes in our life? We could really use a refreshing shake up right now!
Protective Ego: “Oh, that would require a lot of work, money, risk, time, and possible heartbreak. Let’s not and say we did.”
Oh these two. They know each other well. They are two forces who must work together. I’ve tried telling each one of them to shut up at different times. It doesn’t work. They both speak their truth and they do it loudly. The Wise Self wants to live big and take risks. She is in charge of informing me what the heart and gut want most out of this one precious life. The Protective Ego wants me to stay small and safe and controlled. He is in charge of keeping me safe and out of harm’s way.
With regards to these parts, my job these days is to sit back, watch the stories roll in, and do “The Work” by Bryon Katie by asking the first of a series of her famous four questions and interrupt the ego’s storytelling to fact-check each of them:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
There’s a lot going on for me in my life right now. It’s exhausting to process a lot of information in anticipation of a possible big life changes and watching these two parts of my mind tell stories and try to write their opinion as truth is like trying to herd cats. Before either one of them takes over and starts writing conclusions during a very challenging time, I’m trying to interrupt this anxious story-telling with the first question: “Is that true?” Sometimes it works. Sometimes the stories get told and I start telling them back as truth just as I realize: “Wait a minute… is that true?”
It’s divinely human to partake in telling and hearing stories. It is also human for our brains to create and latch onto stories and revere them as truth. And when we’re going through a particularly challenging time, I think it’s really important to be aware of the truths that the different parts of our minds are trying to publish in hard copy.
The point of any good story is to entertain and share experiences, and I hope that in reading my experience about storytelling that maybe it will relate with some of you and you and I both will know that we aren’t alone.
So tell your stories. Gather your people and light candles and eat good food. Keep an eye on your own storytelling in your brain. Notice what either side is trying to write as truth. And share your journey with your people so that we can all know that we’re not alone.
Breathe and believe, beauties.