We Are The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Once upon a time…
A long time ago…
In the beginning …
Isn’t this how all good stories start? We recognise these openings, they are woven into the very fabric of who and what we are – as individuals and as cultures. Each statement heralds the beginning of a tale and the start of a story. So much of who and what we are is built upon the foundation of stories. How we use our words and what we tell ourselves creates our reality. Or, at least, it creates how we perceive our reality and how we respond to it.
And yet stories are not distant, intangible things merely for children. No, they are living, (fire) breathing, dynamic things! For we are all woven from stories. And stories are magic.
Our ancestors knew this and they captured and harnessed the great power that they found within the words and cleverly constructed imagery of stories. They intrinsically understood how the individual threads of words – when woven together skilfully – could manifest deep and powerful magic. They understood the profound potency of archetypes. Their innate knowledge was such that they recognised the alchemy of the frameworks of a story. They understood the power of motifs and themes, the patterns and cycles found within all tales. They recognised that stories breathe life into the formless and create a common understanding. A shared wisdom.
Our gods and our demons are created by words. Nations and religions have risen and fallen on a tide of words. Our murky past, our mundane present and our uncertain future all held within the confines of a tale. Transitions from conception to birth, from childhood to adulthood, and from life to death all confined within the comfortable familiarity of a story.
Stories are the key to a doorway of knowledge and understanding.
Our ancestors created shared experiences through storytelling. And shared experiences were passed from the elders to the youths. From parent to child. Generations bequeathed their precious knowledge to those who would live on – so we too can share the knowledge and experiences of our foremothers and forefathers, thousands of years after they were first told. We have heard their voices echo through time and so bonded with them through the aeons. Through the experience of storytelling meanings have been shared and understood over and over again. Each new generation becoming excited by the new ways they find of telling their own stories, as well as sharing those that are most familiar.
All this has shaped how we understand and view life in modern times. Because – much like our ancestors – stories are still how we understand the world today. Whether they unfold upon a large screen or a small one. Whether viewed in a theatre or read in a book. Whether presented through fiction or the mainstream news, whether online or in newspapers – the power of stories continues to spin the world around upon its axis. They are what spark passions and ignite wars or bring compassion and lead movements. They are used to manipulate the masses and keep many caged in their own small reality. But they are also used to open minds and offer new perspectives.
Now, look carefully.
For stories are constantly being told to us – and about us. Often by the powerful; those who have a specific agenda. The victors who would oppress and subjugate. Those who would repress the truth. Those who would have us conform to their ideas. Yes, look! For you will find that many stories are there for us to find easily. They are placed carefully by those who wish us to find them and follow their trail.They are scattered upon the ground like shiny, white pebbles that shine in the moonlight, so they are easy to see and they lead us where the storyteller wants us to go. Even if we believe we are choosing our own path as we follow.
But other stories – those that hold the deepest truths – are like the rocks found beneath the depths of the earth. They are the precious stones curled within deep caves. They are the mountains rising as continents collide. They are the iron ore revealed within buried rocks that – when refined and purified – are forged and crafted into a powerful weapons. Indeed the pen is mightier than the sword! And so there is a process that must occur to find the truth. To discover the most powerfully potent stories. First their meaning must be found and excavated, for they are often hidden and disguised, they are often rough and unrefined. They must be cut away, purified, and polished, in order to reveal their glorious patina. They are gleaming jewels – undeniably precious and beautiful. But it can take hard graft to release their potency. It takes work. Discernment. Thought.
So think! When something happens – be it individual or upon the world stage – we name it. We think it, we dream it and we speak it. We draw or paint it. We write about it. We all create a story about it – deciding upon the heroes and villains – which then becomes part of our own, personal story. Something we tell ourselves about the way the world works and the way that life is (and has always been). It is repeated over and over in echo chambers – the words reverberating off the walls of our individual and collective psyches, until we believe their authenticity. And so it becomes part of the story of our society. We all become archetypes, and are all given a role to play. Protagonists or antagonists, givers or receivers, helpers or hinderers. This is a magic that can hold us up or tear us down.
So, it is important to heed our words and our stories. How we speak to ourselves and about ourselves will shape how we view who we are – how we treat ourselves and respect ourselves. And how we speak to and about others will also shape how we are able to view them, treat them and respond to them.
And it is important which stories we listen to and where we find those stories. Are they spoon-fed to us – are they delicious and easy to swallow? Are they a house of sweet things built only to fatten us up for the consumption of someone else? Have we followed an easy path to find them? Or have our fingers blistered and bled to dig into their truth? Have we refined them and polished their rough and raw edges and through a process of blood, sweat and tears found their authentic and brutal beauty?
And we must remember that there are still good kings and wicked monsters out there and if we are prepared to listen to a different perspective, we may find that the big-bad-wolf and the wicked old witch may have their own truth to tell. We must remember that the power of our words can build up great leaders or demolish dictators. Our stories can unite nations building unity and peace or their force can destroy worlds. Our words and our stories can be weapons of mass instruction or destruction. For we are the stories we tell ourselves. And stories are magic.