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Archive for October, 2009

A story told well carries a power that sneaks up on us and pulls a layer of blinders off our eyes. It can teach us something important about life that we had probably forgotten we knew. The act of imposing a narrative framework on the raw material of our lives brings new order and clarity to something somehow familiar to us. A good story allows us to wrestle with our demons, dance with our angels, make plans with our inner guide, and ultimately, connect with our soul. Telling ourselves, and others, these deep stories of our lives is doing soul work.

Telling our story is crucial to the core task of identity formation. In many indigenous cultures, identity formation is the development of a coherent master story that links together the many stories we tell of our lives as sacred beings. It is said in Native American traditions, “All you are is story. When you pass over, the stories told by you and about you are all that remains… We are all the stories that have been or ever will be told about us.”

Everyone’s life story is meaningful, full of sacred elements, valid, valuable, linked to all others, and entertaining. To want to tell our story is to want to be part of the human family. We tell our life stories because they are a part of us. Our stories identify the influences that made us who we are today, help us to see ourselves better, and, ultimately, to accept ourselves more.

An 8th way to review your life story – How deep does your story go? Have you ever remembered something that you forgot you knew? Has putting part of your life in narrative form ever brought new order and clarity to something familiar to you? What parts of your story are most crucial to who you are at your core? What is the heart of your master story, that kernel which links together the many stories of your life, and says to the world in a loud and clear voice “this is who I am and always will be!” In a page or two, see if you can give voice to this sacred story and then share it here for others to experience.

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Without a story, we are not truly known. Within our stories, the truths of the ages are embedded. Our story speaks an inner truth of the generations. Our stories contain our common spiritual heritage. They are also our legacy for future generations. All we are is the story we leave behind.

Story is central to Native American life and to the healing traditions of indigenous peoples around the world. In the Lakota worldview, all things in the created world are sacred, the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the winged creatures, the crawling ones, the finned ones, and the rooted ones. In fact, there is no clear division between the sacred and the secular. All life is sacred; human beings, and all other created things, are holy. In the Lakota language, the word for child – wakan yeja – translates into English as “sacred being.” As such, we are spirit and flesh, sacred and material, and it becomes our responsibility to honor and respect everything around us. When we put the sacred aspect of our being first, the way we see everything else changes dramatically.

A life story of a person who lives by this worldview is really the story of the soul of that person. The most powerful life story expresses the struggle of a soul living in, adapting to, and learning from the material world. The most important stories we tell about ourselves are the expressions of the timeless within us.

A 7th way to review your life story –  James Hillman offers a perspective on  this that is worth pondering. He asks, “Could it be that the soul doesn’t want to leave this world innocent of the life it has been living for ninety-odd years, and wants memoria to turn those years into character values?” What does this imply about the story the soul would tell? Think of just one memory (memoria) in your life that illustrates how you were born with a particular character value, how this was a gift “from the guardians upon your birth” that was brought to life by and through your soul, and how this could be what you may someday be memorialized for, what may become a part of your legacy that you leave to the world. Share a short version of this story here for others to learn from.

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On this Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change, I thought I’d offer a short answer to this complex and intriguing question. In a nutshell, remembering who we are is a spiritual practice (more about that next week), which contributes to our spiritual development, which expands our consciousness of the universe we are part of, which gives us a vision of the whole, which helps us understand that nature reflects the qualities and attributes of its Creator and should therefore be greatly respected and cherished, which confirms that all things are interconnected and depend upon and flourish according to the law of reciprocity, which confirms for us that the oneness of humanity is the fundamental spiritual and social truth shaping our time.

In remembering that we have been created from the same source as every other substance in creation, we recognize how important the protection of even the smallest element of the environment is, and further what an enormously complex challenge conserving the earth’s resources is. Biological and cultural diversity is the core of the rich natural and spiritual heritage we share as human beings. To show any less regard for any one element of this whole would be like showing less regard to any one of our own multiple identities or allegiances, or even to any one of the vastly diverse organs in our own body, because they each add their own richness, essentialness, and vitality in completing the whole.

Understanding nature as the embodiment of the Creator, and as the unfoldment of divine will, engenders deep respect for the entire whole. Every part of the universe is connected to every other part. This calls for action that sustains the inherent balance of the whole. When one thing in the environment, in the universe, is caused to change by any other thing, all things are changed. (For more detail on these thoughts, see the essay at this link: http://statements.bahai.org/95-0406.htm.)

What has happened so often in the last couple of centuries is that the actions of some have impacted others far beyond the bounds of their reach. Acts of carelessness, disregard, and even acts of legislation, have brought about changes on the land which have caused very slight changes in the temperature of oceans which have caused violent weather which has brought great hardship to people living far from those oceans. That’s because everything is tied together. If we remembered who we are, that at our essence we are linked to every other living thing on this earth, there might not be so many careless acts that make so many unanticipated changes to everything that surrounds us, including the climate.

A 6th way to review your life story – remembering that our soul comes from the same source as everything else in this creation, and that our soul connects us to all the diversity in the creation, what can we do, what have we already done, that acknowledges and maintains our oneness with the creation? This is your chance to think of a green story that illustrates in some way how or why we are all connected in one great big web of delicate life on this planet. It would be wonderful if you chose to share this story with others here on this special day.

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When Brother Blue, the African American storyteller, made the statement, “Enough stories can change the world,” he was most likely thinking of the traditional role of stories in community life. From the earliest times, stories have been central to life. Through stories, what is enduring is transmitted. Traditional peoples understood the importance of sharing not only their sacred stories, but also their own stories of life lived deeply. They knew that this supported the cycle of life. Stories became the food of the soul.

Today, this is as true as ever. Enough stories, truthful stories – told from heart, and of the soul – can stop hatred, prejudice, racism, and this can change the world. It is only through stories that we can come to understand something in a new, full, and intimate way that allows us to see that thing, that person, from the inside out. Thus a connection is established, and a relationship formed that precludes any kind of judgment. The shared story brings us together, and helps us to recognize our commonalities.

Life stories work the same way; enough life stories can change the world, too. When we share our own stories of the soul, when we put our life’s events and feelings into the form of a story, a spoken or written narrative, unity is maintained, and a greater respect for each other is found; we recognize deep within us the personal and collective truths we all share, as members of the human family.

A 5th way to review your life story – have you ever seen a story change the world? Have you ever experienced a story serving as food for the soul, yours or anyone else’s? Think of a truthful story, one that comes from the heart or soul, one that carries the power to heal, to stop hatred, or to change the listener in some way. Share just the essence of this story here. Maybe it will bring us closer together, or help us recognize our commonalities, as members of the human family.

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“When things are investigated, knowledge is extended;

When knowledge is extended, the will becomes sincere;

When the will is sincere, the mind is rectified;

When the mind is rectified, the personal life is cultivated;

When the personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated;

When the family is regulated, the state will be in order;

And when the state is in order, there will be peace throughout the world.”

Confucius

Sharing life stories is a powerful experience, one that can touch us deeply, and give us great joy and satisfaction. It can give us a sense of inner harmony and connectedness. Telling our life story enables us to express our truth, as we see it, so that others might learn from it. What we typically choose to include in our life story are the constructive, or healing, aspects of our life and experience, rather than allowing destructive elements to become the focus, as is often the case in biography. Life storytelling, where we tell our own story in our own words, is a movement toward perpetuating healing stories.

As is clear in the Confucian tradition, there is a direct and crucial link between the individual and the rest of the world. What the individual does to cultivate, deepen, and transform one’s own life will inevitably impact others, and spread outward, like a ripple in a pond, creating ever-widening circles of empathy from oneself to one’s family, one’s community, one’s nation, and finally to all of humanity.

Realizing such a human community founded upon the highest social ethic, what Confucius referred to as the Grand Unity, is fully dependent upon the learning, and the morals, of each individual, as well as upon the harmony between all levels of society and between all living creatures. He understood that authentic humanity evolves to its fullest extent possible only when blind egoism disappears. This never-ending work of transforming the world has its roots in the ancient tradition of storytelling.

A 4th way to review your life story –   think of something that you did, or that you heard from someone else, that has had a ripple effect on the lives of others. What was it that gave this experience the power to influence, change, or transform others? What was the essential truth of this experience? How and why did the telling or sharing of this experience have a healing effect on you and/or others? What was it about this experience that brought others together in some way? In a page or two, tell the story of this experience that has been a change agent for others.

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