THE POWER OF PERSONAL STORIES
An invitation to change your life by changing the stories you live.
Recently, I attended a week-long international gathering called the New Story Summit at Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, where more than three hundred wildly diverse participants from 50 countries hoped to collectively envision a “story” for the world that could begin to replace the current story of conflict, greed, environmental devastation and growing levels of human misery. That current story seems all too likely to come to a catastrophic end for humanity on a badly damaged planet. The desire to “tell a new story,” (which is beginning to pervade the Zeitgeist) comes from humanity’s dawning sense that the story we collectively tell is the story we will live into, or that what we hold in consciousness is what we create.
One of the original planners invited me to participate in the Summit because, though I’m mostly a fiction writer, I recently wrote a nonfiction book called Change Your Story, Change Your Life, about what I call Story Principle. Story Principle recognizes the power of an individual’s conscious or unconscious narratives to shape awareness, beliefs, expectations, intentions, experiences, actions—in short—personal reality. Every day, consciously or unconsciously, each of us is telling a story about the world and the people around us, what is happening to us in any given moment, and what it all means.
Our personal storyline is woven in our own imaginations, but uses threads of the larger stories we are embedded in—our family stories, our cultural stories, the history we were taught, and, of course, the day-to-day news stories from the world’s media. Most of those threads we weave in without questioning or even noticing them. We assume that what our consciousness is bringing us is reality, and we do our best to adapt to it. But consider that when we are dreaming, each dream feels as real as life, and our only power, if we don’t like what is happening to us in the dream, seems to be the power to wake up and realize it was “only a dream.” With training and practice, however, it is possible to “wake up inside a dream” and make changes in the dream’s direction. Story Principle suggests that with practice and a “willing suspension of disbelief,” we can make changes in our waking storyline that change the daily reality we experience. I wrote that book to help people discover the possibilities and begin to do that for themselves.
On a purely personal level I was thrilled to be invited to the New Story Summit because I had wanted to visit Findhorn since I first read about it and the remarkable collaboration its founders had entered into with the spirits of Nature, to create a garden of unheard-of richness on a barren, unwelcoming sea coast. The story of collaborating with the planet, so similar to what indigenous people had been doing for eons, seemed to me a powerful guide for our collective future, and I wanted to see if I could experience the energy that story had created there. Plus it felt to me that holding the Summit in that particular location was explicitly inviting the spirits of Nature to participate in the endeavor.
But I was doubtful about whether I had anything useful to contribute to such a gathering. The intention of the Summit was gigantic—to find a way to alter the whole current Saga of humanity on planet Earth. And while I knew from personal experience (and the reports of others who have tried them) that the methods for changing their own lives that were included in my book actually worked, I had no idea how to expand those methods to the vast complexities of the greater world. My work is focused on single storylines, while the Summit wished to re-imagine the almost unimaginably complex Saga in which each of those storylines is one tiny strand.
Being at the Summit turned out to be, for me, a truly stunning experience. Findhorn’s unusual energy was palpable, and I quickly discovered that I was able to relate to what its residents refer to as the “Subtle Realms.” I am not an activist as most of the other participants were, and I was impressed by their reports of the work they are doing in the world. More than that, it was incredibly heartening just to be surrounded by so many people who care so deeply about humanity and the planet and our future, and are so passionate about contributing to the betterment of that future. It was something I had never experienced before. There was a powerful combination of thinking and feeling going on, of head and heart. And there was a commitment to allowing a new way of being and a new structure for collaboration to emerge within the group. Though I’m usually a talker, I was grateful to be a listener in that company.
But by the middle of our week together all too familiar threads of what was mostly being called “the old story” emerged and seemed to take over. Instead of creating a powerful “We” of collaboration, the “I’s” had begun to assert themselves and the collective was separating, just like the larger world, into various polarities of Us versus Them. Tensions had arisen between women and men, youngers and elders, organizers and participants, those from what was called the “Global North” and those from less prosperous parts of the world. It seemed for a time that even this group of individuals so powerfully committed to making a positive difference for humanity could not escape the old divisive patterns that we so strongly wished to ameliorate. We were bringing the old story to life in spite of our collective wish to change it.
The good news seemed to be that once the polarities were recognized, with the help of collaborative ceremonies created on the spot by the indigenous people from multiple continents, and a willingness (however grudging) to let go of the already agreed-upon structure and allow a new one to evolve, we were able to move past the atmosphere of conflict and arrive, by the end of the week, at a greater sense of community. The Summit ended with a feeling of “We” that offered steps toward collaborative actions that various participants could take together in the direction of positive change. Some may have left the Summit with a sense of failure, because we had not actually managed to create a New Story, but I came away with a new respect for the power of shared positive intentions to turn a negative situation around. After all, in the larger picture, that is what we all hope to see happen in the world. And some of us had been aware that, having been invited to participate, the unseen energies of Findhorn had made a powerful contribution to the outcome.
The most important thing I brought back to my own personal story from that experience is the realization that my focus on our ability to change individual storylines does in fact have a contribution to make, in fact, a vital one. When we bring the negative consciousness and energy of the old story into our attempts to change that story, it doesn’t work well. We can’t resolve conflict in the world when we see our own story as a battle, when we feel ourselves in competition with those around us, when we feel threatened by forces we can’t control. The consciousness of conflict cannot eliminate conflict. The need to compete sabotages cooperation. And importantly, we need to find our way to the realization that consciousness activates what we think of as reality so that we can both see and feel that our own consciousness matters.
My work suggests that however daunting it may seem to attempt to change the story of the whole world, on an individual basis our stories—and so our experience—can indeed change. And I’m certainly not the only one offering help in doing this work. There are many people offering strategies for such change, from many different philosophical and spiritual perspectives. It’s possible for whoever wishes to try it to find a method that works for her or himself.
Anyone can begin to change a story that feels like reality in small ways, and then watch what changes in their experience. Seeing that change enables them to trust that bigger changes can be made. Anyone can discover the threads of what I call their “small stories” (the ones least invested with emotion so easiest to change) their “big stories” and—once they have realized how much “story” has to do with their reality—their “foundational stories” (those most connected to and supported by the Saga and so seemingly most real) and then revise or even delete those threads that do not serve their intentions for the future. What it takes is an acceptance of the possibility and a willingness to do the work.
If the state of the world today is created by an “old story” that we are separate from each other and from nature, that the universe is either hostile or uncaring, that we must fight to protect ourselves and those we love from forces that constantly arise to threaten us, that Earth has too few resources to support its population, so we must grab all we can and hold onto it, and that however hard we struggle, we are likely on the road to ultimate destruction, changing it requires that we find the thread of that old story that is most destructive and make a change. To me it seems obvious that that most destructive thread is fear. We need to address the part that thread has in our own storyline, because it is initially in our own that we can make change.
When we are able to soften the thread of fear we change our personal storyline, it is a change in individual consciousness that contributes to a new consciousness in the larger world. One storyline at a time, the old Saga becomes new. Actions taken from a new, less fearful consciousness create a geometric progression of change in the physical reality of the world, which in turn creates new storylines for countless others who then act out of their own new consciousness. Thus the reality of the world is affected by the change created in each personal storyline—exactly what the New Story Summit was convened to achieve. Acting for positive change is essential, of course. But telling a new, more positive, less fear-drenched personal story is equally essential.
Meanwhile, for those of us whose story allows the possibility of collaboration with the Subtle Realms, there is the heartening, comforting news that humanity is not alone in this endeavor. Consider the possibility that the universe itself could be on our side! And then, as we do to most thoroughly enjoy any story, suspend disbelief.
To find out more about Stephanie S. Tolan, click here.