I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.’ Francoise Sagan

Thursday, 17 November 2016

What's Your Story?

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"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Wayne Dyer 


I have come to see that it is not so much what happens to us in life that determines the quality of our existence, it is the narrative we construct around the events we experience. We all have a filter through which we interpret and try to make sense of our lives, but what matters most is whether our interpretation of 'reality' is beneficial or detrimental to our well-being. 

One of the most influential people in helping me grasp this concept and understand how my 'story' was influencing my experience of life has been my good friend and life coach, Linda Ford. Linda has not only helped me to see that I had created a narrative around my life that disempowered and entrapped me, she also made me aware of a tendency to portray myself as a victim of circumstance; this had become a self-fulfilling prophecy, ensuring that I kept attracting more of what I didn't want in my life. This is because one of the fundamental principles of the law of attraction is that you become what you think about most of the time! So, if you are constantly dwelling on what's missing from your life or how difficult things are, you will just keep experiencing more of the same. Furthermore, even if you are consciously striving to secure a great job, find your soul mate and create material abundance, if your default mode of thinking is of the 'glass half empty' variety, none of the things you are seeking will show up in your life. This is because you cannot be a vibrational match for love, success and material abundance if you continually dwell on the lack of these things in your present reality or make negative affirmations such as: 'knowing my luck it will never happen!' or even worse, 'it's the story of my life!' And that expression, often so thoughtlessly uttered, is particularly illuminating in this context because that is exactly the point: what we tell ourselves about what happens to us is just that - a story

To give you a concrete example, I could look at the events of the past two years of my life in two entirely different ways. The events themselves remain exactly the same, but how I choose to interpret them is completely different. During this period, I lost my mother and former boyfriend to cancer within a year of each other, my father was admitted to a care home, I lost my job and my marriage came to an end. Added to all this, I found myself trying to sell two properties during a year of extreme political volatility and instability. These are all incontrovertible facts and they make my life sound pretty awful but how we feel about what happens to us, particularly those events outside our control, is always a choice. So, I can choose to feel trapped and disempowered or I could make a different choice, one that liberates and empowers me! I am not suggesting that these losses have not been deeply painful, but rather than allowing them to overwhelm me, I have learned to use them as a powerful catalyst for personal growth and transformation. 

For the first time in my life, I am learning to become truly self-sufficient - both emotionally and financially. Following the loss of my nine to five job and a regular income, I found a number of less stressful and more creative ways to make a living. This included becoming a host mother to a number of overseas students, some of whom have become friends for life. I also took advantage of this career break to learn Italian and dedicate myself more fully to my practice of yoga. But the most significant development for me is that I have learned to enjoy solitude rather than fear it. I have also discovered, after years of bouncing from one drama-fuelled relationship to another, that I don't actually need a man to be happy. This has been an unexpected revelation to me. Learning to look within for my own sense of self-worth and not to continually seek external validation is still a work in progress, but I might never have started the process were it not for this period of enforced solitude. 

I have also come to see that although many of the losses I have experienced have been devastating, they are not unusual: after all, we all have to face losing our parents someday and jobs and relationships come and go. This awareness has made me reassess these events, causing me to reflect that perhaps I am not the victim of a malevolent universe or some particularly harsh karmic payback!  The world is not perfect and few of us go through life completely unscathed, what matters in the end is how we interpret and respond to the challenges we face.

On this note, I recently heard an inspirational podcast by Deepak Chopra, broadcast in the aftermath of the recent US presidential elections. Deepak was talking about how to restore our collective peace of mind and wellbeing in such turbulent times. In this context, he admitted that he had struggled to accept the recent choice of the American electorate. However, he had some powerful words of wisdom to share about how we might begin to make peace with an event that had caused him, and many others, such concern. For him, the first step in this process was to recognise that whilst he was powerless to change what had already happened, he could change how he felt about and reacted to it. In describing how he shifted his consciousness from a state of anger followed by uncomfortable resignation to a state of calm acceptance, he made the following analogy. He asked us to imagine being on an aircraft that was being flown by a pilot that we didn't like or entirely trust. In this scenario, most people's initial reaction would be one of fear and unease - understandably so, since our lives would depend on the pilot's ability to get us safely to our destination. But although we might be powerless to change who was in charge of the plane, we would all share a collective desire for the pilot to get us home safely, and with that objective paramount we would offer our full support and cooperation. So, even though we didn't chose the pilot, our priority would be to help ensure the plane arrived safely at its destination. 

Deepak's point was that rather than wasting our time and energy arguing with what is - in this case the incontrovertible fact that Donald Trump is now President of the USA - we should instead focus our energy on what we can control, namely our own response to this reality. He also asked us to remember that even if we did not elect this president, it is in the country's interests for him to succeed and all Americans need to get behind him in this endeavour. For my part, although I have often struggled to practice non-judgement and acceptance of what is, when I have managed to achieve it, I have enjoyed much greater peace of mind. 

It is important to emphasise here that acceptance is not the same as resignation. We can and should stand up to injustice in the world, just as we have every right to express sadness and disappointment when we suffer any kind of personal setback. But the important thing is not to get stuck in this level of consciousness. It is normal and healthy to grieve for the loss of a loved one or to denounce any kind of injustice at the top of our lungs, but ultimately we have to accept what is and move on. Otherwise, we run the risk of becoming victims of adversity rather than masters of life. 

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved a good story. But until quite recently I had never fully considered how the narrative we construct around our experiences is in itself a form of fictitious story. The key events and circumstances forming the backdrop to our lives may be fixed, but our interpretation of them is completely subjective - hence one person's tale of disaster may be another's tale of triumph. The fact of the matter is that we always have a choice: we can either present ourselves as victims of circumstance, or we can consider ourselves creators of our own destiny; we can either live in fear of adversity, or we can learn to embrace the opportunities it brings; we can either focus on the problems, or we can look for the blessings behind them. I believe that this is what it truly means to be free.

When I look back over my turbulent and unconventional life, I sometimes wish I had had an easier, less drama-fuelled existence; yet, had things been any other way, I would almost certainly have never become a writer. I would definitely have had far less material to inspire my creativity! So, instead of comparing myself to others or wishing things had been different, I have decided to appreciate the uniqueness of my own life and use it to create a story of hope and inspiration.