Step Out Of The Fog

Shadows Of Imagination by Maggie's World

We are hardwired for story. We can’t help it; it is what we do. We interpret, we judge, we speculate, we remember, we ponder, we investigate, we justify we imagine,…we story. Meaning-making and interpretation are processes of story. We narrate each moment of our lives. I call this the-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself.

The-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself is often hard to see because, well, you don’t see it as a story.  It’s your life and you are so used to the inner-narrative that you stop recognizing your self as the narrator/interpreter of your life. Your thoughts, judgments, comparisons, expectations, investments, aspirations and fears are your story. As much as you want your point of view to be fact, it’s not. It is truth relative to you but not to anyone else. These stories you tell do not exist outside of you; they are your creation. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t creative! We are, each of us, masterful storytellers.

Neil Postman writes,”Our genius lies in our capacity to make meaning through the creation of narratives that give point to our labors, exalt our history, elucidate the present and give direction to the future. To do their work, such narratives do not have to be “true” in a scientific sense…. The purpose of a narrative is to give meaning to the world, not to describe it scientifically.”

It’s when we confuse our story for truth that we get into trouble. There is an image that I love from the story of Sisyphus. It illuminates both the power and the problem of this inner storytelling:

Sisyphus has been taken to the underworld. He’s in trouble for making the gods look bad – twice. He has crossed the river Styx but isn’t yet allowed to get out of the boat. He has to wait and while he waits, he watches all the other souls file off the boat and mingle on the banks of the river. He is stunned when he realizes that each soul is so invested in their story that they don’t realize they are surrounded by other souls; even though they are in a crowd, each believes they are alone. Their story wraps around them like a blanket of fog, their inner chatter obscures them to the presence of others.

The-story-you-tell-yourself-about-yourself becomes an especially thick fog when used to belittle the teller (you). Using your story against yourself is guaranteed to isolate you. It is hell. Stories of “I’m not good enough” or “I have to be perfect.” Stories of “I am racing to get there,” stories of “past shames” and “future fears.” Stories act like a dense fog when they swirl around you and pull your focus from the present moment.

The lesson I most appreciated in art school came during the first class of the first semester. The professor, a short burley man who wore a walrus mustache and smelled of pipe tobacco asked us to examine a yellow #2 pencil. His simple question made us roll our eyes, “What color is the pencil?” We groaned and yawned in unison, “Yellow!” and acted as if the poor man was daft. He asked us to look again, to really look. He challenged us to see what was there and not what we thought was there. When I looked again, really looked beyond my thinking, I saw an explosion of color, reds, greens, and purples. I saw beyond my abstraction (story) and what was before me came to life. It was a festival of light and shadow all dancing in the form of a #2 pencil. For a few moments I suspended my story; I saw.

As Sisyphus sat in the boat, watching all the other souls wander lost and alone, wrapped in a fog of their own creation, he saw. He awoke to the story-he-tells-himself-about-himself and knew that it was not truth. He chose to tell a different story. The myth tells us that his new awareness transformed him. He became present in his life.

We are hardwired for story. We can’t help it; it is what we do. And, like Sisyphus, we have the capacity to recognize our story for what it is, and tell a different story. We have the ability to step out of the fog.

One Response

  1. Gosh, David, this is a fun bit of reading!

    For me, merely acknowledging that there is a story is so freeing that I have yet to even consider all the consequences. In the meantime, I’m living one option at a time.

    Myth has it that clearing away the fog can be disheartening because one becomes trapped in the hopelessness of endless and forever cycles of birth, life, death. Fortunately, anything which clears vision provides prospect for the joys of discovery even as the terrors of forbidden knowledge are used as threat.

    It leaves us right where we were at the beginning of your essay, deciding upon the story we will tell and how much of it we will believe. What we have gained is the freedom to write the story as we see fit. We are not held captive any longer by ignorance that we even have a story.

    It is pretty important to note that we still, even in our new perspective, have our stories. In fact, there are times when we will, again, be lost in them. We have a chance, though, to pull back when we choose to and see the perspective offered the director. So appropriate for you to be the one showing us!

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