Stories wield incredible power, and are one of the core shaping influences in human cultures. We can easily look around the world for examples of this: here in the United States, our culture is shaped by Christian mythology. In India, Hindu mythology forms the culture. In Iceland, the Icelandic and Norse mythology of old supports the culture there. The stories we are told, and continue to tell, impact everything from who we choose to form close bonds with to what we value to our ideas about what a “good life” is.
And, these stories are so present in our cultures that we tend not to even notice them. One of the big perspective shifts that comes from traveling abroad happens when we realize that things we considered immutable – values, perception, the flow of time, what “alive” means – are highly variable. When we stumble from our home myth cycle into someone else’s, it can be head spinning.
Along with the mythological foundation beneath us, we ingest an almost constant stream of new stories. It’s less common to hear a story while sitting around the hearth fire, but the movies/series we watch and books and blogs we read are still stories. The stories we spend the most time with tend to inform our perspective just as the foundational myths in our countries inform the culture of those places.
To all these stories swimming around and through us, we must add one more layer – our own stories. Each of us carries a Narrator within us, telling us the story of ourselves as it unfolds in real time. Just as the narrator of a myth sets up a story of tragedy or triumph, our inner Narrator heavily influences how events are perceived within the context of the story they are telling.
That last sentence is really important. Our Narrator gives us context. So, a challenge can be a new monster to be successfully vanquished OR it can be a new burden in a tale of woe.
And now for the science:
“[A] person’s perceptual and memorial systems do not passively record and store information from the environment. … People are selective about what they pay attention to in the first place and selective about what they store in memory, and they differ in the extent to which they are susceptible to suggestion” (from her book, “Eyewitness Testimony,” by Elizabeth F. Loftus 1996 edition; here’s her TED Talk).
The fluidity of memory and perception means that not only are we telling ourselves a life-story, but that our story can change. We have abundant science now that demonstrates how subjective our memories are, and that by implanting a visualization, we recall how events unfolded differently.
Witches and magic-users of all stripes build the muscle of visualization through repeated exercises. Our imaginations are one of our most powerful tools: in order to effect change in our environments, we need to be able to see, feel, taste, and hear our goal as clearly as possible. Most of us also have at least some understanding of the wibbly-wobbly-ness of time. We know that although we experience time as linear, the deep truth is something much wilder.
So, let’s put it together: Memories can change. We each have an inner storyteller. Time is not linear. And, the tools of magic give us powerful editing software.
Our Narrator connects past to present and is responsible for some of the memories that crop up. By re-visualizing and then imagining a different ending to some of our memories, the entire tone of the story can change:
“…and then I realized that I survived that experience, and felt how strong I was.”
“…and then I took a piece of deep wisdom from the lesson and chose to build a more honest life.”
“…and then I knew that I was worthy of better treatment and am not going to tolerate such cruelty again.”
“…and then I simply wrapped my arms around my body and reminded myself that I love who I am.”
As with most magic, it’s easier to turn the Queen Mary (reshape our story) through small incremental changes.
Start with one story you tell yourself – one memory that comes up sometimes and brings feelings of shame, sadness, or anger with it. Sit with that story and figure out how you can change it into a tale of victory. Protip: yes, it’s possible – one adjustment is “I survived and realized my own strength.” By making the story victorious, a difficult time becomes the tempering of a blade – an experience that ultimately made us better.
Write down the new ending or change to the story. Then, close your eyes and summon the memory as clearly as possible. Play the whole thing out and imagine your changes to the memory. Over the course of a week, repeat this exercise three to five times.
Support your storytelling with an affirmation that relates to the new story. Affirmations are “I am” statements that foster growth, strength, and ability in different areas of life. Some examples could be:
“I am grateful for my strength and resilience”
“I honor my healing process”
“I am determined and powerful. Each experience only makes me more so.”
One of my preferred ways to work with affirmations is to make them the background on my phone and to write them in dry-erase marker on my mirror. That way I see them and read them multiple times per day. Use the affirmation you wrote for a month or so following your storytelling session.
When your Narrator surfaces the memory unbidden, imagine the new ending/revisions as well. Follow that with the affirmation. If you find yourself telling the experience aloud to others, include the changes you made. It’s your story – you’re allowed to change it. It doesn’t take too many repetitions before your neuroplasticity will adopt the new story.
One last thought: be aware of the stories you’re consuming as well. There’s a tendency toward entertainment right now that is, frankly, hopeless or terrifying. Series that explore dangerously broken minds, movies that teach distrust, narratives that point toward the collapse of society and the end of the world, etc. I love a good action movie as much as the next person, but balance that story out with one that tells of victory, honor, trust, and a bright future. If you deluge your Narrator with terror, your own story becomes fearful. The good news is that you can choose what stories your Narrator hears and sees. So have some awareness and intention here.
So, come sit by the hearth fire with me. Feel the warmth on your skin, smell the woodsmoke, and hear the crackle of the flames. Let’s tell stories. What new ending are you writing today?
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