It is a simple question, yet profound. It can be heard in many ways, even as challenging. But, I mean it as a helpful invitation. What narrative would I discover when listening to you speak about what is happening with you, your family, or your strivings today? How does the current ‘chapter’ fit within a larger, even epic sensibility? Is there a theme that emerges in this period? Or chaos – that too is thematic, in a contrary way.
We live in a time where “busy” is often the first word that we use to answer the familiar question, “How are you?” And, busy doesn’t need to be a bad thing. On the other hand, it speaks to a certain bewilderment and sense of being overwhelmed that is very common. Many of us truly are too busy, and one of the ways to think about that is loss of clarity in the experience of life as story.
Instead, it may be very helpful to ask, “What among all that is going on at present would I want to claim as the ‘main plot line’ of my current life story?” What looms larger in that sense of being most meaningful, significant, or broad and encompassing? Is that work, education, or career development? Is that family or personal relationship? Is it stage of life transition? Is it faith?
Claiming a theme as central is powerfully clarifying. It organizes our busyness through the lens of meaning – a better lens, one might argue, than reacting to a barrage of triggers involving money, time, status, accomplishment, family, or outside pressures.
Does that make sense? Are you interested? A deeper level of insight can then come from attention to the ‘other stuff’ as subplot material. Sometimes there is a singular counter-narrative to the main thrust of the story, one that may be parallel, mirroring, or adding a complex middle part to our greater story. Again, we can then sort out what is going on by seeing the various dynamics of our life as part of a rich, multilayered story. Subplots are often powerful, helpful, illuminating. They can teach us things that help us understand the value or necessity of elements at the larger level.
A third, powerful way of interpreting our experience is as the intersection of our narrative with others’ stories. The recovery traditions have placed this as a central tool and value. One shares one’s experience, strength, and hope, telling what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. And, one learns to listen with identification and empathy, rather than as “fixer.” A simple yet essential tool for this aspect of storied experience is curiosity. Genuine interest. Once again, in our busyness, we may fall way short of generous in providing time, space, and heart for the hearing of other peoples’ stories.
If you do pay attention to life as epic experience, one of the extraordinary takeaways is the discovery or recognition of meaningful co-incidence, of what Carl Jung referred to as “synchronicity.” Story is a way of ascribing meaning to our experience, and it is effective, helpful, illuminating, and relevant. As human beings, we are meaning-makers. Others in our lives, and all the various events, contribute to the unfolding story.
So, once again I will ask: “What is your story?” What is ours? Perhaps, too, story can help us untangle some of our busyness, and remember significance and relationship as central aspects of our day to day life.