Our minds are powerful. Very, very powerful.
Most of us are far more skillful and imaginative storytellers than we realize.
We tell ourselves story after story—frequently, not to our own advantage. Often we imagine the worst case scenario in daily situations and as the story builds we find more and more evidence to substantiate it.
We all have something or many somethings that make us feel unsettled, stir up memories or evoke downright fear. A thought can cross our minds and we can let it go or the storyteller within can invite it to stay, add a few details, ignore a couple of facts, re-write it, edit it, and watch it grow into a tale of epic proportions. For some of us this story is about our bodies or our health, or jobs, our relationships, fear of the future or the unknown or a specific thing or event.
Take a simple headache for example—I know It could be caused by a brain aneurysm, a tumor or a blood clot, encephalitis, I might be having a stroke, or what about Meningitis? Any one of these ailments make for a story worthy of a Hallmark channel mini series, complete with suspense, drama, conflict and surprise. In three hours the Storyteller might have me racing to the emergency room, by now with thirty new anxiety related symptoms further convincing me that this will not end well.
Or maybe, just maybe I might be a little dehydrated, or I slept funny on my neck or I ate to much chocolate. Maybe if I give it a little time, drink some plain old water and rub my neck a little my headache will go away. A story worthy of, well, nothing.
Less face it, the Storyteller loves drama and she has a way of sucking us in.
My boyfriend hasn’t called in three hours. If I let her, the storyteller will have me convinced that he’s forgotten all about me. The plane I am sitting in hit some turbulence, it could only mean certain death. My daughter got a “C” in Geometry she must be smoking pot and skipping school and Oh my God…my boss looked at me funny, she must be mad at me and what if she fires me? How will I pay the rent? I will have to sell my car and I will seriously go crazy if I have to move back in with my mother. I hate the way she tries to make me eat so much…. Nevermind the fact that my boss just looked at me and in reality, maybe she just glanced in my general direction.
The key to finding immediate calm is to get to know your inner Storyteller.
Beware, she is crafty and persuasive, sometimes paranoid and egotistical and often she is completely mislead and confused. Rarely is she a sweet, kind and gentle advocate. She will manipulate you if you let her. Learn to identify when she is in control by asking yourself:
Is this story real? Back to the headache—Yes. The headache is either real or it is not real. You either have a headache or you don’t.
Is this story true? If indeed the cute girl who only hours after sharing that peach with you ended up testing positive for meningitis then yes, your headache=death concerns are valid and your disease story may in fact be true.
What evidence do I have to support my belief? Until you have confirmation that you contracted said Meningitis, you have no solid evidence. Panicking at this point is premature.
Do I want to change the story? Should I change it? Can I change it? Here’s where you become proactive and take the steps to either quiet the storyteller, alter the situation or solve the problem. Choose to take control and do your own editing.
Learn to differentiate between fact and fiction. Despite how hard the storyteller tries to engage you in combative inner dialogue give yourself permission to stop and rewrite the story. This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process, really, if you can identify that the story in your head is untrue then you have no reason to believe it. It cannot affect you. It cannot rob you of your joy or your calm. It is just a story, not unlike an episode of Sponge Bob. Let go of your attachment to that version of the story and move on.
And while you’re at it, breathe. Breathe as if your life depends on it because…well, it does.
Close your mouth and take long slow breathes in through your nose and exhale even slower. As you inhale allow your rib cage and belly to expand out into the world around you and as you exhale release the air slowly and let your belly settle in toward your spine. Place one hand over your belly and feel it move with your breath. Place one hand over your heart and spend ten seconds connecting to your breath and heart—your life force.
Calming your body can help calm your mind allowing you the clarity to remember that The Storyteller is not you, she has however set up camp in your head. For most of us she is a manifestation of our fear, insecurity, and resistance. Personify your Storyteller if it helps to create separation. The voice in your head might be a grumpy old man or a crazy old cat lady. My Storyteller is a petty, jealous, trouble making teenage girl with a pet monkey and an overactive imagination.
Slow down and identify the story before it carries you away. Remember, it’s a story and like many stories, it may not be true—either way it’s up to you to decide what to do with it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Kimby Maxson
Editor: Renee Picard