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  • Writer's pictureAnnelisa MacBean


"Talk therapy" can get a bad rap now and then, frequently considered relatively ineffective compared with somatic therapies or parts modalities; cartoons of analysts and couches, shaming of “story" versus “experience;” some forms of spirituality quick to label a hint of narrative or subjectivity as a diversion from what is “true” or “real”. Contrary to some cool, new-age ideas about story . . . my experience has been that the clear articulation of my story, the way I have come to make meaning of my life and experience into the receptive field provided by an empathic, non-judgmental, attuned and present listener who establishes a right-brain to right-brain connection . . . this has been deeply healing, reorganizing, and transformative. We can intuitively sense the power of truly connected relationships, and the power of this connectedness has been acknowledged and clarified in the field of interpersonal neurobiology. The mechanism of what is actually happening during moments of empathic attunement has been discovered and fostered within this field. It’s not woo-woo pseudoscience or positive thinking. Go ahead and Google the research . . . or just open your heart to the heart of another and feel what happens. Often when I speak with clients or friends who are deeply invested in their spiritual life, they will preface their communication with, "Well, I mean, not to get into my story or anything..." As if "having a story" is somehow evidence of not being spiritual, even something of which to be ashamed. Story has become an obstacle to transcend, "get over," or let go of, some clear evidence of being "lost in the ego." From my perspective, this is problematic. Maya Angelou offers a counter-point to consider, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I personally find this to be very true. Of course, it is crucial that as friends, therapists, counselors, and healers we work on multiple bands of the spectrum, including the emotional, somatic, and spiritual. We must certainly send breath and life into each level, using whatever skillful means at our disposal to attune to the area that might most need attention at any given time. I find "story" can often assist in highlighting the areas where deeper holding and attention is needed. Granted, as many of us know all too well, it is easy to drown in our stories, to fuse with them, and be flooded or engulfed. But that tendency to indulgence or overwhelm is not an indication that story is an obstacle to our healing and awakening. There is pure wisdom buried in the story as well as in how we hold the story, if we will take the time to allow these layers of meaning to unfold. It is the identification or fusion that is the issue, not the story itself. This is an important discernment that can emerge in connected, sacred space.

The appearance and navigation of story is not evidence of some spiritual failure or that one has fallen short. But rather, evidence that you are a human being. Welcome. We human beings are storytellers. It is a very valid, creative aspect of how our brains and nervous systems interface with our souls. Rather than shaming and attacking our storytelling capacity as error, let us embrace it and engage it with our hearts open. Get curious. What is the story you are telling about yourself, about others, and the world? Listen closely. Move into the story; use your breath . . . follow the story into its sensations and elements, into your very core, secret places. Illuminate it with the awareness and compassion of attuned listeners. From this grounded perspective, you might then decide if you’d like to update the narrative, bring forth a more integrated view, perhaps one that is a reflection of the truth you've discovered recently, not just inherited from an earlier time. The goal is to have a flexible relationship with story, experimenting with the lens through which you see yourself and engage reality. Story can be a creative, open, and luminous pathway along which you journey as the hero or heroine of your own life. Use your story as a way to connect with others, to truly meet, touch and be touched by them, to love and be loved . . . to help them with everything you have within you. Go ahead. Tell a story. Author a new vision of your life. Your heart is listening. My heart is listening.

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