As humans, we are story-making creatures.
We use stories to explain to ourselves and to others how the world works. They are our answers to the ubiquitous question of why.
Why did this happen? Why does that person act that way? Why do I act the way I do? Why does this hurt? Why is the world the way it is?
These stories make up our beliefs about our world and how the world operates, and they guide our reactions, our perceptions, and our decisions.
Most of the time, though, the stories we make for ourselves (or accept from others) become part of our default operating system without us ever carefully analyzing them to ensure that they serve us well.
In actuality, our stories often cause us a great deal of pain and suffering that are unnecessary.
Stories of blame
One of our most common category of stories is blame stories. Stories that attempt to address whose fault it is that things are the way they are.
We gravitate to these stories because if we can determine what created a certain situation, we can better control whether it happens again. The blame stories tend to fall into two broad categories: it's all my fault, or it's all his/her/their fault.
Both categories of story seem to serve us on the surface. If it's all their fault, I can feel self-righteous about being an innocent victim who has been wronged. If it's all my fault, then I have complete and total control about making things the way I want them to be in the future.
Below the surface, however, stories of blame ultimately cause us more pain. Blaming another keeps me powerless and damages my relationships with those whom I'm blaming. Blaming myself creates shame and self-punishment that make difficult circumstances that much more challenging.
As much as we want to know why something happened and to explain all the nuances of everyone's contribution to it, this story-making behavior keeps us stuck in the pain of the situation.
Collapsing our stories
A better approach is one that my teacher calls collapsing our stories. I visualize this in terms of hot air balloons.
In the pain of the moment, we tend to keep inflating our story with more and more hot air, adding details to the story of how evil that other person (or group) really is, how innocent and right we are, or conversely how much we are to blame for our own suffering.
We want this story to help lift us out of the pain so we can get a wider a view of all the whys and hows as if understanding will fix the situation.
It doesn't. The truth is that we will never fully know what caused any situation. Our viewpoints will always be too limited to see clearly.
Not only that, knowing why will never heal the pain we are feeling. Any healing that takes place and any changes to the situation have to happen on the ground in the middle of the mess.
When we collapse our stories by releasing of all of the extraneous stories about motives and whys and intents and rightness/wrongness of ourselves and the other person, we are better able to focus on healing ourselves and the situation.
Choosing the stories to collapse
We will never manage to release all of the stories we carry with us. Our stories help us navigate the world to accomplish what we need to do.
The trick is to identify which stories help us move toward greater healing and wholeness and which ones are adding to our suffering.
When I'm choosing which stories to collapse, I consider how those stories make me feel.
If a story creates more compassion for others and for myself in a situation and helps me act in more loving and kind ways to all involved (including myself), it's worth keeping.
If a story causes me pain, resentment, shame, anger, or self-righteousness, I'm better off collapsing it to the minimal facts and releasing all the rest.
Separating our truth from our stories
One of the challenging things about letting go of our stories is that our stories come to feel like Truth to us. It all feels so true to us when we are caught up in the story.
First, I find it helpful to remember that my truth is never complete Truth because I will never have enough knowledge or perspective to know everything about a situation. I never manage to know the entire Truth about myself, much less about another person or a situation involving many people and other factors.
That reminder keeps me focused back on my own truth and what is true for me in the situation without needing it to be the absolute and complete Truth.
Second, my truth is limited to that which I can actually know and experience. As soon as I start assigning motives or intents or thoughts or feelings to someone else, I've stepped into story.
For example, if I'm dealing with someone who I don't like being around, my truth may be something like "I don't like the way I feel when I'm with this person" or "I don't like the person I become when I'm around this person." That is my truth from my lived experience.
Any explanation of this truth that involves diagnosing the other person's character, motives, or intentions moves into the realm of story—whether I'm right or wrong in my assessment.
Collapsing the story means sticking with my discomfort with being around that person and letting go of all of my justifications and explanations for why that is the case. From that place I can choose to find ways to spend less time around that person or to find ways to make being around them less uncomfortable (if their presence is unavoidable) without adding the secondary weight and pain of my stories of how evil they are.
Sticking with my truth about my experience while simultaneously dropping all of the story about that which I cannot know moves me directly into a space of problem-solving, which is ultimately the path to healing.
We will always need our stories, and we will always want to know more than it is possible to know, but collapsing our stories to the minimum will always bring greater space for healing to happen and will ultimately cause us less pain in the meantime.
Where are you currently holding on to stories that you would benefit from collapsing? How might you collapse those stories to make more space for healing in the situations involved?