Sunday, August 9, 2009

Narratives



A happy life (whatever that means), according to the cosmology of Reya, has little to do with accomplishments, how much money you have, where you live, the status of your love life, how much you weigh or with your talent, wit or beauty.

We homo sapiens love our narratives. We are a storytelling species through and through. A happy life depends entirely on what kinds of stories we tell ourselves. I've known people who have had serious bouts of cancer who are just as happy as the perfectly healthy, plain looking folks who are as happy as the gorgeous, unachievers who are as happy as Barack Obama (who I think of as a happy super-achiever.) Clearly the key to happiness has nothing to do with externals.

It's all about the story, how we frame our perceptions and experiences, rather than the experiences in and of themselves. And now please don't tell me that you have the ability to be objective. I don't believe it. We're every one of us spin doctors, working ceaselessly to make sense of the sounds, sights, smells and sensations that we take in every day. We are interpreters of experience; we try as hard as we can to find meaning in the unfoldings of our lives. Every one of us is a storyteller. No exceptions!

Please understand: I'm not suggesting that in order to live a happy life every story we tell ourselves needs to have a positive spin to it - that's denial, delusion and illusion. Life is full of every kind of experience from the sublime to the ridiculous, oh yeah. A happy life comes from believing that even during dark nights of the soul, you're going to be OK, from believing you'll come out of whatever it is you're going through, and that you're a good person, worthwhile. Easier said than done for some folks. Easier said that done even for the most confident of people sometimes.

One thing I love about meditation is that it's my opportunity to take a vacation away from the incessant story-telling machinery of my mind. It's a nice break from the plot line. During meditation I can see right through my stories. It's quite a revelation every day.

Of course as soon as I finish my sit, I dive right back into my story, with enthusiasm and intensity. I am a human, after all. Though my tendency is to create a very dramatic version of my journey through this lifetime, one thing I'm remembering as I move through this time of grieving is that somewhere along the way I built a strong foundation of confidence in myself. Don't ask me how I did it, I can't explain it. It's true, though, that even when I'm flopping around, I believe in my heart of hearts that somehow I will prevail. That foundational confidence is worth a pile of gold, a perfect figure, a genius-level I.Q., a fabulous love life and flawless health (none of which I have).

But it's all OK anyway. Life is good and I am grateful. Seriously!

25 comments:

ellen abbott said...

You're so right Reya. So much depends on perception and confidence and knowing that we are in charge of how we react to the acts of others.

Peaches said...

You captured the essence...the basic true here about being happy. As a teacher I see this as the stumbling block for so many young women. I teach in an all girls high school and as I strive to teach the whole child, this is one of the hardest concepts to get across.

Reya Mellicker said...

Peaches those girls are SO lucky to have you on their side.

There's something about coming through hardship that builds confidence like nothing else. All initiation rituals (including bar mitzvahs and other coming of age rituals) depend on being challenged and coming through the challenge, triumphant.

I think this is why we love to climb Mt. Everest or sky dive or do other crazy things, to prove to ourselves that we're capable of so much more than we thought.

The School of Hard Knocks really builds confidence. Weird to think about it.

Reya Mellicker said...

Love this synchronicity ...just read fascinating article in the New York Times about the brain and identity. On the last page of the article they talk about stories and narratives and how important they are in recovering identity (after a brain injury).

Really cool!

Liza Ursu said...

"A happy life comes from believing that even during dark nights of the soul, you're going to be OK, from believing you'll come out of whatever it is you're going through, and that you're a good person, worthwhile." I like that Reya. It's what you believe that makes the magic possible.
Enjoy your day!

Phoenix said...

Very honestly put.. you know sometimes your honesty catches me by surprise. What you've described here is something each one of us inwardly knows.. yet we are happy with our stories.. we make a world of our own... with our stories. I guess it is also a defense mechanism.
And oh! I love the line about the school of hard knocks.. at least I can tell myself that I will emerge much stronger than ever out of my present circumstances!

Deborah said...

this piece may be among the most brilliant you've ever produced

it deserves wide publication

it rings true on every level

I applaud you
and
of course, love you without measure

Nancy said...

The fact that you have created confidence for yourself is probably what wll get you through anything. And you are so right about the storytelling. We all do it. I always liked the Abraham Lincoln quote about most people being about as happy as they make up their minds to being.

janis said...

Reya~ You are so talented! I LOVE how you write. You touch me.. It's like your words connect to my way of thinking, yet you have a gift of explaining things and making me feel good or better about things. Your photography is as always breath-taking. I am in awe of you. Thank you so much for sharing your Blog! You make my day so often!

Margaret Gosden said...

Photographs are super as always. It would be interesting to see what sort of a take you would have on a New York street and/or car.

karen said...

wow, fantastic! Another beautiful glimpse into the Cosmology of Reya - thanks for that!

steven said...

reya this is wickedgood writing . . . in all the people i know i feel their need to make sense of the unfolding narratives of their lives. to somehow create a braid of being that represents their knowing of themselves. to form the almost formless into something they recognize and can then share.
when my dad flew away i connected the dots of my experience of him into a parabola. it was beautiful and polished and missing so much of the roughness, the unformedness, that really was him. but it was lovely and easy to look at and a nice piece to share with others.
i love the connection between identity and personal narrative. it's a really sweet piece to unpack. wow reya thanks for this! have a lovely slow afternoon. steven

Elizabeth said...

I echo Deborah and Steven.
This was wonderful
perceptive
and ultimately
VERY TRUE INDEED.
I haven't seen exactly this idea expressed before but, as a writer, know that we do quite a lot of editing and decision-making in what sort of
narrative we decide to present to the world.
You are very wise.
Pity we couldn't add LATINA also since that seems to be buzz of the day.
You go REYA
much love

Editor said...

This is beautifully put. I often refer to it as each of us are reporters on our lives, and we decide what gets a huge front page story with 72 pt headlines, and what gets buried on page 16 with a sentence or two.

We decide how to prioritize and characterize events and perceptions, how to interpret them, and what the main message of each report is. But the way you have put it is much more poetic and evocative.

Cyndy said...

I love the way you've described how narration and storytelling serve as a framework for perceptions and experiences in life. That's so true, and it's especially cool to be able to read your take on this in a blog post, since blogging is such a great way to put certain parts of our story out there.

Meri said...

For sure. Stories galore. Stories can be changed, but not until they are revealed to just be stories.

The Bug said...

My husband & I are definitely using narrative to remind us that we are where we want to be right now. There are other places that would be more ideal for us, but we like this one a lot. I think we like it so much because we've told ourselves how great it is. Shhh - don't let the cat out of the bag!

Reya Mellicker said...

Bug my lips are sealed.

Thanks to all - wow - thank you!

Janis do NOT be in awe of me. The blog is concentrated and concise and I only reveal what I think are the best of my thoughts. But thank you anyway for your nice words.

You, too Steven. Wow.

My story: On the blog today I scored like a big dog. Oh yeah!!

Merle Sneed said...

We are always trying to figure out who we are and where we fit into the universe. Stories show us the way.


Did you see the poem I posted for you on Friday?

Natalie said...

I am with Deborah. Wonderful how you have captured the essence of many minds in a few lines. Brava Reya.xx♥

Delwyn said...

Hi Reya

One of the few givens in this life is that it is chaotic and seemingly meaningless and therefore the stories that we write around our experiences attempt to give meaning and purpose to our lives.

We also need to be able to read these stories with honesty and discernment and act with integrity because it often happens that parts of our stories may be distorted and we are believing falsehoods.
This is a very interesting topic Reya. I am going to give it more thought.

Happy days

Steve said...

Indeed, we all have our stories, and I also practice meditation to take a step back from mine. The mind churns stuff out constantly, to interpret and explain our world and our path. Taking a break from our own stories is SO beneficial!

John Hayes said...

So well put. Thanks!

Barbara Martin said...

By storytelling you put your perspective out to share with others. This may be just the catalyst to get others going on their own journey.

Bee said...

Without ever putting this thought into words -- and you word it so eloquently, so persuasively -- I realize that I TOTALLY believe this.

Peaches' comment interested me a lot because as I was reading, I was also thinking about my teenage daughter and her friends. They have no trouble playing up the drama of their own lives -- and certainly they are the protagonists -- but why does it have to be a tragedy? Perhaps, as we grow older, it's not so much that we grow wise . . . but that we learn to edit more effectively?