The stories we tell
When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease almost three years ago now, I wrote just ten words in my journal — “I can’t believe this is the story of my life.”
This is a short post about stories and the power they hold in our lives. It is mainly personal, but weaves into the professional. It’s surprising, but quite lovely, to see the way my personal and professional life seem to be entangling themselves in unexpected ways.
I recently started seeing a psychoanalyst. I started seeing him because I wanted to develop a relationship with someone who will be able to help me navigate the inevitable ups and downs of living with Parkinson’s disease.
We’ve spent the first half dozen or so sessions exploring my past: memories from early childhood; school experiences; how my life has been shaped by growing up as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors; my first love; attempts at being rebellious; adventurous holidays; pregnancies; miscarriages; anxiety. And more.
David, the psychoanalyst, has explained that it’s important to unearth memories and experiences as they help us understand the stories we tell ourselves about our life, and why. These stories, both the constructive and the less constructive, then become the compost which we use to create our future stories, giving us power and agency to consciously shape the narrative of our life.
Psychoanalysis, David has explained, is not about remedying or fixing. It’s about creation. I love this.
Next week at work, we’re kicking off a project about storytelling for systems change. The project was initiated by a funder who said a version of, “I work with communities who are engaged in such inspiring systems change work. But they don’t seem to be telling the stories of their work. I want to understand why, and help them tell their stories more effectively.”
What we’ve realised, as we’ve been scoping this project, is that stories are important in different ways, at different levels. We tend to think about stories as things we tell other people. But through this project (and through my psychoanalysis), we’ve realised that the stories we tell ourselves are of equal — if not greater — significance.
So, we’ll be working with these communities to explore:
- the stories they tell themselves
- the stories they tell each other (within the community)
- the stories they tell externally — government sponsors, funders, etc.
We will explore the power of single stories, as well as their relationship to narrative shaping (or constellation building).
We’re also keen to explore different modes of storytelling — not just written words (which are necessarily limited), but also storytelling through embodied experiences, and through practices such as yarning circles.
In my next session with David, I’m moving to the couch. We’ve done enough reflection, he thinks, and are ready to create.
This involves “free association” described by Wiki as, “the expression of the content of consciousness without censorship as an aid in gaining access to unconscious processes.”
The way David will support me to sensemake and create new stories about my life and my diagnosis is not through a rational, controlled process. Rather, I will be invited to explore and create through an unfiltered, raw, emergent process which aims to tap into the subconscious — shifting away from a Descartian worldview of “I think therefore I am” towards more of an Aboriginal version of this “I am emplaced, therefore I am.” I am trepidatious, but also intrigued and excited to explore this process and see what it reveals for me.
I’m also excited about the way it offers me an opportunity to experience in a very personal way some of the approaches we’re encouraging our partners to practise at the Centre for Public Impact — a less rational, more embodied and emergent way of making sense of the world and our role within it.
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
— Anaïs Nin