“Talk therapy” gets a bad rap these days, from caricatures of analysts and couches in cartoons to the shaming of “one’s story” by certain forms of spirituality, quick to label any hint of narrative or subjectivity as evidence that a person has lost their way.
Clearly articulating our story, the way we have come to make meaning of our lives and experience, into a field of empathic, non-judgmental, attuned, right-brain to right-brain connection can be incredibly healing, reorganizing, and transformational.
While the reality of the power of a true I-Thou relationship has been known intuitively for a long time, the field of interpersonal neurobiology has discovered the mechanisms of what is actually happening during moments of empathic attunement, and the neural integration that is fostered within this field. This is not some sort of airy-fairy pseudoscience and positive thinking. Read the research and see. Or just open your heart and feel.
Often when I speak with someone who is deeply invested in their spiritual life, they will preface their communication with, “Well, I mean, not to get into my story or anything…” As if “having a story” was somehow evidence of not being spiritual. Something to be ashamed about. Some obstacle to transcend, “get over,” or do away with, some clear manifestation of being “lost in the ego.”
This is madness.
I love what Maya Angelou has to say on the matter, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I find this to be so true.
Of course, it is important that as friends, therapists, counselors, and healers we work at multiple bands of the spectrum, also including the emotional, somatic, and spiritual. That we send breath and life into each level, using whatever skillful means at our disposal to attune to what area might most need attention at any given time.
As many of us know all too well, it is easy to drown in our stories, to fuse with them, and be flooded or engulfed; to forget that no story will ever fully encompass the entire majesty of what we are. But that is not indication that story is impure or an obstacle to our healing and awakening. There is pure wisdom buried in the story if we will take the time to allow its meaning to unfold. It is the fusion that is the issue, not the story. We must make this discernment in the fire of our direct experience.
The appearance and navigation of story is not evidence of some spiritual failure or that you’ve fallen short. But evidence that you are a human being. Welcome. We human beings are storytellers. It is a very valid, creative, and honorable aspect of our holy brains and nervous systems, of our souls. Rather than shame and attack our storytelling capacity as error, let us embrace it as a gift from the Gods, and engage it with our hearts open.
Get to know in a really clear way the story you are telling about yourself, others, and the world. Get curious. Listen closely. Travel inside the story, with breath, into its very core and secret places. Illuminate it with awareness and with compassion.
From this ground, you can then decide if you’d like to update the narrative, re-craft the story of your life, re-envision a new perspective, re-enchant the plot and cast of characters, bringing forth a more integrated view, perhaps one that is more up to date and a reflection of the deepest truths that you’ve discovered, not just inherited from an earlier time.
The goal is not to “not have a story,” but to have a flexible relationship with story, playing and dancing and dreaming with the lens through which you see yourself and engage reality. As a creative, open, and luminous pathway in which you journey as the hero or heroine of your own life. And to use your story as a way to connect with others, to truly meet and touch and be touched by them, to love and be loved. To help them with everything you have within you.
Go ahead. Tell a story. Dream a new dream. Author a new poem of your life. The Gods are listening. Your heart is listening.
— Matt Licata