August 1, 2011
You may not realize it, but you think in stories.
The ‘events’ in our lives are stored in our minds (and to some degree in our bodies as well), able to be recalled and shared through what I call “storying,” – the act of reciting past events and thoughts within the context of a conversation.
Maybe you know someone who often thinks and communicates through story. Maybe that someone is you! ‘Storying’ is quite common and often includes narrative, such as “I said…” and “then she said…,’ etc.. It’s a way to bring out detail, take the listener into one’s world, and convey information. Where storying can become problematic with regards to Thoughtfulness, is when it is done unconsciously, without taking the listener or the context of the conversation into consideration.
What is unconscious storying?
Often, when talking to someone else, there is an exchange of ideas, thoughts, information, etc. This exchange, to be meaningful, follows a logical path from topic to topic, connected through ‘bridges’ of thought that span various subject matter and address the aspects of the participants.
Because of the power of the associative mind, the process of connecting one thing to another by identifying commonalities between things, ideas, or emotions, it is possible to quickly link to a story that may or may not have relevance in the present context of a conversation.
Something you can try, is to focus your attention on any item in the area where you are right now. Identify one thing, then see what your mind does. If you’re like most people, you will be re-minded of at least one past event that involved an associated item. If you tell someone (or yourself) about the events that you associate with that item, you have created a story. Most of us have many stories we can tell about a particular item or idea. They often include times when we were having an emotional peak or valley (since those events tend to be imprinted on multiple levels; cognitive, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.)
One question we can ask ourselves is: “What is the purpose of my story in this moment?”
Often times, we tell a story simply because we’re reminded of it. Sometimes, we even change the subject of a conversation to tell one of our stories. Sometimes we find ourselves waiting for the other person to leave a break in their story so we can tell ours! The process that results in our telling of a particular story has to do with two at least two aspects; 1) our perspective and 2) our orientation.
Perspective is the way we view something. Is the glass half-filled or half-emptied? Orientation is the way we view most things. Is life a struggle or an adventure?
Perspective is shaped by one’s knowledge, values, beliefs, and ability to become aware of the many aspects of a thing or idea.A perspective may be broad or narrow. It may be deep or shallow. And it is almost always shaped by our orientation.
Orientation is shaped by combining multiples of the same perspective. Over time, we may choose to view things a certain way. This ‘way of seeing’ eventually becomes our primary way of seeing, to the point where our compass shifts, “True North” actually moves, and our ability to see the world ‘as it is’ is all but a fantasy, although ironically, we are often confident in what we see as truth.
Thoughtfulness seeks to re-orient the individual through cognitive mindfulness practices designed to increase functional perspective. Over time, the individual regains his/her orientation with the world and finds peace where there was once conflict and confusion.
How can we become more conscious of our use of story?
Individuals can use a Thoughtfulness Practice to gain insight into their choice of story, which intern will inform positive changes. Noticing associative patterns that result in story choices is the beginning to positive change. Managing one’s stories and using them in a respectful manner is one goal of Thoughtfulness.
When we become aware of the forces behind our stories, we gain the capacity to shape our perspective and ultimately, our orientation. When we orient ourselves with the nature of the universe, which is love, we find ourselves, and in that we find both peace and power.
A Thoughtfulness Practice:
When in conversation with someone, note their use of story, paying particular attention to their perspective with regards to what is important to them. Observe how this relates to their overall orientation. Note how you use story, your perspective and orientation. Ask yourself:
- Why did I choose the stories I did?
- What about each story is important to me?
- What effect did my stories have on my emotions?
- What did I learn about my perspective and orientation?
- What would I change the next time to move my orientation in a positive direction?
More about stories
The stories we repeatedly tell ourselves and others about our lives shape and inform the quality of those lives. Some of a person’s stories are self-created, but many (more than you might think) are provided to the person from birth. Stories about race, gender, religion, and other traits are embedded by parents, authority figures, and society in general. In some cases, stories about one’s family or culture can change one’s perspective and orientation to the point where he/she is not fully connecting with people (or the world in general) in an authentic way.
Becoming aware of our inherited and ‘borrowed’ stories can be a vital step in achieving a state of mindfulness and inner- and outer-peace. Other practices that relate to all types of stories will be addressed in other posts. Stay tuned!