Don’t you love a good story? Stories fascinate us and we remember them. From the beginning of time stories are how we imbed what’s significant into our collective psyche. The best stories are archetypal – universal. We all recognise the drama being played out – adventures and risks of the hero/heroine’s journey to overcome limitations; to seek the Holy Grail. I think partly we love these stories because we’re all carrying such a story inside of us: it’s the story we tell about ourselves and what we believe about life.
As a psychotherapist, spiritual counsellor and teacher for many years, I’ve been supporting people to explore their story and glean the universal truths from the sacred matter contained therein. Making sense of the story and learning to carry it in a constructive manner is key to healing and transforming a life.
The disheartened hero
Most commonly people arrive at my door like the lost, disheartened hero. They’ve hit some kind of wall or a major crisis that has totally thrown them off track. The disorientation and pain motivates them to begin the arduous task of reclaiming their life – their own hero’s or heroine’s journey. There is the need to make sense of where they find themselves so they can move from being lost or from the pain or despair. From this place, they begin the task to find meaning and joy in this great experiment we call “life” – the Holy Grail.
From my perspective, one of the central tools we use in this process is the individual’s story. By the story I mean what has happened. Each of us when born are dealt certain cards from the get go – the two parents who conceived us, the genetic and psychic legacies of the two families, and then all the various events and dynamics that influenced the early years of development. We know these early experiences leave deep impressions on our psyche and in fact every element of who we are – mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual.
Piecing together the story
The early days of therapeutic work is to piece together the story – what happened. I’m listening for the both the details and the themes, but also perhaps most importantly I’m listening to the way the story is held. How is this person carrying their story? Literally I’m hearing it like a fascinating story. Who are the central characters, what is the plot and central theme? What is the setting, and the costumes?
The central character who is sitting before me – what role do they play in this story? Do they portray themselves as victim, hero, villain or the fool? Are they telling it from a place of a dispassionate observer, removed, like it didn’t quite happen to them? Or are they more focused on all the characters around them, than themselves - the central actor/actress? I sometimes wonder: is this even their story or someone else’s? I’m also looking for elements such as: is there some compassion for or objectivity about the self that lived this life? Is there curiosity about the significance of it all? Have they totally bought into the story, are they lost in the drama of it, or is there some degree of questioning it all; degree of readiness to hold their story in a different light?
One of our biggest challenges is to hold our story in a constructive stance. It’s a paradox – the story and all its specific details is really important – it’s the sacred matter we get to deal with, and yet it really is just a story we’re telling ourselves, about our self and life. And the big ground-breaking news is - We are not our story!
Moving in and out of our story
Making sense of what happened requires a dance of moving in and out of the story. Immersing ourselves, especially in the feelings – the emotional and physical reality of it all. It requires coming out of our heads and or numbness and re-engage with the body through which the story has been lived. Through the body we can process the emotional/ energetic experience –these experiences were probably quite overwhelming for the younger self, and so there’s an art to processing them so as not to be re-traumatized. It’s empowering to learn the skill of processing the emotional impact of past events, but this time not being swamped by it.
Through this process we step back from the story, and then we begin to have choice about the conclusions we’ve made from our experiences. Very frequently the upshot of good therapy is that we can tell and hold our story lighter. We’re less enmeshed with it. And most importantly it doesn’t define us. Another way of saying this is - we learn to dis-identify from the story. This can look like – yes, it happened; it had an impact; yes, in many ways it forms me, and its importance, but there’s now spaciousness for much more. You can lift your head out of the minutia and see the bigger world around you. There’s energy for a more creative approach to life. The story can bog one down, be a real energy sucker, pre-occupying the mind and body and hence your energy. Moving beyond the story holds infinite possibilities. What would it do to know your story as just one aspect of life; to live in life beyond the story?
Pleasure beyond your story
The realm of pleasure is often beyond the story – if spontaneity, creativity, surrender, and capacity for risk taking are hallmarks of pleasure, then we have to move beyond the story.
Because I believe pleasure is so important, in the therapeutic process I’m also listening to – what is the story this person tells themselves about pleasure – their right to pleasure, the risks or benefits of pleasure, the family legacy about pleasure, etc.
In the pleasure work I invite people to unpack their “story” about pleasure. We’re not wanting to create a new story about pleasure, but be open to what pleasure can teach us – that wisdom can’t get through, if we’re holding really limiting stories about it all.
Each of us travels with a pleasure story. I invite you to begin to listen to the one you’re telling yourself about pleasure. Is it a story that serves you? Is it a closed or open-ended narrative? Is it a story that invites the hallmarks of pleasure?
If you’d like to hold pleasure differently, I’d love to work with you to support living beyond the old story? Now there’s an exciting adventure!
Previous entry: Let’s Adore One Another Now!
"Excellent teaching style of concrete information and experiential exercises"