This is post six in a series about spirituality, time, and place. Find the previous posts here:
You Are Your Stories
Own Your Story
Is Now Really All We Have?
Where Did You Come From?
Where Are You Going?
He had hardly sat in the car when the little boy started telling his father about his day. After a couple of sentences the father asked a question. The child skipped past it and continued his monologue. After a few more sentences the dad asked another question, which was also ignored. When the father tried a third time to ask a question, the boy stopped mid-sentence and impatiently said, “Dad, that’s not the story I want to tell you!”
THE PROBLEM OF OVERLY SIMPLISTIC STORIES
It’s easy to get so focussed on our narrow version of a story that we miss anything beyond our expectations. How often have we assumed we know what’s going on in another person’s life only to discover details that we hadn’t realised? Every story we could ever encounter is simply a small part of a much bigger reality.
We may believe that the one story we know completely is our own. But we can easily get stuck in a version of our own narrative that is narrow and overly simplified. We may find comfort in avoiding complexity, but such simplistic story-telling can leave us hurting or confused because we lack the information that could help us make sense of our journey.
The fundamental truth of every human life is that our personal stories are intertwined with those of others—ancestors, communities and countries, and even the entire cosmos. When we can learn to situate our own story in the context of these other, bigger stories that influence us, we open ourselves up to new perspectives and wisdom. These insights can make a massive difference to how we experience and feel about ourselves.
A while ago my wife and I were reviewing our lives and trying to make sense of some painful experiences we’d been through. It was tempting to go back and blame past decisions and wish that we had done things differently. But, as we chatted, we realised that we had been carried by social, religious, and political currents over which we had no control. The decisions we had made in the past were significantly influenced by these forces and we recognised that we would probably make the same choices if faced with the same circumstances. The healing we experienced in that moment could not have happened without seeing a bigger story.
A BIGGER STORY
It can be a helpful spiritual practice to connect our personal stories with the bigger stories within which our journey has played out. Here are some questions that can help us become more aware of the bigger stories that have influenced us:
- What significant historical currents and events have happened in my life? (For example, the current COVID-19 pandemic is significantly shaping this generation.)
- What cultural, religious, educational, ideological, political, and social movements have impacted, or are impacting, my story?
- What connections can I identify with family, religious, cultural, or national ancestors that have shaped my life, knowingly or unknowingly?
- What rituals, traditions, beliefs, values, morals, norms, and customs have formed the framework for my growth and evolution?
- Where do I fit into the larger evolutionary story of the cosmos? What difference does this make to my life and relationships?
- What movements are carrying me into the future, and what visions of the future are influencing my hopes and fears?
As we begin to identify the bigger stories that are the context for our own personal story, we gain new perspectives and we can learn new lessons to guide us into the future with greater confidence. We can also find tremendous healing and grace for our younger selves that can free us from regret and make us more accepting of our journey with all its detours and wrong turns.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
- What would it mean for you to engage a bigger story as part of your spiritual practice?
- What does it feel like to view your personal story in the context of a bigger, cosmic story?
Feel free to share your thoughts and perspectives in the comments and let’s continue the journey together.
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