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The self, the story, the truth pt4


Continued from part three (read part one here and part two here).

Creating our personal narrative, the story of who we are, is central to leading a life of meaning. How can we know who we are unless we tell our stories?

When we turn the events and happenings of our lives into narratives and stories, we contribute to the formation and maintenance of a stable identity, a sense of who we are. We maintain our oscillation frequency, so to speak, as I discussed in the previous part of this article. We are able to endure pain and challenge if they form part of a story with a happier future; we can keep moving forward in life when we have the context provided by narrative. How beautiful: we are meaning-making, context-creating creatures!

Most of us use many strategies for this contextualization and narrative-creation. Let’s see a very simplified example.

Maybe to feel safe as a child, you needed to fit in. Perhaps drawing attention to yourself led to unpleasant consequences, like criticism or punishment, while blending in helped you feel secure because you felt more invisible. Or, maybe in order to attain a sense of safety you needed to stand out. It’s possible you learned that by being invisible, your needs would not be met, so you learned to attract attention and be special or different somehow.

These qualities of “invisible” or “special”, for instance, form part of the core context of our narrative of who we are —often in such a subtle way that we are not consciously aware that we carry these stories. And the same person may have seemingly-opposite narratives for different contexts, like someone who draws a lot of attention to themselves at work in order to be seen, yet in intimate relationships is very withdrawn in order to keep the peace. This is the multiplicity of selfhood; “I contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman wrote.

Of course I am oversimplifying for the sake of an example, but nonetheless, these are lessons we learn very early on, and while they are malleable lessons, they often form a strong impression on how we move through life, perhaps far beyond the original usefulness of the learned behavior. However, it is absolutely possible to update our stories to be more functional and more aligned with how we want to live our lives. And at the same time, behind any and all stories lies something else: a truth that is unshakable, enigmatic, and absolute.

Here’s the beautiful truth, which is absolutely the case no matter who you are: you aren’t special, and you couldn’t be more special. To return to the common ocean/wave metaphor, we are all the same ocean; while each wave is unique, there are zillions of waves, and the ocean wouldn't be the ocean without them, and all the waves arise from and return to the larger ocean. While each wave is unique and unrepeatable, that isn’t the most important quality of the wave; what matters is simply that the wave, that all the waves, exist, regardless of their particularity.

Unique and completely ordinary.

Let’s unpack this paradox a bit. You are part of the larger pattern, a unique part: you can sense your uniqueness and you know there is literally nobody quite like you, with your thoughts and experiences, your path —in other words, the unique contents of your life and your unique, subjective, lived experience. And at the same time, you are literally not special at all, because everyone is a unique part of the pattern, and the underlying Self is the same for all of us, so while your stories and experiences might differ from those of other people, ultimately that doesn’t make you any more special than anyone else. 

Frankly, to many people, this is an enormous relief. Do you feel that? Or is it terrifying?

We are what we are, and what is, is. Underneath any and all stories and narratives and ideas, your existence is you being here, and there is no need to label it with invented categorical concepts like good/bad, or right/wrong. You are expressing your being each moment by simply being. What else is there?

Consider a flower, a tree, a cloud. Is there a way to fault the flower for not being “flowery” enough? Or the tree for not being a good enough tree? Can the cloud fail to be itself? Sure, we might wish for a prettier flower, or a taller tree, or a fluffier cloud, or whatever.

Everything simply is what it is. If you can relate to your beingness the way you would relate to a flower or tree or cloud, you will not need further proof or validation. You are, and that’s that. You are, with all your lived experience and stories and everything. You are. Even just touching into this for a moment can help bring a profound shift in your awareness of and connection to reality.

The essence of the flower, the tree, the cloud, is your same essence. There is no need for any story or narrative for this being to be. See if you can touch into this being, the ground underlying all the stories, just for a moment. Set aside any descriptions, any ideas, and any expectations —including the expectation that setting expectations aside should be easy. Just feel into the presence behind each moment, the silence behind all sounds, the being that is always right here, right now.


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