I’ve been thinking about stories recently.
How they get dismissed as non-essential to life, when, in fact, to quote author Philip Pullman, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
We tell ourselves stories all the time — all the time. Because we’re always interpreting everything that goes on in our lives. We always tell ourselves what each and every event means for us. Even when we tell ourselves we won’t be affected by something that has happened elsewhere or to someone else — that’s a story.
Then there are the stories your ego makes up when your mind has sneaked off into default mode, which happens whenever you don’t consciously occupy it. (The devil makes work for idle minds, not just idle hands.) These stories put you firmly in the spotlight with the starring role, either as helpless, hapless victim or all-conquering hero. Your ego doesn’t care whether the outcome of these imagined melodramas is triumphant or disastrous. It just wants to be the centre of your universe. That’s how it gets its jollies.
Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story. ~ Patrick Rothfuss
I’ve been thinking that if everything I tell myself is a story, then why not exorcise the doom and gloom stories? The “I can’t,” “that’ll never happen,” “it’s too difficult/too much effort,” “I don’t know enough,” “I’m too old/young/inexperienced/fat/thin/poor” stories. Why not tell myself an empowering story instead? Why not?
Then this morning on the car radio I heard a CBC programme about a book called The Paper Bag Princess. It’s a wildly successful children’s story, first published in 1980. I’d never heard of it before, but what captured my attention was a comment by Canadian politician Elizabeth May, who read the book to her daughter back in the day. Ms. May said that she wished that when she was a child she’d had a story like The Paper Bag Princess, where the princess outwits the dragon and rescues the prince, because all the stories she read as a kid about the girl being rescued by the prince influenced her into making relationship choices that couldn’t work in the long run.
All the bells in my mind started clanging loudly when I heard that. Because she was talking about me and my life’s tendency. All those stories that I read — Snow White, Cinderella — programmed my mind to believe that I needed to be saved by a prince. All my life I longed to be rescued. To be whisked away to some idyllic existence and not have to face my challenges. (Which I felt powerless to master.) Even earlier this year I considered an escape into a relationship with someone from my past because he expressed a desire to take care of me. But fortunately my Buddhist training to take responsibility for my life kicked in, and I said no.
And then this evening, quite coincidentally, I found myself listening to a BBC podcast about resilience. And I realised, to my surprise, that this year I’ve begun at long last to develop resilience, thanks to the daily combo of my Buddhist practice and the Emotional Freedom Technique. I’ve started to believe in a positive outcome for my life. And even if this new story doesn’t have clearly defined details yet, that’s all right. I’ll just keep going and see what unfolds, as I face my inner demon-dragons… and save myself. 🙂