Once upon a time a little boy had a favorite blanket that became tattered and worn and seemingly useless until his mother refashioned the rag into a vest. Over time the beloved vest became similarly worn and was then refashioned into a tie. The tie, when worn, became a button. When the button fell off and was lost forever, the little boy was certain that the treasure was gone for good. “Oh, no,” said his mother. “There is just enough left for a story!”
Stories are powerful. Stories are treasure. Yet in tandem with their power, stories can also be destructive, and as I move through this season of life I am aware that the stories I carry are both bane and blessing. I have been through a major transition and with the metamorphisis comes signficant loss. Although the story of the broken cocoon is real and worthy, I am aware that the constant drumbeat of the lost cocoon threatens the fragile beauty of the butterfly. All of the stories that come together to weave our lives are worthy, but our lives will be shaped by the choices we make about which stories to remember and share. Although a million and one stories fill my heart, daily I repeat only a handful. These stories that I repeat wear a groove on my soul, and wisdom demands that I tend the selection for the stories shape us in powerful if unseen ways.
Pema Chodron is a popular spiritual teacher who encourages us to honor the feelings that are ours, to sit with them and be mindfully aware of the emotions with one important caveat: “drop the storyline”.
In “My Stroke of Insight”, the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about her recovery from a massive stroke, she explains the physiological mechanism behind emotion: an emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just 90 seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it. (Chodron)
Recently I’ve been experimenting with Chodron’s challenge. As the waves of emotion crash and I begin to recount the story, I practice catching myself long enough to remove words and images. I seek to focus on the emotion, the body sensation. Particularly helpful with the painful emotions, dropping the storyline removes the quicksand effect. Receiving emotions sans sticky drama enables us to face and dispatch emotions that otherwise would either bury us or be buried by us.
Sometimes I want the storyline, even the painful one. Sometimes the storyline is seductive in its promise to revise history, a promise upon which it can never deliver. I awoke this morning after a dream invoked loaded feelings from a recent loss. I wanted to recount the dream in vivid detail, to examine the story in excruciating detail. My instinct is to spin and I do it with amazing deftness. But I’ve been practicing the invitation to drop the storyline today; feeling the emotion as it washes back and forth through the day and letting it flow. The instinct to reach for the story is strong; I feel the pull, honor it’s presence and return my attention to the emotion at hand. This too is practice not perfection, and I’m grateful that baby steps yield progress.
Also I am grateful for storylines that are worthy of repetition. I have a picture on my desk of my beloved and I at our wedding. We are both grinning and my head is resting on her shoulder. As I look at the picture, the storyline fills my heart with sweetness and I am reminded of the great gift of love. This is a storyline that opens my heart to compassion and my mind to possibility, a storyline that creates more of what I value in life. I will keep this one.