“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it… With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.
– Arundhati Roy, War Talk
On a recent meditation retreat I was confronted by a story I’d been telling myself my entire life. Even in the silence of a retreat, with no social pressure whatsoever, I found myself steering clear of my friends there, people I love being around and care deeply for, because I was scared. With the fear came a story, as old as I am and deeply ingrained, about not being wanted by the people I love. And the other stories built up around that one to reinforce it – “people are better off without you, keep a distance and you won’t get hurt, you are alone in this world…”. Stories designed to keep me safe, created by my brain in childhood, playing out to this day in my behaviour when I’d withdraw from others, reject myself before they got the chance.
Wow. What a thing to carry around. I sat with that story over the silent days, deconstructing its message, giving compassion to the young version of myself who deemed it necessary, and to the part of me who still believed it to be true. I felt how I’d been holding onto this story so tightly, convinced it was necessary to armour me against potential pain. But it wasn’t true, or necessary, and my telling and retelling it was causing me more pain than it could ever protect me from.
Seeing that story so clearly, with its plot holes and logical fallacies, I felt its grip loosen. Knots of tension in my belly started to come undone, a weight on my heart lifted. And, slowly, in that meditative silence I was able to let go of that old, sad story and write another one in its place. A story more vibrant and reflective of my reality, more generous to myself and the people around me. I could feel the care of those I love, understand their struggles to connect weren’t a reflection of my worth, open myself to letting others in. Embracing this new story, imagining I could believe it and hold it as tightly as the previous one, I tasted a new freedom emerging, exciting and inspiring. Coming out of that retreat, the barrier of fear I’d long held between me and my loved ones began to melt away.
Because stories can be generative too. Healing. There’a wholeschool of therapy dedicated to reclaiming and rewriting one’s narrative. My inner narrator has always been busy, constantly describing what I’m doing, making sense of what I’m seeing, telling tales (mostly cautionary!) about my past and my future. One of the great gifts that insight meditation has given me is the ability to turn my attention towards this narrative voice, recognize when it’s offering a limiting perspective based on fear and trauma, and then gently guide it in a more generous direction.
Loving kindness practices are an excellent way to try out this generative storytelling in meditation, focusing attention towards evoking positive wishes and intentions. Can I imagine myself safe, imagine a loved one happy and healthy, imagine freedom for all living beings?
At CEC, we encourage you to explore both practices that aim to deconstruct the unhelpful stories that may otherwise hijack our minds and ones that channel creativity to generate hope and inspiration. Bring on the pages of your own stories, ripe for unwriting and metamorphoses!