Grace Under Pressure: Stories

By Mary Swanson

“Who knows what parts we play in other people’s dreams?”

I’ve always loved stories. Probably most people do.

For most of human history, stories got passed down, person-to-person, changing slightly with each telling. Every teller of the tale gave it a little spin or updated it with relevant details the listener would understand but essentially, the stories remained the same: the hero, the innocent, the trickster, the ancient king, the brave mother, the fool, the sisters… there are characters and plot lines we’re all very, very familiar with.

Stories are a way we have of teaching the next generation about what we’ve learned. They’re cautionary or inspirational or ironic but they help us make sense of human experience: in one story the jilted lover takes revenge, in another lost one finds a new way. Stories show us possibilities and what’s happened before.

Even though we’re not sitting around the cave fire, we still have stories. Family stories, favorite tales, reality tv, gossip, novels, movies… endlessly we hear stories. We enjoy them or they make us sad or angry or confused…whatever emotion they invoke, they help us create catharsis, they help us process our feelings.

But there are stories we tell ourselves without really knowing we’re listening. Secret stories we don’t want anyone else to know about.

What is the story you tell yourself about yourself? What is the story you’re afraid is true? … or not true? The most important story you can ever listen to is the one you’re telling about yourself, secretly, quietly, constantly.

It’s hard to remember we’re living life through the filter of our secret story– that we experience our lives “as if” something were true when it’s probably not. It may have been, once upon a time, but it’s not really happening right now. Most of us can laugh off a scary movie or let go of a character who’s behaved badly but it’s really hard to stop the internal viewing of what we’re used to expecting.

When you start hearing the story you tell yourself, you can entertain the possibility that your story can change.

The one story we all have trouble with is actually a Christmas story: the one about the adored child who changes the world. So many of us feel outside the family, outside what “should be happening” this time of year. What if you told the story about you being open to being adored?

What if your relatives, your friends, your parents even, actually like you? What would it do to your story if the plot included them waiting to hear from you? What if the magical key to happiness “forever afte” is acting as if you matter to the ones you want to love you?

We try so hard to win respect, to find our place in the world, to somehow have a right to be. We can’t imagine that someone else needs our approval… that they’re seeing us through the lens of their own story.

It’s hard to pay attention to how we affect others. We see them through the lens of our own our unconscious expectations and unresolved pain. All the unfelt emotions & unexamined feelings clog the vision of our hearts and we barely can see the person right in front of us. They can barely see us.

As you realize everyone is walking around in their own little pain bubble, trying not to be hurt, you realize very little of what you do or say gets through. Communication is difficult. I think it’s a miracle any of us is able to communicate our real intention.

Here is something you can do to create a Miracle: when someone you care about is behaving in a way that irritates or hurts you, listen to them. Listen to the story they are telling about themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s their story, and all the untrue parts, the parts that are “once upon a time” parts, will soften in the telling. Both of you will let go of some of the feelings involved and the story will be able to change.

If you can just sit with someone and really listen as you would to any story, something will happen inside their little bubble of painful experience.

Because pain is real. We all live in pain. All the “should-have’s” and “why-didn’t-they’s” rip us to shreds. All of us. If we love that person, we can welcome their story. Even if it’s no truer than the story we tell about our own experience.

Here’s a poem by a woman I only know as the yoga instructor of a friend: 

Love Kula | By Tracy Bleier
Welcome students.
Welcome teachers. Welcome good friends. Welcome sisters who transcend blood. Welcome family who transcend lifetimes.
Welcome your strong legs, your strong backs, your closed eyes. your cranky knee, your beautiful skin..
Welcome Your seriousness. Your tenacity. Welcome your passions.
Welcome your secrets. Your stories. Your past lives. Your future paths.
Welcome your bad days, your triumphs, your milestones, your winfalls.
Welcome your good luck, your good health, Welcome your convictions. Your changing moods.
Welcome your breathing. Your intentions. Your namaste.

Welcome to music. Welcome to laughing. Welcome to spirit.
Welcome to understanding. Welcome to truth.
Welcome to sticky mats, to yogi-toes, to your pinky toes. Welcome to shoulder blades together. Welcome to core. Welcome to eye contact. Welcome to texture and alone time. Welcome to a warm room. Welcome to good company
Welcome desires.
Welcome hope.
Welcome courage
Welcome forgiveness
Welcome growth
Welcome comfort.
Welcome love
Welcome yourself"

Lay back with, close your eyes and imagine a new story for yourself.Re-post: Originally written for Build Altars December 2011

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