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I cried when I watched the Netflix documentary “I Am Not Your Guru” by Tony Robbins.
Maybe it was the red wine, or it was the sheer emotion of it all. I didn’t plan to watch it as I had always felt particularly averse to Robbins and his teachings for as long as I can remember. I’d say that the “Tony Robbins package” is performative therapy, and the flaws are disguised by adrenalised highs, charisma, and good looks.
Watching this documentary, I couldn’t help but find it incredible how people can make breakthroughs in their lives with this man’s larger-than-life guidance—it’s surely life-affirming and emotional.
Personal stories are held up with a magnifying glass. People own their stories. Who knows what happens after these events—who am I to judge? Acceptance can be beautiful. So why did I feel as if something held me back from being one of those people? I had been offered a ticket some years ago, but I declined it.
Still, in-between moments of joy and sadness as I watched the show, I let my imagination run wild. Fistfuls of narratives cling to my chest. I pick one out to answer Tony’s different questions as he singles me out of the crowd.
“What’s your name? What’s bothering you?” I imagine Tony Robbins asking me.
I offer up nuggets of information hoping one might be the key to my transformation. I describe my parents in acute detail and explain our struggles. I pull out adjectives and verbs from under the woodwork and revel in my capacity to tell my story.
At one point, as we go between his questions and my answers, Tony smiles at me deeply and meaningfully and says, “Ah. You’re a f*cking smart-ass, aren’t ya’? Maybe your father was intimidated by your intelligence.”
We reach the conclusion of our joint performance. I imagine Tony saying “f*ck” about 18 times as I stand up and claim my story. In my mind, I commit an act so radical I would never have done it had my adrenaline levels been stable.
In fact, this new influx of energy actually has an adverse effect on my nervous system, for I am already in constant fight-or-flight mode, as a response to trauma. All eyes are on me as I sit down with clapping hands to accompany my feet.
In a swift completion, I owned my story and my emotions, and I could feel a rush of ecstasy flooding through my body. I surrender all subversive thought and let go, allowing the energy to take me toward Tony’s version of healing. I zoom through imaginary space on my one-woman spaceship toward healing and…bam! Lights flash. Green, red, blue, purple, and orange. Something’s jammed.
I press pause on the screen of my imagination and take a deep breath. Everything’s frozen—Tony, the audience, and the lights. I feel my body and look at my hands. Then, I hear a muted voice, beckoning through the ether and congratulating me on my talented storytelling. I knew better than to let this compliment go to my head, so I become quiet, still, and responsive.
I needed more. I needed something real; something human.
I look at my hands again—my fleshy hands, all glorious, and veiny. I look at my open palms and wait. Suddenly, quietly, it all dawns on me. The issue disturbing me was the story itself or the multiple stories that raised their hands and shouted, “Me, me, me!” as I searched for the reason behind my emotional pain.
I thought that the reason for all of my painful emotions was my parents. Every time I’d felt lonely, weird, or lacking in love, I would trace the emotion back to them. Maybe, at one point, this was true, but it just didn’t feel true anymore. I replay the screen of my imagination. I want to hear what Tony has to say about this thought of mine.
Tony starts moving again after being frozen for around 13 minutes, and says, “Stop. Listen. Look at me. Can you feel that? You’re adept, huh?” Tony’s face suddenly changes before me, morphing, becoming grotesque, becoming…him. Tony starts shouting, “Stupid girl, so f*cking stupid.”
The morphing runs its course, spewing verbal abuse from men of authority. I waited for an answer—for a key. I waited to hear those words that would put me out of my misery. Finally, the morphing stops. There were no faces left to haunt me. There was nothing left to do, nothing left to ask any human being, not even Tony. The question had lingered there until one voice remained—a neutral voice, like words on a page.
“I am not your story.”
I snap out of it. I’m on stage with the microphone in my hand. I’m standing tall, poised, and calm. My hair is tied back, my eyes are open, and I’m gently focused on the audience in front of me. I’ve time travelled to the future. This conversation with Tony is a memory—a beautiful, sweet memory of yore.
Those five words have taken me to a place that I didn’t even know existed, where a story is its own autonomous being and where self-love requires no victim. My fleshy hands, my palms, and the keys to my heart were all yearning to speak and tell me to feel my feelings without needing to own a story.
In Tony’s version, owning your story means owning your emotions, but what if emotions aren’t ours to own? What if our approach to stories means avoiding shifts taking place inside our bodies? What if it impedes the flow of emotion through us? What if we claim stories in order to claim emotions that are not ours and don’t belong to anybody or anything?
What if those emotions have risen from a specific encounter and need to be released? What if we can’t release them because we have associated the feeling with our own unworthiness that was rooted in childhood memories? What if this pain is ancestral?
I’m talking about uncoupling stories and emotions. In one of his many transmissions, writer and teacher Matt Kahn states that emotions don’t require an explanation or, as he says, they don’t require a “because.”
What I have discovered from this is that, at some point, it is safe to let go of our story in order to feel what we are feeling without the need to explain it.
There might be a push-pull process that plays out, where ways of explaining your pain come and go like guests into your house. I have learnt that embodying our own experiences is not a linear process. I have also realized that it can be a gaslighting tactic to deny a victim their own story.
Be aware of this. I speak of the relationship between stories and emotions, which can play out in private—in quiet moments of reckoning. I speak of circumstances in my life that have led me to a point where I could loosen my grip to my story in order to love myself more. I speak of the liberation and the fluidity of emotion.
Maybe for you, your emotion requires a “because”—or it doesn’t. It is never someone else’s responsibility to tell you to “let go” of your own story. It comes of your own accord. It is whatever is needed to enable growth and emotional freedom.
Hearing the words “I am not your story” through the ether meant that there was a wound for me that has become a faint scar. Imagine your body creating a scab and someone repeatedly picking that scab off your wound—that’s what it’s like for someone to tell you to “let go.”
I’ve been there before. The person who had caused my distress told me to let go at the time. And I couldn’t as I was being emotionally tormented and my self-esteem was worn down.
I am a Jew who was born into a working-class family with a veneer of wealth and a history of psychological disorders. That said, I know that as I heal, the conditions that have kept me from living a safe and healthy life have the potential to be altered.
I also know that if I do not decouple my story and my emotion when I am called to, I will find it more difficult to be with others in their pain when they most need it.
I write this at a time when we’re giving more attention to the killing, coercion, abuse, and silencing of Black human beings. But this is not novel, this is not new. In this instance, it may be that a story is exactly what is needed to explain emotion—the collective rage felt toward unjust systems of power such as the police is a topical example.
The past reenacts itself on the present and fresh wounds need healing by recognizing the wounds for what they are.
Our lives weave in and out of the lives of others daily, and we all store and process emotions differently. For me, hearing that emotions don’t need a “because” has liberated me from the need to overexplain my feelings to myself and others. It has freed me from the need to have a narrative to assign to my emotions and from calling them “mine.”
For me, “I am not your story” means, “Let go of me, and I’ll let go of you so that you can feel what you need to feel without me.”
If you are also being called to uncouple your story and your emotions, then may this be a sign that the time is ripe. May this enable you to liberate others, to hold space for them as the sweet nectar of emotion travels in and out of ourselves and back to the source.
May we find the resources we need to grow.
May we become better at sharing them with our fellow kin as we journey through life together and not alone.