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PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Posts from — March 2013

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Self-work requires us to be teachable, to be willing to move beyond the mythos of our current beliefs and assumptions to a better way of being. Such an inner shift may elude us for no other reason than that we fail to question things that seem to us so obviously true that it doesn’t occur to us to question them. In this way, we live in stories that take on the living colors of reality, even when those stories don’t work well, or exact a high price, or work against our realizing what’s best in us. In philosophical counseling, we call this state “immersion.” Success in any session invariably depends upon the client’s willingness to take a step back and, through questioning the obvious, to come out of immersion and “surface” into a reality where new and better choices are available. Put another way, self-work depends on our willingness to allow ourselves to be moved by the gravitational pull of the truth from an old story to one that serves us better.

Socrates was a master of the process (called the “dialectic”) through which we can examine our stories and test them against our best understanding and vision. This is not always something we can do for ourselves. Sometimes, we need someone who is standing outside our “mythos,” which is the sphere of meanings, assumptions, values, stories, paradigms, conclusions, and opinions that determine our experience of ourselves, our world, and other people. A skilled philosophical coach, by asking the right questions, can help the client come out of immersion and discover the options of a more spacious story. All of this, of course, depends on the client’s willingness to engage in deep dialogue, to question the obvious, to take responsibility for the reality-shaping aspects of his or her participation in the problem, and to step up to a more profound truth than the client had acknowledged to date, once that truth is brought into the light of awareness.

This “truer truth” is never imposed. Rather, it comes out of the client’s own better understanding. Self-work is self-learning, in the sense that we learn increasingly who we are. And if we don’t stay teachable, how can we learn?

If you’re facing a problem and especially if you feel stuck, you might begin by questioning the obvious. One example that shows up frequently is a conflict situation, in which both parties are immersed in the assumption, “I’m right, you’re wrong.” This isn’t necessarily just stubbornness or complacency. From within the story in which each is immersed, it really looks that way. One of the consequences of such a position is that it tends to make one unsympathetic to the validity of what the other is expressing. As long as the story remains polarized, there is little hope of resolving the conflict. By finding a truthful way to acknowledge the reality that the other is expressing, rather than meeting it reactively from a stance of immersion in a narrow self-interest, one can dramatically change the conversation, disarm the conflict, and move toward meaningful resolution. As Lao Tze writes in the Tao Te Ching, “The sage cannot be beaten, because he does not contend.” Clearly, the stories we tell ourselves, the stories in which we live, are powerful. But more powerful still is our willingness to question those things we’ve taken for granted and perhaps not examined. Questioning our assumptions in this way is the heart of self-work.

March 30, 2013   Comments Off on Stories We Tell Ourselves