I believe that we each have something significant to contribute to the collective story that can shape the way that we live and positively impact the quality of life of others. In order to genuinely participate in the larger story, our personal narrative must be inclusive of all that we are, so that we don't marginalize the shadow elements that move invisibly within us which shape our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When our story accurately reflects who we are and where we are in our life, we can find the courage to step forward into an unchartered future.
by Ira Rechtshaffer
According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus stated, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” What is hidden within us needs to be revealed if we are going to live authentic lives.
After morning meditation practice, it has been my habit for years to write about what feels alive to me. The following is a series of reflections that have been growing within me that I'd like to share with you.
First there is nothing, just open space, the blank canvas, the bare sheet of paper, the enchanting sound of silence—and then the wet brush touches the canvas, the first letter punctuates the blank
sheet of paper, the first musical note resonates, radiating out into the surrounding space. It all begins with the first dot, syllable or sound in the virgin space of openness.
Everything from the building of the great pyramids, the composition of Beethoven’s symphonies, or the writing of The Alexandria Quartet—is a statement that, “I was here and I mattered”. Such creations are a denial of our seeming cosmic insignificance, as if to say that we are more than a flash of light between two forgetful worlds of darkness. It is an existential statement that we were called by life to play a part, and that we had a place in the immense design of things. Although we may not be famous, nor endowed with exceptional qualities, or have improved the world in any dramatic way, nevertheless, the world would not be what it is without us.
The world’s great myths were given expression by our ancient ancestors who sat around campfires, singing or telling or dancing the stories of the tribe or clan. To “story” one's life is to be human. It is to shape our struggles and sacrifices, loves and losses, heartbreak and renewed hope, crystallizing the human drama into a coherent and meaningful form. To tell our story joins us with others, who have also struggled and rejoiced, and yearned for better days. Our personal narrative enriches and deepens the collective human story, and without intending to do so, your story might articulate others’ unfinished or unexplored narratives— the places they couldn't or wouldn't go. Something about what you've expressed resonates so deeply with their experience, but they simply didn't have the words, until you uttered them.
There's much more to the moment than we realize. Many of our experiences were never fully understood at the time, and got buried in half-digested form. We may have been too young to comprehend the implications of our experiences, or we may have felt pressured or coerced by others to move on with our lives before we were ready to do so. Or perhaps we were frightened to look too deeply for fear of discovering painful truths about ourselves or our loved ones. Such experiences need to eventually be digested to nourish our soul, and fill out the potential fullness of the human being that we are.
Telling your story could begin right now, as you are. We are living through very dramatic times. Between the COVID global pandemic and the aborted attempt at insurrection of our government—it’s easy to feel bewildered, overwhelmed, and powerless. We might feel disheartened that we have nothing new to say, and that the outer events of politics and those involving our personal history are inflexible “facts” that have already happened, and that there's nothing more to do, but accept them as we remember them.
The power of meditation is that it cuts through our free-associative thinking and stale stories, opening us up to the deeper dimensions of our mind and heart. Here, we can experience a more spacious, peaceful, and sensitive state of being. This openness is not merely silent and still, but is fertile with potential and is immensely hospitable, inviting us to continually give birth to form. Our personal narrative might emerge from here, as if a “story” were incarnating through the alternating rhythms of our sensations, feelings, and bodily energies.
Yet, our “truth” could become distorted by our past associations and fixed beliefs. There is a necessary back-and-forth dance between the still point of meditation and it's varied expressions. Meditation cuts through our obsessive thinking, but the complementary side to this is the intuitive, poetic, and imaginative use of words to unpack our unique experience of our life by “storying” it. Here we’re challenged to think, feel, reflect, and revision our life by questioning everything that we think we know.
Life has touched us, opened us up, broken our heart, dashed our hopes, but also infused us with joy and lifted our spirits. Perhaps we have glossed over the unfolding moments of our passing days, failing to notice details that cried out to catch our attention, unaware of how precious they were. But the good news is that we can revisit many past occasions of our life to have a second look. And we can envision a life that inspires us to face forward and step into a new beginning with the best version of ourselves.
Many of us hold the events of our life as “facts”, i.e. “The divorce was a nightmare”; “I can't forgive myself for not preventing our son from becoming an addict”; or “I thought I knew what love was”. When we move into the imaginal space of our non-rational, deep mind, we can open up and revisit the so-called facts of our life, to reveal that they're not as solid and fixed as we thought. We may discover that there are innumerable ways we can feel into them, understand them, recognize how we participated in them, and sense how they continue to shape us to this day. We can think the world with our mind, feel the world with our heart, or intuit the world with our soul or deep psyche.
Through intuition and imagination, qualities that meditation cultivates, we can transform the ordinary events and happenings of everyday life, so that they might embody a deeper, richer and truer story, lending meaning and value to our lives. We can use the power of our imagination not simply to invent a better story, but rather as Martin Buber suggested, “To imagine the real.”
This human capacity to transform the “facts” of our life into a rich tapestry of new perspectives, feelings, sensations, textures, and unanticipated associations, reveals that our human life defies definition. There is something awe-inspiring about our stories, visions and dreams, which are inexhaustible in their potential expressions. They not only record what has happened to us, what we have done or failed to do, but they, in turn, shape us and the world which we inhabit. We are like gods and goddesses in our power to give birth to new worlds of experience. The mystery is that there is no final story, but only the one we’re daring to discover now.