We Are the Story Keepers

We are the story keepers.

When I talk about story, I refer to the lines of meaning, the patterns of the universe that are perpetuated by the telling and retelling. As the conscious manifestations of the local area, we are the intentional tellers of stories. But we get it backwards, because we forget that we are the story keepers, and the stories begin to tell us.

From Thomas King, I learned The Truth About Stories, when he told me (and the rest of Canada) in his Massey lectures, “The Truth About Stories is, that’s all we are.” As you unlayer yourself, you are a sequence of identities, each one of which contains narrative and story. You are a mother, and that comes with expectations. You are a daughter, you are a son, you are a straight, or queer, or questioning person, an accountant, a doctor, or an artist. Each of these identities that you might seize upon has language attached to it. We don’t get to use language without all that language implies.

Because the truth about stories is…

…that they tell us. And then we become trapped, and enmeshed in the stories that we were trying to tell. That we started out as the keeper of the story, and the story becomes the keeper of us. That one of the things that we were trying to do was find out what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a straight person, a queer person… What does it mean to be this kind of manifestation in the world? Stories are supposed to be tools that we carry down: These are the ways that other people have tried and investigated, and found out, “This might work.” And we mistake ourselves deeply when we hold those stories so tightly to ourselves that we forget that we are telling the story and the story is not telling us.

From my queer theory, Race, Culture, and Schooling professor, Dan Yon, I learned to pay attention to my reading practices. This means that when I catch the story telling me how to respond to something I read, I am to step outside that story, step outside that identity, and engage with the story I am currently being told, rather than responding from the position of the story I already assume to be true.

From the Buddhists, I learned to doubt my stories, to recognize that the voice in my head that says, “You will never be anything, you will never amount to anything, no one wants to hear what you have to say,” is Not Me. It is not True. The story, “You’re brilliant and fabulous and wonderful and everybody will throw showers of riches upon you,” is also Not Me. And not True.

The only thing that is true is stepping forward, and stepping forward, and stepping forward again. Breathe in. Breathe out.

A long time ago, I mentioned the tragedy of human consciousness, the thought arrived at while staring at my cat and reading Schopenhauer. Somehow I came up with a funny story about reading Schopenhauer, but I diverted from my initial aim. Allow me now to come back to it. Because here is what I see as the tragedy of human consciousness:

We can imagine the future, but we cannot predict it.

We spend our entire lives trying to convince ourselves that other than that is true. That if only we could find the right story, the right line, everything will become clear, our future will be laid out in front of us, and all of our uncertainties and terrors will be washed away. This becomes tragedy because we are so caught up in our own terror that we have to impose our false certainty on the world, and people, and the animals and plants around us. We stop being the story keepers and become the story told. We become enmeshed in the story. Enmeshed, not in trying to find out whether the story is true, but in trying to prove that the story is true, because that would alleviate our discomfort, and our fear, and postpone our recognition that we don’t know the future.

More tragic is that because we can imagine the future, we hold people responsible for failing to imagine the future that comes upon them. There are predictable outcomes, but they are not determined by our actions. And we are very hard upon people in the process of trying to deny that. We are very hard on ourselves. (But that is a post for another day.)

In my super-secret other life (1) I am bringing to the world a story about uncertainty, about releasing the story lines that you are holding, about learning to dance from one story to another. About uncrystallizing the mental constructions of the world you see outside you, and recognizing that while you can work to some extent on imagining and modeling, you cannot KNOW what comes what comes next.

Let us start with the dinner table, for its immediacy. You cannot KNOW in that moment what the person across from you is thinking, what the person across from you will do next. You have an imaginary version of your partner (or your child, or your parent) in your head. And when your imaginary partner doesn’t line up with the real one in the world in front of you, you need to learn that the one in front of you is real. We start with our partners, and our intimate relationships, and our children, and the people closest to us because we get to practice with them daily. But once we realize that the people we love best, we don’t really know, and we don’t have a complete structure of them in our heads, we start to learn humility, and from that we can go on to realize that the people who we encounter on a daily basis who are not our intimate partners, we really know almost nothing about. We have profoundly poor models of the complete stranger.

My work at the moment (and I have a nagging suspicion that this is My Work in all the sense that that implies) is to draw people towards the sense that the stories are possible truths, but they are not Truth. That considering, rather than believing is the path to freeing yourself from being kept by the stories, and to returning to the role of the consciousness as the story keeper. When we talk about the egoic mind, one of the ways that I describe it is that we have come to believe the stories, rather than telling them… and as we who have tried know, to escape the egoic mind, and stop believing the stories is incredibly challenging. But it is the start of Practice.

1. The one in my head and on paper, and eventually website with e-books and courses and the like but you can’t have the URL yet, because it is a garden full of tiny seedlings, but that’s why I haven’t been blogging so much recently but I’ll still keep this one because it’s kind of like my house now, and I like having all of you round for dinner and everything…

2 responses to “We Are the Story Keepers”

  1. […] been thinking a lot about the stories I tell myself—or, as The Practical Dilettante might put it, the stories in which I trap myself. One of the interesting aspects of the past few several weeks is that though I’ve certainly […]

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