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"Talking Story"

Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L. Glass - July 2023

Newsletter - 7.23
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“Truly, stories are the dreams of the people. We must create new stories out of our highest vision, and encourage our children to dream new dreams and build their world upon them.” – Manitonquat, Wampanoag elder, in Return to Creation

“Talking Story” is tradition in Hawaii. It’s part of aloha, that pervasive spirit Hawaiians feel and live, about the connectedness we all share – with one another, with the land, with a higher power, with the rhythm of life, with the eternal, with our own souls. If aloha is the pulse of life, “talking story” is an energy (chi) that holds it together.

To Hawaiians, talking story is about nothing in particular, and about everything, both at the same time. This kind of story has no planned outcome. It doesn’t try to persuade; it doesn’t have to go somewhere. (Maybe that’s why we seem to have lost this art form in our everyday lives; we’re in too much of a hurry to get somewhere.) Story nevertheless has purpose. Story carries our personal culture, which we share with others as we speak. By getting to know each other at a level uncommon in most of western society, we also get to know ourselves, for in talking story we begin to make sense of our world, and in turn, our place in it. (For me, “writing story” is central to how I make sense of my life, my world, the world.) It may be that in needing to get somewhere, we’ve cut ourselves off from the part of self that might best help us … get there … wherever there is.

Storytelling was central to all early and indigenous cultures. Story carried culture from generation to generation; it held community together; it was a teacher. Story guided individuals to know that they were part of something much bigger than self, and from that knowing, to develop both a strong belief in self and a commitment to the well-being of the whole. Intimately connected to the land, early storytellers knew their human community was also part of an even larger one, where every piece served the whole and the whole served every piece. (We’ve largely lost this, too.) Hawaiians “talking story” is a beautiful remnant of this ritual.

In some way, each of us is [still] a storyteller. We’re the tellers of our own life’s stories. What if we took a break from our race to get somewhere, stopping midstride for a moment or three, and explored the idea consciously … as a way to learn? You know … we have a story, we live a story, we tell a story … life as story.

Three prominent “story lines” define my life. One is the love and loss story: I’ve lost so much – jobs, relationships, homes, money. It’s 100% true, a good story for a victim, and it takes me nowhere. Another is my resumé story: I’ve achieved. It’s also 100% true, a good story for an ego, yet it’s nothing more than the trail of breadcrumbs I left behind while trying to find my way in life. There’s the possibility story: I’ve learned and grown, discovered what life means to me, and now live with contentment and peace I’d never known. It's 100% true, a story evoking the authentic in me, and it takes me wherever I want to go. All this reminds me of the old movie “Up.” In it, the aging Carl and Ellie reflect, separately, on the life they’ve lived together. He waxes sad about all they didn’t do. She waxes grateful for all they did do. For decades, they have lived intertwined in the same story, yet with vastly different perspectives on its storyline and meaning. (Both of their stories live inside me too, intertwined, yet separate.)

What does all this mean … to you … to me? The story you tell – to yourself and to others – becomes the life you live. If you choose to tell your victim story (we all have one), then you remain stuck in all the reasons you can’t be happy. If you choose to tell your possibility story (we all have one, or many), then you step into that potential every day. Because both/all your stories are always inside you, the “work” is – and a recurring theme in all my writing – to become so aware of the stories in your head that you can choose exactly how you relate with each one. You simply can’t make your victim story get in the back seat and shut up if you don’t notice it trying to hold you back. And you can’t give your possibility story permission to drive if you don’t notice its longing to do so. Perhaps it’s time to reflect on your life as a story. After all, as storyteller, you’re the author of the rest of your life.

Exercise: Your life story: You have a story, you live a story, you tell a story. It’s time to inquire: what are my stories? Do they match (do I believe, live and tell the same story everywhere)? Are they true? Does my living or telling them help take me where I want my life to go? It might be tempting to sit down and just “figure out” your life story. A more powerful approach, however, would be to do a life replay in your mind. Here’s why, and how.

Over the course of several days, in maybe 15-30 min. of purposeful quiet time each, recall and replay some of your life’s significant events, situations, challenges, relationships, celebrations, tragedies. As you recall and replay each one – actively noticing (now) how you approached things (then) – ask yourself some “big questions” … questions that offer clues to your [unique] life story. What held meaning in my life (my personal culture)? What did I long for? What did I imagine or wonder? Where did my curiosity lead me (even if others didn’t approve)? How did my personal culture sustain me during life’s inevitable trials? What’s the role of community in my life? Did I see myself as a part of nature or separate? Did I tend to go it alone, or did I tend to collaborate with others? After gathering a true “sense of self” through this inquiry, see if you can play out the “long lines” of your life … how the threads of your experiences create a fabric that has become your life. What is that story?

Note: If you just “think out” your life story, you capture only what you believe is so. That may be very different from how you actually live, and that may be different from the story you tell others. (If I were “figuring my life out,” I might believe I’m a kind person, but if my replay shows me with road rage every day, I’m at odds with my belief.) The felt experience you gain by this deeper inquiry and reflection helps to create a powerful sense of self-trust.

Life Lessons from Nature: Nature’s story is written in the mountains, in the rivers that wear them down, in the canyon walls the river leaves behind, and in the plants and creatures that thrive in the landscape so created. It’s a story of creative expression, each thing doing what it does best, naturally, regardless of external circumstances. The tapestry of life we experience anywhere in nature is simply today’s chapter in a story that has no limits in either time or space, a story that is continually unfolding. The point of nature’s story is in the telling of it, the story itself, and not of any of its creations. Mountains, canyons, rivers, trees and wolves come and go, as they have for millennia. The story that survives is the process that creates them – the continual manifestation of possibility.

Our lives are not really so different, except, of course, in how we see them. We like to believe that the results of our labors, material or not, last forever. None do. Houses, businesses, relationships, possessions, and even ideas, come and go. What survives is our innate intention to create them. This is why adopting practices that grow awareness, resilience, balance and adaptability are so effective; they leave you free to be authentically committed to your own unique creative essence, and in so doing, less attached to outcomes or results. One afternoon in your back yard can teach you all you need to know. It’s only the rest of life that tells you not to go sit there and listen.

Book of the month:Return to Creation, by Manitonquat. The source of this month’s quote. In it, Wampanoag elder Medicine Story writes masterfully from native wisdom … on life, community (human and natural), spirit, relationship, education and culture. His words are of inclusion, inquiry, dialogue, healing, peace, collaboration … all so dearly needed in these times. A bit hard to find, but worth the search. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you will find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons – 508-539-6985.

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