Someone had recommended Paulo Coelho‘s books to me, so I picked up a couple of his titles and this week I read through The Zahir. On the whole it feels like he’s telling a story infused with a worldview, with the story being just a vehicle for the ideas, a kind of mystical interpretation of love as a force in the world. At times this wore on me because I wasn’t completely buying the worldview but I wanted to hear the story, to make it move faster… which is ironic, given theme the book. It’s a quick read though, and setting aside major portions of its theme, I wanted to appropriate an excerpt that had me thinking in metaphoric terms. Back in January 2005 I wrote some early thoughts about The Importance of Story, and more recently I wrote a piece about Coffeeshop Poets and the ways in which an older story was rejected in favour of a new one.
So I’m thinking this time about the stories we have in exiting the church… our CLBs or whatever, and considering a passage from Coelho’s book (p.177-179). One of the characters is relating his account of a meeting between a journalist (Esther) and a wise old man, a guru of sorts.
“At last, we are ushered in. By acting as interpreter at that interview and by reading Esther’s article when it was published, I learn several things I needed to know.
“Esther asks why people are sad.
“‘That’s simple,’ says the old man. ‘They are the prisoners of their personal history. Everyone believes the main aim in life is to follow a plan. They never ask if that plan is theirs of or it was created by another person. They accumulate experiences, memories, things, other people’s ideas, and it is more than they can possibly cope with. And that is why they forget their dreams.’
“Esther remarks that many people say to her, ‘You’re lucky, you know what you want from life, whereas I don’t even know what I want to do.’
“‘Of course they know,’ replies the nomad. ‘How many people do you know who say: I’ve never done what I wanted, but then, that’s life. If they say they haven’t done what they wanted, then, at some point, they must have known what it was that they did want. As for life, it’s just a story that other people tell us about the world and about how we should behave in the world.’
“‘Even worse are people who say: I’m happy because I’m sacrificing my life for those I love.’
“‘And do you think that the people who love us want to see us suffering for their sakes? Do you think that love is a source of suffering?’
“‘To be honest, yes.’
“‘Well, it shouldn’t be.’
“‘If I forget the story other people have told me, I’ll also forget a lot of very important things life has taught me. What was the point of struggling to learn so much? What was the point of struggling to gain experience, so as to be able to deal with my career, my husband, my various crises?’
“‘Accumulated knowledge is useful when it comes to cooking or living within your means or knowing where particular bus and train lines go. Do you believe that your past loves have taught you to love better?’
“‘They’ve taught me to know what I want.’
“‘I didn’t ask that. Have your past loves taught you to love your husband better?’
“‘No, on the contrary. In order to surrender myself to him, I had to forget all the scars left by other men. Is that what you mean?’
“‘In order for the true energy of love to penetrate your soul, your soul must be as if you had just been born. Why are people unhappy? Because they want to imprison that energy, which is impossible. Forgetting your personal history means leaving that channel clear, allowing that energy to manifest itself each day in whatever way it chooses, allowing yourself to be guided by it.’
“‘That’s all very romantic, but very difficult too, because that energy gets blocked by all kinds of things: commitments, children, your social situation…’
“‘…and, after a while, by despair, fear, loneliness, and your attempts to control the uncontrollable. According to the tradition of the steppes—which is known as the Tengri—in order to live fully, it is necessary to be in constant movement; only then can each day be different from the last. When they passed through cities, the nomads would think: The poor people who live here, for them everything is always the same. The people in the cities probably looked at the nomads and thought: Poor things, they have nowhere to live. The nomads had no past, only the present, and that is why they were always happy, until the Communist governors made them stop traveling and forced them to live on collective farms. from then on, little by little, they came to believe that the story society told them was true. Consequently, they have lost all their strength.’
“‘No one nowadays can spend their whole life traveling.’
“‘Not physically, no, but they can on a spiritual plane. Going farther and farther, distancing yourself from your personal history, from what you were forced to become.’
“‘How does one go about abandoning the story one was told?’
“‘By repeating it out loud in meticulous detail. And as we tell our story, we say goodbye to whet we were and, as you’ll see if you try, we create space for a new, unknown world. We repeat the old story over and over until it’s no longer important to us.’
“‘Is that all?’
“‘There is just one other thing: as those spaces grow, it is important to fill them up quickly, even if only provisionally, so as not to be left with a feeling of emptiness.’
“‘With different stories, with experiences we never dared to have or didn’t want to have. That is how we change. That is how love grows. And when love grows, we grow with it.’
“‘Does that mean we might lose things that are important?’
“‘Never. The important things always stay; what we lose are the things we thought were important but which are, in fact, useless, like the false power we use to control the energy of love.’
What I’m wondering is whether this is a true depiction of the retelling of our stories (verbally or blogging or whatever) — does the process distance us from the pain and loose their grip on us so that we can embrace a new story? Or does it just dredge up the pain and bind us to it more inextricably than before? I tend to think of it as a cathartic process, but is that universally true?
I get lost in these long stories sometimes but I think the question if I understand correctly is, “when we repeat our stories over and over do they lose their hold on our lives?” The health ministry we have here sponsors a grief support group and part of the process is repeating the story of loss over each time we gather. I seems as though speaking it out loud takes away its attatchment to the griever.
It is not forgotten it just looses the surreal hold on the spirit maybe. So my answer is that it seems to distance us from the grip and pain. We tend to label it a new reality. A new place of living that is with the story but yet we get to live somehow apart from it.
The question I have is if we do this with pain does repeating the story of hope over and over diminish its power to give us strength????
That’s a good question, I hadn’t thought of it. Perhaps there’s a way in which we hear the blessings and promises of God that causes us to become calloused to them… but why? Is it through the repetition alone, or because of our hardness of heart when we hear it? I tend to think that it should encourage us, as we continually speak hope to one another. Is there something inherent in the process of sharing together that lifts our spirits — distancing the pain and leading us into hope? Good questions.
I think the answer to your questions go many direction. First, I have found telling and retelling my story has helped me process through intense grief and anger. After nine years of being misunderstood and emotionally abused I had a lot of things to work through. The difference between physical and emotional abuse is that with physical abuse one can see the actual scars. Psychological abuse is a lot different. I asked myself “Did that really happen?” and “Is it as serious as I thought it was?” many times on this journey.
Second, I think there comes times during the process that foreshadow the day when our sorrow is gone. The fog lifts and we are able to live without our regret and confusion. Whether that day of freedom comes on earth or when we see the Father in heaven I’m not sure but those times are precious. I know that I’ve experienced many more of those days in recent months after about four years away from my CLB. But each day is different and sometimes I still struggle with the past.
Ultimately, when we tell our story with humility and the hope of reconciliation we are being realistic. We call past events what they are, name them, and name names. Perhaps in the company of friends. We’re not gossiping, we’re doing what we’ve seen in the Bible. We’re telling the story of fallenness and the possibility of redemption. We’re making room for God.
I think recovery is a process. My lips have uttered the words “I want to be over this” many times but I think the last time I said it was more meaningful and heartfelt than the first. So I believe telling our story is part of the process of restorying. Until one day we wake up and we’re free.