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  • Maura McCarley Torkildson

The Power of Story - Good or Bad


We are story telling creatures. Stories entertain us, they mesmerize us, they thrill us and they can also depress us. Our love of story is why we go to movies, watch TV shows, read books, and listen to speakers. We are drawn to stories like moths to light. Story is what differentiates us from other life. Stories are emotional nourishment. Not only do we seek out stories for entertainment and meaning, but we tell ourselves stories all day long, about ourselves and about others around us. Story is the way we create our reality. When an event occurs, there are as many stories about the event as there are people who witnessed or participated in it. That is because each person has their own narrative, life experience, triggers, beliefs, participation in the event, location from which to observe, ability to observe and so on. Even our stories about past events change over time. Memory is not a reliable source for evidence; memory is more about the present than it is about the past. It is our present perspective on the past. So why should this matter to you? The stories we tell ourselves either hold us back or move us forward towards our fulfillment. It’s as simple as that! When an event in our life occurs, we may respond with action or inaction, and we also respond with emotion. However, we also tell ourselves stories about our emotions. Often those stories prevent us from moving through the emotions. Emotions are a temporary state. I have heard people call them energy in motion. I like to think of them as our navigation tools. We make emotions good or bad and wrap them in story which follows the good/bad script. When the script is “bad emotion” we tend to repress them and then they become permanent rather than temporary. We stop the energy from moving, and emotions stick around until we face them. Story is our way of making sense of our world. As story telling creatures we are meaning making creatures. What we forget is that we have a choice – which meaning are we going to create? In a culture of “never enough,” often that meaning looks like “there is something wrong with me.” That leads into self-judgment and inertia typically follows. I know, because I have often been in inertia created by my self-judgment. Sticking with the story “I suffer because I deserve to suffer” prevents us from experiencing the growth and resilience that could come from the experience. However, first we must experience the emotion that comes with the event which caused our suffering. From there it is possible to move into creating a healthier meaning: “I suffer because I am learning about suffering and this too is an opportunity for growth and now I know my resilience.” Learning about our resilience, our ability to overcome is the theme of almost all our stories – The Hero’s Journey as identified by the mythologist Joseph Campbell. When my father died last summer, I could have chosen to see my grief as suffering, but fortunately I was directed by a friend to a film by Steven Jenkinson, “Grief Walker.” The film helped me turn the meaning of my grief into a natural expression of my love for my father and to see grief as part of the wholeness of love. That meaning allowed me to fully embrace my experience of grief. I transformed into a resilient being that can contain both grief and joy in the same moment. My old story, grief as devastating, transmuted into appreciation of life, with love and compassion for myself and for all the people in my life whom I hold dear. Writing is one of the ways I personally reframe meaning around the events of my life. I think one of the functions of being a story teller or an artist is to transform our experience into something meaningful, find healing for ourselves and then share that meaning and healing with others. In order to do so effectively, we must experience our emotions – the navigation tools gifted to us by nature. What and who will you transform with your art?


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