As we get ready to leave for Ecuador, there is a shedding process. And I’m referring to more than just grooming the dogs hair and getting our haircuts. My biggest challenge has been my journals as well the big box of photos. These hold the stories of my past. And I’m a little attached to them. But I am acutely aware that they are just stories and not necessarily important to what my story is now.
I started journaling when I was in 7th grade as I went through a very rough couple of years in a “boarding home” situation while my parents worked overseas. It was a way for me to get out all of my confusion, loneliness and pain.
During those 2 years, I was bullied by both students and staff, came close to being molested by one of the staff, was slapped, punched, beat up, had my head grabbed by the hair and my forehead pounded into the floor, found my own hand full of hair after a girl started a fight with me at the bus stop, had finger nails dug into my face when her sister jumped on my back the next day, watched staff yelling at kids and throwing chairs across the room, had a staff threaten to pull me out of the 10 foot high loft by my feet because I wasn’t eager to get up at 5am to deliver papers, learned how to faint to get out of going to school, was failing school, tried to run away, looked longingly into the warmly lit windows of cozy homes as I delivered papers in wee hours or evenings…
My parents came back, we moved and high-school was a dream in comparison!
But I would never be the same and I continued to journal for many more years, trying to understand my continuing sense of loneliness and pain. That 7th and 8th grade year was the beginning of my travels within. Funny thing is, one day I went back and reread some of my journals from over the years and I saw that I was repeating the same stories and conclusions over and over, thinking I was discovering something new each time. It was time to let them go.
The same is true for the photos. They are pictures that tell stories. When I look at photos of my childhood now I sometimes wonder who was taking it and what story they were trying to capture. And was it the same story for the person in the picture?
“The story is important” is something my Dad used to say as I was growing up. It was used in the context of him creating stories for me around things I HAD to do, giving it a positive spin or making me feel empowered about it, being given the idea that I was involved in making the choice to do it. It makes me think of that parenting technique where you give the toddler a choice that helps them feel empowered while accomplishing getting them to do what you need them to do: Do want to leave the park skipping together or going piggy back?
It was a good message in the sense that we DO get to choose the meaning that we create around the events in our lives. And parents do help us with that when we are young but it is something we can do for ourselves as adults. Victor Frankl (a holocaust survivor), in his book A Man’s Search for Meaning (which I know had been an influence on my Dad), says: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
And another quote by Wayne Dyer along these lines is: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
As a parent myself now, I do see the importance of the story. I see it as a tool for growing our own awareness, for both parents and kids. When we are aware that our minds are constantly creating stories about our experiences from the stream of thoughts constantly running through our heads, we are empowered to choose our story, to choose how we look at things, to choose how we respond… Most of our thoughts and stories are based on past experiences, fears, borrowed stories and future concerns.
When we become aware of this, we realize that we can stop and look at our thoughts and maybe question them and maybe choose a different perspective. We realize that we can let go of old stories that are not serving us, that are keeping us stuck in harmful patterns, keeping us from loving ourselves and others, and instead choose, moment by moment, thought by thought, question by question to step into consciously creating the meaning and the story of our lives.