Friday, March 22, 2013

The Stories We Tell

As I mentioned in the last post (quite some time ago), there are certain ideas that seem to follow us everywhere. I have been trying to think of what to write for this post for awhile. I have been traveling, and the main reason for the travel was to attend the 6th World Congress on International Children's Rights and Family Law in Sydney, Australia. There is a follow-up conference specifically dedicated to children's views in Auckland on Monday (NZ time). It is no secret I love conferences, but I felt like I had run out of things to say about them, especially considering I was not teaching yoga at this one.

But then the answers came, as they tend to do. Generally speaking, when I travel, I am one of those people who wakes up early and gets out of the hostel before most sights are even open. I prefer to walk cities, partially to save money, but really, so I can see everything there is to see. I am one of those people who attends conferences from morning until the close of the day and hates being late to sessions, let alone missing them. (That might be because I have been the final presenter on more than one occasion, and I like when people stay for my presentation, but I actually think it has more to do with wanting to gain everything I can from my time there.) That has always been my story about my travel and conference experience, and I wanted that to be my story on this trip.

So what does this have to do with this blog? That story is nothing like what I experienced this time. My story had to change. And the universe has been feeding me information about stories and their effects on us all week long.

First, there was this TED talk called "The Danger of a Single Story." I have watched a lot of TED talks while I have been here because I have hurt too much to see the sights and been too exhausted to do too much work (though I have, of course, done some). Then there was this blog post about whether we listen to our body's stories or our mind's stories. And then I saw that one of the first Western-recognized African storytellers, Chinua Achebe, had died, and I read a wonderful tribute to him here (full disclosure - a dear friend of mine writes that blog). And of course, there is yet another yoga teacher sex scandal involving none other than Mr. Bikram himself, sort of the antithesis of the popular view of yoga, but sadly becoming more and more common.

It seemed the universe wanted me to look at the stories I have been telling myself. Lawyers are taught that stories are our bread and butter. Stories are how we win cases. If we cannot tell a compelling story, we cannot make our clients human enough for the court, or in many cases, the jury. Stories are what I love about conferences as well. I have my story of the work I do, but it is through conferences, particularly international conferences, where we can expand our stories. We can learn from one another and see the work we do from different perspectives. We can learn from one another and begin to do our work with more focus on the fuller picture. I cannot say full picture because I am not sure we ever get that, but expanding our stories brings us a fuller picture. In some ways, we can learn to improve what we do, and in others, we can actually learn that what we do is pretty good. But we can never know which it is going to be until we hear the stories from everyone involved.

And this is what we learn on the yoga mat. In the yoga blog post linked above, the author talks about listening to her body instead of her mind. It is when she listens to her body that she makes decisions she does not regret. I have written before about learning to trust the body and not the mind, but I think it always bears repeating. We live in a society focused almost exclusively on listening to our minds. Our minds often tell us what we "should" do, not what will actually help us in the long run or even the short run. But how do we learn to listen to our bodies? As a yoga teacher, for years, I thought it was about quieting the mind long enough, and the body would give us easy answers. Most yoga traditions are focused on quieting the mind. While asana is the physical part of the practice, listening to our bodies is not only about listening to our bodies. It is really about listening to our intuition as opposed to what the mind wants us to hear. It is just that our bodies are often the medium through which our intuition comes to us when we are on the mat. Thus, listening to our bodies is a metaphor for listening to the deeper, and fuller, story of our lives.

That is, however, much easier said than done. Sometimes the answers come immediately. We have all had those experiences where we just know we have to do something. But sometimes when we want the answers the most, it is when they are least likely to come. And that, perhaps unfortunately, is when the mind goes into overdrive. It tries to examine all the possibilities. It listens to all the advice there is. And of course that advice is often contradictory. Psychologists who work with children often say that if we do not tell children the truth about what is happening in their lives, the story they make up is going to be much, much worse. Our minds are sort of like those children. Our intuition knows the truth, but it is not always accessible, just as adults often hide the truth from children to "protect" them. But then the stories we tell ourselves are far worse than the truth.

I wish I had an easy answer here. Sure, it's easy to say, "just ignore the mind, and listen to the body/intuition." But sometimes that simply does not work. The mind continuously gets in the way. Something is blocking our intuition. We continue to tell ourselves the same stories over and over again instead of reaching out for the new story, the one that can actually lead us where we need to go. At this conference, I left sessions early, and I missed the last three. I just could not sit there any longer. I barely saw any of Sydney, and I had never been here before. But that is what my body told me to do. It is not the story I expected to live, and there was quite a bit of disappointment is not living the story I expected. But there was also a sense of knowing it was right and necessary. And the rest of the story is that there is always next time.

What stories do you tell yourself? Do you get upset when you cannot fulfill them? What do you do to expand on your stories, to hear others' stories?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

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