Walking the Walk

Taking Steps on the Path to Compassionate Living

The Stories We Tell

I love to tell stories. I love to weave together threads of lives that may seem unrelated (even to me when I begin) until, in and out, in and out, the strands come together into a surprising piece of beautiful cloth. That is why I write…or at least that is why I share some of the things that I write.

There are other stories I tell, too. They are the ones I whine to my close friends, or utter with despair, or whisper with an optimism that somewhere deep I know isn’t justified. These are the stories that go scrawled in my journal- not fit for public consumption.

I was recently walking with a friend who had just been to hear Brené Brown speak. My friend was gracious enough to share some of the wisdom she had gleaned from the day. The piece that has come back to me over and over is about stories- not like the ones woven through me that become beautiful once complete. Rather the stories we make with threads that get tangled and knotted as they wind around each other … and through us…The kind that twist through my stomach…and back…and neck…and head…the ones that would create dissonance if they were music. Familiar stories, but ones based on illusion rather than reality: that I am unlovable or unloved; that I am not enough…or too much; that there is something inherently wrong with me that causes some people to turn down or not respond to my invitations or that makes me unworthy of invitations from them. Twist, tangle, knot.

Disclaimer before I go on: I have not yet read Brené Brown’s new book and I may be completely misremembering what my friend said. But even if I am misremembering, my interpretation of her words has served me well thus far.

I, like many other people, am good at making assumptions and snap judgments- about how something or someone is, about why someone is or isn’t acting a certain way (read: the way I want). These assumption and judgments may lead me to frustration, anger, sadness, blame…nothing that is particularly helpful. Yes, there are times when frustration, anger and sadness (I left blame out for a reason) are appropriate, but not when they’re built upon the shaky foundation of my imagination (not to dis imagination, but it’s got its right time and place).

Since the conversation with my friend, I have been hyper-aware of the stories I tell- the ones that tangle and knot me up, instead of loosening and liberating me. I notice when the twisting begins and I ask myself: What do I really know here? The answer is usually short. And so I gently tease open the thread threatening to choke me in its knot.

Here it is the absence of story that is beautiful, that frees me. It is the letting go of the assumptions, fears, and insecurities that twist me up. It is recognizing the old wounds, still tender, and treating them gently, allowing them to reside in their own land of the past, but not allowing them to claim new territory in the present.

This is not easy. Sometimes it’s like trying to stop the swinging of a pendulum between false hope and despair. But sometimes I can rest in the center of what I know. At ease with what is. There it is calm; it is balm; it is palm trees, just the right amount of sunshine, and cool water; it is breathing in the purity of what is. That’s how good stories should end, right? Happily ever right now, grounded in the present. 

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