Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about the stories we tell ourselves and others. I recently had an experience of my own storytelling that illustrates the theme of this challenge.
A few Sundays ago when the sun was shining brightly and the air was clean and crisp, my husband and I embarked on a 2 1/2 mile hike not far from our ranch in the Columbia River Gorge. It’s a well known trek, which ultimately leads to an old grove of cherry trees, and although it’s not far as the crow flies, you spend much of your time ascending many feet up rocky hillsides on switchbacks and steep trail. In one spot, because of landslides, you have to pick your way through piles of rock that have nestled into the hillsides — some permanently and some precariously.
I approached the hike with trepidation. I’ve had a bad right knee for many years, and since my early 20s when I had surgery for it, I’ve always had knee pain with strenuous exercise. Now, having had surgery again on my knee last November, I’ve been working to rehabilitate it, and this hike would be its first big test. As we took our first few steps at the trailhead, I looked anxiously around for a branch that could be my walking stick. Once I found it, I felt reassured that I could do the hike.
It didn’t take long before I tired and began to hear the same old story in my head about how I wouldn’t be able to make it. “You can’t do this, your knee’s not in good enough shape. You don’t have the lung capacity since you never exercise. See how far ahead your husband is on the trail? Well, of course — he doesn’t have bad knees and is probably irritated that he has to keep stopping to wait for you. You shouldn’t even be out here.” On and on and on, my internal thoughts kept telling me a story about how I would fail if I continued. Still, I trudged on up the hillside, determined to do the hike.
After a few hours, most of the hike had been accomplished and my husband and I were coming down the hillside. David was telling me how proud he was of me for having accomplished the hike. I felt light on my feet and happy that we had seen such beautiful sights along the way. We decided to stop and take a short nap in an oak grove that was sheltered from the wind, and the sun warmed us as we lay down to rest. I felt a wonderful sense of exhilaration and suddenly realized that my knee didn’t hurt at all. What a surprise! I hadn’t been able to take a hike without my knee hurting since I was a teenager, and here I was, bounding down the hillside like that same young girl who used to be so active.
More important, I realized the story I had been telling myself all these years about my knee was no longer true. My knee is fine now. I came to see that all those thoughts and voices trying to tell me otherwise were just a waste of energy. I felt completely liberated in that moment from all of the stories that I’ve told myself and others about my knee. The story about how I originally injured it was one I didn’t have to tell anymore. The stories about what I could or couldn’t do for physical exercise were no longer true. I didn’t have to tell myself or anyone else anything at all about my knee. In fact, people wouldn’t even be asking me anymore because I could walk normally and didn’t have to complain about how much my knee hurt. What a relief!
Later, in the car driving back to the ranch, I spoke with my husband about my realization. We both talked about how strange it is that we often get so accustomed to telling a particular story to ourselves and others that even after it’s no longer true, we continue to talk about it as though it is.
This week, try observing the stories you tell yourself and others that are not true. Maybe things have changed in your relationship with someone and yet you still talk about that person as though things haven’t changed at all. I remember talking about my father a few months after he’d died as though he was still in the room with me. I eventually realized the story I was telling about him occurred 10 years earlier, and I was talking about him as though he were still alive. I didn’t need to tell that story anymore. In fact, I honored him more by not telling the story and accepting that he had moved on.
Perhaps you tell yourself stories about people you work with that are no longer true. We all change, and when we tell stories about others as if they haven’t changed at all, we also prevent ourselves from seeing others anew. Notice if you tell people stories that degrade yourself or others. Maybe these stories don’t serve anyone, least of all yourself, and only convince you of things that aren’t true.
Whatever the case, try observing your stories and see if you can stop telling the ones that are no longer true. You may find you can do some things that your stories have tried to tell you weren’t possible. Or, you may begin to see others differently when you stop telling the same old stories about them. If you’re like me, you’ll experience a moment of liberation when you realize that your stories don’t have to restrict you any longer. In fact, you can create a new story that sets you free!
Have a good week!
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