Everyone tells themselves stories, which form their identity, which shape their lives and how they live them. A Christian missionary may tell themselves that their highest life priority is to spread the word of god to promote Christianity. A professional weight lifter may tell himself that weight lifting is fun and amazing and turning a career out of it is the best job in the world, and consider himself the luckiest man alive. An American, with standard American values, may imagine working hard for most of his life to eventually retire to comfort with a nice house and family.
These are all stories, beliefs we have about how we see our role in the story we understand. Most often the story is handed down from generation to generation, embedded in a culture we live in or that we’re raised in, and our role in the story is often a common role that others in our society play.
Our experience either reinforces our story and the role we play, or alters it, sometimes radically. The realization many people have of discovering a story they believed wasn’t true can be moving. Traveling to a different culture with people that have stories that differ from ours, sometimes drastically, can be enlightening. Meeting a person that tells their story and why they do what they do can be convincing. Nevertheless, everyone has a story – a picture they see of the world and how it operates, and the role they play within it.
Observing your story and your role can be useful. Some stories cause more suffering than others, some stories are more fun than others. Being open to new stories is challenging but can be rewarding.
The first step is identifying your story, realizing it actually is a story, and then deciding what kind of story you want to tell, and live by. Though stories evolve, stories are seeded into us the moment we’re born and are clarified, or made complicated, through our experience as we grow older. After recognizing that life really is just a story we each tell ourselves and each other, we can then choose to write the story as we wish.
“All stories are incomplete. Yet in order to construct a viable identity for myself and give meaning to my life, I don’t really need a complete story devoid of blind spots and internal contradictions. To give meaning to my life, a story needs to satisfy just two conditions: first, it must give me some role to play. A New Guinean tribesman is unlikely to believe in Zionism or in Serbian nationalism, because these stories don’t care at all about New Guinea and its people. Like movie stars, humans like only those scripts that reserve an important role for them. Second, whereas a good story need not extend to infinity, it must extend beyond my horizons.”
– 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
The key is recognizing that how we live and what we belief is all part of the story we tell ourselves. While through meditation you can more easily recognize thoughts as just thoughts and nothing more, through paying close attention to how we form our beliefs we can recognize how what we do is just part of the story we tell ourselves, and nothing more. Then again, the story we tell ourselves is perhaps the most important part of our lives.
“Your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to”
Make your story a good one.