The Stories We Serve

Narcissus by Caracaggio

If I’ve learned anything from my work as a writer, healer and human, it’s that we are all storytellers. Think of the countless stories wafting through your head throughout the day – the mystery of that crazy thing he did to you, the tragedy of how she’ll never understand you, the twisted comedy of all your many screwups, the horror that you may never live the life you desire. We tell these stories to ourselves (and others) ad nauseam. For better or worse, we are governed by them. Story is how we make sense of this crazy confounding life.

Our more toxic personal narratives (ie: our “negative self-talk”) will often dominate the brainwaves and though our well-meaning friends say to just Forget him! and the self-help memes say to just Let go of the stories that no longer serve you! – we all know how incredibly difficult it is to silence those darker voices. What if the reason we can’t let go of the stories that no longer serve us is because the stories don’t serve us. We serve the stories.

Note how for centuries when famed artists (our storytellers by trade) speak about their work they say things like the ideas just poured out of me… or… I let the characters speak for themselves. These artists know that the most crucial aspect of their job is to get out of the way. Our negative self-talk is like any other story gifted by the muse. It’s fruitless to try to suppress it or to muscle in your own ideas. Best to get out of the way and listen for the deeper message it brings.

In Monday night’s full moon gathering we did just that. Like the artist channeling her muse we let the negative self-talk pour out and we dictated – all the crazy things he did, all the many ways I’m a lousy excuse for a human. We didn’t try to rationalize, pathologize or moralize; instead, we took note of the genre of our stories; we paid attention to their tone, feeling and sense of place; we made connections between all the recurring imagery and themes; we probed our inner protagonist and uncovered the hidden motives of our dreaded inner antagonist.

Doing this kind of work expands our whole sense of self. Like Narcissus staring at his reflection in the pool, this work allows us to see ourselves from the outside (and perhaps even fall in love with ourselves a bit in the process). We become less attached to those voices in our head, hearing them more like a snarky old friend who knows how to push our buttons, for sure, but who ultimately has our best intentions at heart. 

No matter how much success I achieve in my life, I always tell myself the story of Wade who should be doing more, of Wade who is never enough. Sometimes these stories occur as a silly farce and other times a heart-wrenching tragedy. But they’ve been with me for as long as I can remember and I suspect they’ll still be fluttering around when I pass. That might sound depressing but here’s the magic – they’re mine. No one else tells them like I do. That’s what makes them so powerful and ultimately so empowering, because no matter how dark, silly or “wrong” our stories seem, when we can get out of our own way, when we can let them pour out of us, when we can stop interpreting them literally and start recognizing them as the (day)dreams that they are, then and only then, can we begin to open ourselves to what they’re really saying. Then we can learn the unique language of our stories, the stories we each serve, and we can work with them and not against them. This is called channeling the muse. This is called stepping into our life’s calling, because it is calling. It’s calling all the time. We just have to learn how to listen.


If you’d like to learn more about this kind of work, sign up for the monthly museletter and get info on all future workshops and gatherings.

*Narcissus by Caravaggio, 1599

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