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The Story Is Key



Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about human beings is their devotion to stories. I don't just mean campfire stories, fairy tales, myths and legends, though those are included. We tell ourselves stories, large and small, moment to moment, throughout our lives. Our minds practically demand it.

What we're trying to do is fit our experiences, the raw facts and sensations of our daily lives, into some sort of larger structure. If we succeed, we'll say things like "that explains it" or "now it makes sense." Our entire mind, both the linear, logical side and the creative, big-picture side, actively participates in the process. The story, predetermined as it generally is, even acts as a filter, so that some of the input may be discarded, if it would conflict with the story, would not "make sense". Of course, the story can also change to adapt to new information that cannot be ignored, but less readily because of the filtering effect.

Clearly, that makes it important to be aware of the stories one tells oneself, if only to allow a more deliberate selection of material. Such conscious examination may also make the story more realistic, closer to the observed facts, but only if we choose that direction. One can just as easily delude oneself, if desired. The story itself is neither good nor evil; as with most psychic facts, it depends more on how one uses them.

In recent history, for instance, people have become more and more interested in scientific explanations of the world around us. The analytic, logical side of the mind has found a way to take its story (called a hypothesis) and test it more or less impartially against reality. Then the story is adapted to the results and the process is repeated. We all know of the tremendous advances in, well, story-telling, that this process has given us. For instance, you're reading my writing as a result of some of those advances.

But in the process, we've more or less ignored the big-picture side of the story, literally. Though we have uncovered many layers of "explanation", from sub-atomic particles to observations of the universe, we have yet to find anything fundamental, anything that really explains anything. It's still all "because of something else". There isn't any reason to believe we will, either. There are certainly people who hope we will, but in some ways that's comparable to the "insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

Perhaps part of the problem is that the stories we're focused on are exclusively on the outside. Even when we think about our own thinking (what 'finding my way' calls "brain stories"), we're really looking at ourselves as if from outside, as thinking machines. Maybe at some level we are thinking machines, but it's an old cliché that we'll never be able to understand everything about our brains using only our brains. It would be like trying to open a crate using the crowbar packed inside.

And maybe that's what that other half of our minds is for, the one that's good at big pictures. It's worth a look, maybe.

At least, that's my story.


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From a writing perspective, and I know you're talking about deeper stuff here, I have written stories to express myself and to hopefully connect with others.

Eckhard Tolle describes the mind as a tool. There is something much deeper about us than just our minds; there is spiritual essence. Maybe the explanation of the bigger picture is not so complicated, after all. Or possibly, that's my story.

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Spiritual essence, and everything Tolle wrote, qualifies as a "story", in the way I intend it. There's no implication that stories are false; just that there are probably many stories that all fit the facts equally well. That's why there are so many points of view available.

I too feel something I describe as spiritual, when I look beyond ego, beyond mind. But it's completely wordless and self-sufficient. As soon as I try to use words, in any way related to it, anything I can find to say is still just another story ...

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I guess I like to tell stories then because I always want to share (and likely also be heard). Sometime I'll have to talk about my feelings about the concept of essence. I'm a bit brain depleted at the moment, though, and should probably save that for my blog. You're right that there are different stories. I think if it fits for you, that's what matters.

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Well, again, I see two facets: internal stories, that we're telling ourselves continuously to organize our world, and stories for sharing. Certainly, I don't try to tell in words all the stories I use in a day.

And many stories (the ones SPS guys tell themselves come to mind, but also addicts, people with low self-esteem, etc.) aren't so much told as they are lived. It's really those stories that I would like to get a handle on, not to mention trying to get a different part of the brain to work on them. It's way too easy to get lost in one's thinker. {For a thinking type like me, at least.}

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Oh, I see now. I got caught up in the emotional stuff and missed the point you were making. Figures.

J would talk about seeds that were planted in the past. How to learn to stop feeding the distortions? Change a word first and then a page and then a chapter. Or better yet, write the story as you live it with an openness to change and new experience. All easier said than done, though, too.

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We especially have stories when it comes to fear or pain. The story maker jumps to life immediately. :(

I found Tolle's approach with the "pain body" to be almost helpful, but really kind of harsh.

Maybe we need stories at that point. And taking special care with our stories in times of fear and pain can make all the difference.

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I find it interesting that we are searching for alien life by searching for planets like our own. I think that finding alien life that isn't like us has a far greater probability, but it is difficult to go past the realm of what we know. I guess projection and bias is inevitable.

It is unsettling in a way, though. It almost comes down to the thought that many things in our world are our own perceptions. Science has hypothesized, and done the math, that things might exist only when a conscious mind notices it. It is in its infancy, but it is a real consideration. I think we need our stories to protect against that possibility, maybe. I also think that maybe our right brains are more at work when we are listening to another's story, as in visualizing it? But I guess we still visualize it through our own lens.

As far as building one's self esteem, you really hit the nail on the head! People can tell me this or that to raise my self esteem, but I never believe them because it doesn't come from within.

Malign, thanks so much for your insightful post, it really has me thinking . . .

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Well, I'm sure the searchers would be the first to acknowledge that searching for life that's "like our own" is biased. What's difficult is defining the criteria for "signs of life that's not like our own." We have quite a difficult time defining what "life" is, even on Earth; it's practically impossible to imagine a wide enough array of possibilities for extraterrestrial life. I doubt that they're limiting their searches out of projection bias, but rather from the simple inability to guess what else to look for.

Now, that's different from things not existing unless we're aware of them. I don't picture entire alien civilizations springing up and vanishing again based on the current scientific thought on our planet; what comes and goes is how much effort we expend on them, one could say the number of stories we tell about them.

Okay, so given that self-esteem comes from within, what sort of looking-within can we do to find it? In many ways, this is similar to the search for life in the universe ... So, are we similarly limiting our view of the world within, based on what we expect to find?

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