The Stories We Tell – Our Playground or Our Prison?

The Stories We Tell, Italywise

A dear friend recently complimented me on my patience and thoroughness in planning for and making the move to Italy. The grand re-envisioning and re-building of my life wasn’t something I could have approached without research and a plan. My vision served me well, and though there were course corrections as new information came to light, I could not have completed the journey without having a “North Star”.

In the process of following my dream I created a story of how it was “supposed” to all unfold and look. Being in my fourth year of residency here, now I can tell you that becoming fixated and insistent on MY preconceived story was the least helpful and most anxiety producing posture or mindset. When I metaphorically set down my pen, and began to allow the story to write itself, and to evolve and change (often significantly) I found myself in a much better place.

Things happen differently for different people. For some, things just flow and fall into place, and they have a natural ability to go with the flow of life. I suspect these folks are the exception rather than the rule.

The stories we tell are a manifestation of an evolutionary, conditioned need to explain life and the world around us.

The earth is densely populated with 7.4 billion individual brains looking outward at the world, and interpreting events through unique filters and conditioning. That means 7.4 billion variations on the story we call our world and universe. Yes, we may agree on some things, but every person is a unique story-teller. Our interpretive left brains, through the evolutionary process, rule all too often, how we respond to the world. Looking through the metaphorical periscope at life, and surveying the landscape for potential dangers, indeed have served us well when we were in danger of becoming some creature’s next meal. Yet, I believe this interpretive function has run amuck, dominating our lives, and telling us stories about everything. We then take these stories to be true, and our psyches and physiologies get thrown out of whack.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE storytelling. I love how stories can approach or hint at truths that never can be contained or articulated with our small human brains. I love how changeable and creative we can be with our stories – as long as we approach them lightly and as long as we don’t make them hard, fixed and literal. If we do, judgment can rear its ugly head determining how to respond, and then we tell ourselves further stories about what everything means. I believe this marriage to our stories can create a prison – one that isn’t “out there” but in our minds.

We never really know what everything means.

Personally speaking, I’ve spent far too much of my life insisting on have an explanation, or at least an answer, NOW. That’s pretty demanding and pardon my expression, rather ballsy. Like most of my fellow Earth inhabitants, I feel God or the Universe owes me an explanation. But, in my life, I’m finding that is a complete trip into futility. While some of my stories are playful, creative and exciting, too many of my other stories are judgments or indictments of the events around me that do not fall in line with my vision of how things “should” be. My imagination is a potent force. But, it can get a bit out of control, and can start trying to create a story or non-stop commentary about everything happening around me. I share this not as a dramatic confession, but as a breakthrough of understanding how my mental circuits get fried on occasion. It’s like the interpretive, storytelling throttle gets stuck in high gear.

All too often, we have a thought, and then we create a story and decide, because these thoughts and stories have appeared in our heads, they must be real…they must be true. They must be dealt with. We’re saying “I know better.” Consequently, when we find ourselves under the sway of dark emotions, often it’s because of the story we’re telling ourselves as to the “truth” of a situation.

As I write this, I’m reminded of H.A.L. in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We’ve all been programmed by our conditioning. We don’t consciously choose to be anxious and neurotic. We have our own H.A.L. who has been trying to run the show and keep us on a short leash for a very long time – all under the guise of “I’m taking care of you.” That’s true to some extent, but the vigilance and insistence of our interpretive left brains starts resembling and feeling more like a dictatorship.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in my opinion, speaks to this dilemma quite effectively in The Voice of Knowledge. He has written several books that I highly recommend.

The storyteller, the liar in your head, makes you use the word against yourself. It makes you take everything personally, it makes a lot of assumptions, and it makes you fail to do your best. – Don Miguel Ruiz & Janet Mills,  The Voice of Knowledge

We humans are pretty damn scared of not knowing.

Mostly because not knowing means not being able to control “things”. So few people have mastered the art of open space and silence. We have more opportunities than ever to stay in constant contact (and fixation) through our smart phones and other digital devices. If we don’t know something, we have the ability to research it in a flash it with our buddy Google. We ramp up creating the stories we tell with amazing velocity. Fill the void. Keep yourself safe and sedated with a raging stream of knowledge.

Imagine using our storytelling to have fun and be playful in life.

Imagine having a lighter grasp on how things are supposed to be. Imagine ebbing and flowing with life and letting the stories change, come and go. When I indulge myself a few minutes of envisioning what this would be like, I feel my entire being relax.

If we insist on the truth of our stories, it’s much akin to going to the movies and becoming completely lost in the story unfolding on the screen – to the point that, when the credits roll, you’re still trapped in the screen with all the characters and with the story being told.

Each story is just one point of view.

This really helps me to “chill out” when I remember this. It helps me not make someone else wrong, or start making negative judgments about them.

I will continue to create stories through my art and through my writing. But, I hope to do it in a way that isn’t literal or insistent that it’s a better, rarefied point of view. My story is just another expression – another work of art, and ultimately it is cathartic in sharing my experience of life. I also hope, and pray, that my need for a fixed truth and a need to control the world around me begins to release its vise-like grip.

In closing, I’ve included a brief YouTube video from Adyashanti in which he speaks to our relationship with thoughts, how we buy into them, and how we create stories of supposed “reality”.

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By |2016-06-14T16:07:33+01:00June 14th, 2016|Personal musings|4 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Anita June 16, 2016 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Ciao Jed Ive often said my true life story is so uncanny it belongs in the fiction section .
    Noone could believe it!! In my case uncomvemtional & true!! Thanks for insight! Hugs Anita

    • Jed June 16, 2016 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      I’ve had a lot of “head scratcher” events in my life as well. Learning to take it all less seriously, and with appreciation for creative forces at work!

  2. Stephanie Meisel June 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Love reading your mind!

    • Jed June 14, 2016 at 4:02 pm - Reply

      Grazie my dear friend!

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