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The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Reflecting on the power of personal stories and re-write them
…we are the stories we tell ourselves. In this universe, and this existence, where we live with this duality of whether we exist or not and who are we, the stories we tell ourselves are the stories that define the potentialities of our existence. We are the stories we tell ourselves. So that’s as wide as we look at stories. A story is the relationship that you develop between who you are, or who you potentially are, and the infinite world, and that’s our mythology.
We tell our stories, and a person without a story does not exist... everybody, has a story that they follow. We tell ourselves stories. So, I will go further, and I say, “I tell a story, and therefore I exist.” I exist because there are stories, and if there are no stories, we don’t exist. We create stories to define our existence. If we do not create the stories, we probably go mad.-
TEDIndia, Hollywood/Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur
In a very real sense, reality, or at least our perception of reality, is a story we tell and re-tell ourselves.
We look at the world and our sensory experience excites our neural connections which we understand by creating meaning.
We see a flash in the sky and if we were firm believers in the existence UFO’s we create a story about what we have understood from that event.
Our work colleague looks at us 'a certain way’ and we create a story about their motives, their intentions and attitude toward us.
We see a group of teenagers gathering around a street lamp and then make the decision that they are “up to no good”.
All these stories have their origin in our experiences, beliefs and expectations. They are part of a life-long narrative, a story-telling apparatus that evolved in our Neanderthal ancestors as a protective behaviour.
Those that saw the movement of the grass and created a story of s sabre tooth tiger survived to pass on their genes. Those who lacked the ability to do so may well have been eaten by one.
Even though we are thousands of years from those ancient savannahs, we still have some of the wirings of our earlier relatives. What served them well in pre-history does not always serve us well in the 21st Century.
We only need to reflect upon the nature and rise of some of the anxieties and phobias we are prone to in this day and age.
Our brains are very good pattern-matching devices and if they have a template around which to construct meaning they will continue to do so. Like formulaic novelists and screenwriters, the templates our brains use are from the stories we have told in the past and continue to believe to be relevant to us.
A survivor of an abusive relationship will have created “templates” to interpret the behaviours of others in a particular way.
Sometimes these interpretations will give specific meaning and intention to the actions of others where no threat or harm was directed towards them.
Their history has taught them to be wary of the behaviour of others, and for good reason.
Consider the child who has grown up with a good deal of parental criticism.
Imagine the story templates they have created about themselves, the way they need to gain approval and the expectation of “always” being wrong.
I could go on, but you get the point.
The story we tell ourselves about the world is derived from the templates we naturally created in our formative years.
Some of those stories may well be empowering, and motivational - some may be less so.
In a very real sense we protect our version of reality onto the world we experience.
Learning to understand yourself and the workings of your mind is the only way to free yourself from the illusions you create and are limited by.
Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, has a lot to say about the cultural stories that have been created within our society. Nationhood, Party Politics, Religion and Money are particular examples.
Harari points out that these stories have been used to promote ideologies, establish governments and start wars.
If we can become absorbed in our own personal stories, imagine the motivational power of “cultural stories”.
Stepping back to observe the rhetoric of social, political and religious arguments encourages us to think about the over-generalised and overly-simplistic stories we are being asked to accept.
“Humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better.” Yuval Noah Harari 21 Lessons for the 21st Century
The closed arguments of fanatics hand extremists are rarely based on facts , numbers or equations in the purest of senses. They are based up constructed interpretations of those variables - the templates of ideological rhetoric.
Recreate Your Story
The thing about stories is that they can be redrafted, edited and re-written.
They can also be collated into historical volumes so opening the way for not only a new chapter but a whole new book.
If we reflect upon the stories that drive, motivate or limit and disempower us we can start to edit them as required.
If we accept that we are not our stories then perhaps we can let them go and break free of the illusions we create and created for us.
Know Thyself - look into the illusions created by egotism.
Learn - be open to new ideas, new learnings, new perspectives
Reflect - on your passions, your motivations
Embrace Change - recognise the impermanence of everything
Rewrite your stories
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