Erasing Your Life Story

by Gary on March 19, 2016 in

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As we learn to sustain our poise, our life story shrinks and then disappears.

It’s a good thing.

What is our life story?
Our life story is our ego’s version of what our life is all about.

It’s always a falsehood.  Here are some examples from the narrative I used to keep alive in my internal dialogue and in my conversations with other people.  Each one is a theme in my former life story

v     My success theme: I was the first member of my family to get a college degree and later to get a Master’s Degree.  I went on to be a good teacher and then an innovative CEO of an organizational dynamo that trained thousands of line staff and leaders in all 50 states, produced distinctive new knowledge in our field, and enjoyed major investments from foundations and government.

v     My marriage theme: I’ve been married 50 years.  Well, to four different people. Think of me as a movie star (ha ha).  I’m a slow learner, but now I’ve finally got it right, married happily for 20 years.

v     My family theme:  My three children and I pursued very different trajectories after my divorce from their mother when they were teens.  They went religious and conservative with their mother, and I went the other way.  As parents later, my children took my 10 grandchildren into religious and political conservatism.  I was close to my grandchildren as they grew up, nevertheless, and remain close to some of them today.  My dream of a Father Knows Best family has yet to come into full bloom.

I have many more themes in my story, but I’m bored and chagrined repeating these three, so I’ll stop.

Life Stories Fail to Tell the Truth

My life story is distorted in several ways.  Even though I have probably repeated it hundreds of times, in various versions and with various levels of detachment and self-awareness.

Here’s why I have dropped my life story:

1. My life stories, as I used to present them, are not true.  Or they are only minimally true. My ego, always wanting to put a self-serving spin on everything I do, wants to embellish, wants to look good.

Fritz Perls, the gestalt therapist, said that almost all of our talk is either chickenshit, bullshit, or elephant shit.

Bullshit, he said, is telling an exaggerated life story to make ourselves look smarter than others, more successful than others, or nicer—more moral—more sensitive—stronger—braver than other people.
My life stories were bullshit: Did I tell you about how neurotic our innovative staff remained, even as we told our national training audiences how enlightened we were?  Did I tell you about my marital infidelities?  Oh, I forgot to mention those painful realities?  Did I tell you about the aspects of my personality and lifestyle that my family did not want to emulate or did not enjoy being around?

Oh, yes, those parts of the story that I left out.

2. Telling my life story over and over kept me stuck.  My story, as I used to tell it in its many iterations, kept me circling in an eddy, with the illusion of going somewhere, but actually going nowhere.

Repeating my stale stories over and over, I created the ordinary man of my time, a boring egomaniac who never seemed to change much.

Emily Dickinson, in her famous poem, said

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you—Nobody—Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!

How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
To tell one’s name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!

My story made me predictable, even to myself.  What is the future of a man who is stuck in his own story?  It’s hard to imagine a glorious time ahead for a bullshitter.

3. It’s not possible to tell this life story and sustain my poise at the same time.  Telling my story, I’m rarely in the present.  If I’m rehashing parts of my life story in my internal dialogue, I may be doing some necessary reflection.  In other words, it is useful to bring up an old story if I have some unresolved issue to work through.  But most of the time it’s just mental masturbation.

Or if I’m telling part of my life story to someone else, I am not only not in the present, but I’m not connecting well to the person I’m talking to.  Why am I telling this person this story?  To impress.  That means I’m not being authentic.

And, I hate to remember, when I used to tell my story to others, I was usually earnest.  Earnest, boring, humorless!  Here’s life to live right now in this precious moment alone or with others, and I’m dredging up these phony old stories.

Who am I if I don’t have a story? Well, you are a poised warrior, living a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage.

v     Poised, you’re present in the unpredictable, pulsating now, a now that has no story starring your ego, a now pregnant with possibility.

Fully present, the now will guide you.  Acquiescing to what is happening now, we won’t be obsessing about a failed past—or even a successful past.

Fully present, your consciousness is all you need.

v     Poised, you’re connected to everything and everybody around you.  Life is there in all its abundance and variety, and you’re part of it.

Poised, you create new, vibrant connections with people around you. Connected, your interactions are fresh, appropriate, in the flow.

v     Poised, you’re grateful.  There are no regrets to rehash.  Your cup is filled to the brim and you don’t want to retract your gifts by telling yourself or others a tale of woe or even a tale of victory.

v     Poised you’re creative.  You’re aware that something new wants to emerge in you.  You are a creative agent, ever resourceful and dynamic, acquiescing to what must be lived right now.

You have access to all of your powers and what you are creating has never existed before.  You’re pioneering on the frontiers of human emergence.

v     Poised, you’re lighthearted. You are not repeating the old, heavy, self-absorbed stories of your past. Death will come all too soon, and now is the time to laugh. Most of the time, you’re having fun, laughing at yourself and at the divine comedy of human life.

The next time a new person in your life asks, “Tell me about yourself,” well, you know what not to do.

           

Poised, you’ll be surprised at what you say.

This essay was first posted here back in 2013.  Erasing our life stories is so difficult and unusual that I thought we could benefit from examining this issue again.  Gary

4 Responses to Poise and Erasing Your Life Story

Eric Nadelberg May 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi Gary
A terrific post for this week’s blog as we all tend to think that the story of our life is the most interesting and important thing we have to relate to others. But why? I suspect because it serves so many purposes, it tells the others who we were which provides us with a sense of self importance and validation, and because it’s expected and accepted as how we present ourselves, which we tend to do, as you note, in the best possible light. Nonetheless, isn’t it is so much more interesting to talk about the now and what we are currently thinking and doing as opposed to just circling the bowl with our bullshit, chicken shit and elephant shit?

It makes me wonder why most of the people we know prefer to rehash their history, and not talk about the more interesting present. I come to the conclusion that most of us don’t know any other way to be, and at the same time, if we do, engaging in high quality talk is hard work, and requires that we be aware of more than just our state of mind in order to speak about what we’re experiencing, we have to be willing to listen and who wants to do that when talking about ourselves is so much more interesting.

Emerson wrote that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. That would seem to provide and endless stream of victim stories we can also tell so why not mine that rich vein of self pity. Again, we become mired in the past and can’t free ourselves to live in the moment.

High quality talk can also lead to unpleasant results if the other party isn’t interested in discussing what is true and real as opposed to what they want to be true and real. So there’s an element of risk that may have us pulling our punches so we don’t hurt or startle those who are unready or unwilling to see that they have a new story to tell that is more interesting and renewing.

Some of us relish the search for a happier now and a richer more textured future, most people don’t realize the joy that can come from being a pioneer on the frontier of self renewal, and many don’t care that they are missing out because things are just fine as they are as they are, comfortable in their cocoon of ignorance. I prefer to be emerging, growing and changing, it’s the real trip, and since we only go around once, let’s make the ride fun.

Eric

  1. Gary May 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Eric, You’ve provided some valuable additional insights into what’s happening when we repeat our life stories over and over.

    I hadn’t thought that our life stories are frequently victim stories–bad explanations for the life we have created. The bad explanations–told and retold–get cemented into our consciousness and are difficult to jack hammer out later. Most people live with their stories, as you point out, without too much introspection.

    You point out that we may pull our punches with some people in order not to hurt them.

    My view is that nobody is doing anything to anybody, so how can we hurt someone by speaking our truth?

    Anyway, why are we talking to someone who doesn’t want to hear authentic talk?
    Gary

  2. Karen DELANEY August 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Thank you Gary for this interesting blog. It reminds me a time when I spent so much energy investing in my story that I was unable to contemplate living in the now of my life…….

  3. Jason January 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    I figured this out last nite; for a while it was a challenge to mentally place this whistling idea as light-hearted and joyous and fun and loving. It came to me however while prepping dinner — I could picture it and I understood it.

    More importantly, this idea of Fritz Perls regarding chickenshit, bullshit, and elephantshit really sat with me the last two days.

    I realized I grew up in an environment where genuine thought/feeling/growth-oriented talk, or what F.P. might call “real” talk, provoked discomfort and awkwardness… so I mostly do talk about chickenshit or elephantshit in certain (similar-feeling) environments or situations.

    However, I want to avoid considering that ‘past’ as any kind of victim story:

    I am a person who is just now learning to create and accept and love and desire genuine, real sharing about development and growth and making war on weakness. I see the value in it and want to create more of this value and welcome learning and sharing in myself and my peeps. It feels good and worthy and seems to make the world a better place.

    It’s my goal to work on more genuine talk and sharing.

    (Sidenote, off-topic… I find a lot of elephantshit conversations to be incredibly stimulating and especially when they are perspective changing… for example I like to read history books and share what I’ve recently learned, and hear from others who may know more. I agree a lot of this is arguably pointless; ie. what if Washington had been able to successfully free his slaves *before* taking the Presidency, or what if the Brooklyn Bridge or iPhone had never happened. It’s fun. Perhaps this is harmless fun; perhaps not. The F.P. quote makes me wonder. I certainly recognize that ‘talk’ which is really just pontificating or self-indulging in personal views can be tedious. Anyway, the Perls quote is provocative… and will certainly be part of my personal ‘elephantshit’ routine in the foreseeable future. ???? )

by Gary on March 19, 2016 in

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