Revising Our Narrative Arcs

We don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to see that the stories we tell ourselves affect how we experience our lives. Are we on a ‘Hero’s Journey’ or are faceless forces driving the plot? What kind of inner dialogues are we hearing? “It doesn’t matter what I do”; “May I benefit from this precious opportunity”; “Make that a double” . . .

Our stories tell us who we are and what the world is; they proclaim how everything fits together; and sometimes they tell us that our chances in life were set in place before the first scene got underway. After all, we’re all born into a particular family, neighborhood, class, race, country, and have a particular mind that may or may not equip us to succeed in the society in which we find ourselves. Or is that too just a voice-over narration?

The phrase “Change your mind, change your life, change our world” suggests that our attitude toward life influences our experience and that the world might be different if we looked at it differently. The glow of “falling in love” and the gloom of being dumped both illustrate this connection, but unfortunately it seems that neither love nor rejection fall under our control.

But why should we worry about the role stories play? Because our whole world is racing toward a dim future and most of us believe that there is nothing we can do about it. (Individually and globally our stories cry out for revision.) Our narrative arcs are building the Ark of our planet’s future, for it is in the vision that guides us that we can create a place for what we value most.

Our world seems to be operating out of a conviction that there is not enough to go around and that we need to get in line with our hands out. But as long as a ‘hungry me’ is strung out at a distance from what ‘I want’, disappointment will be inevitable. An alternative strategy–proposed by spiritual traditions around the world—is to ask “How can I help?” Through this simple shift in perspective we may find ourselves transformed from dissatisfied customers into creative entrepreneurs.

Generosity rescues us from having to wait empty-handed outside the gate and can instill a deep connection between our world and ourselves. Instead of inhabiting a pre-fabricated construct of unforgiving surfaces there arises a feeling of belonging in and being known by an open and responsive realm. This new story may even cast us in a role in which we are not the main protagonist. However when our story’s narrative arc traverses the centuries and weaves an engaging journey across a sea of new understanding, both captain and passengers will be in good hands.

4 comments to “Revising Our Narrative Arcs”
  1. What you say rings true. The goal is simple but change is hard as we all know. The mind is tricky. So often I look back at some idea I had and wonder, what was I thinking? Sometimes one requires a ‘leap of faith’ to move on.

    • Hi Gilly. I wonder which is harder: to devise an interesting narrative arc for a work of fiction, or to change the story line of our own lived life. Alas, it’s easy to get stuck in either one. A significant difference may be that in a work of fiction we try to make readers get so convinced by the contents of the story that they think they’re helplessly lost inside it. In life, it’s best if we see through our stories– able to enjoy the shape they provide while at the same time realizing that we also have choices.

  2. Loved this Blog Michael, and while the whole of it touched me, what particularly drew me in was the following. You said:

    The glow of ‘falling in love’ and the gloom of being dumped was my entry point, I remember the “glow” and the change it had on me, on everything I said and did, because I felt it constantly, a sustained emotional high, a high tide that lasted, and lasts to this day…a distinct difference from the emotional level immediately prior to this significant event.

    And this… “attitude toward life influences our experience and that the world might be different if we looked at it differently”. The simplest turn of phrase can be the one that universally connects, touches the most deep and secret places of our being. It ‘IS’ within our power isn’t it. Like switching on the light in our own dim livingroom. Suddenly it dawns, a new way to look at my life… not so narrowly focused, but with generosity.

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