By Ted Kuntz, Past-Chair of PLAN
In my journey to create peace and joy in my life I too came to recognize the power of stories – both the stories I told myself and the stories I allowed to be told to me. I learned that by carefully managing these stories I could create the experience of peace and joy at will. The secret to living joyfully was to recognize my role as a storyteller and to take full responsibility for the stories I told myself.
The following is a true story about a young woman I worked with a couple of years ago. Denise’s story demonstrates the power of story.
Denise came to see me shortly after her fiancé had been killed in a motor vehicle accident. The driver of the other vehicle was legally impaired at the time of the accident and found to be completely at fault. The death of her fiancé occurred just weeks prior to her wedding day.
Denise was understandably angry, resentful and sad. During the first 45 minutes of her time with me she expressed an intense out pouring of emotions. She talked with anger. She shared her sadness and grief. She was immersed in fear. And she even talked of revenge. Eventually Denise released the deep well of emotions that had built up inside of her and she moved into a moment of silence.
I interrupted the silence with a question. “Denise,” I asked her, “If we could speak to your fiancé wherever he is and were to ask him what he would wish for you now, what do you think his answer would be?”
After a moment of reflection a smile came to Denise’s face. “I know what Gary would wish for.” she responded. “Gary would want me to be happy. He would want me to reclaim my joy and to get on with living it fully.”
“I think you’re right.” I replied. “I suspect Gary would wish with all his heart that you not stay in anger or fear or resentment, but rather that you embraced peace and joy; that you continued to live the happiness that the two of you shared.”
I then added a suggestion for her consideration. “Denise, I wonder if a way to honour your fiancé would be to wake each day and fill your heart with peace and joy and to live this way as a means of honouring Gary.” I could see that Denise embraced my suggestion. Her face filled with joy as she grinned from ear to ear. “I’ll do that she said.” There was little more for me to say. I gave her a hug and off she went.
One month later Denise returned. “I’m doing really well.” she declared. “Every day when I wake up I consciously hold Gary in my heart and I make a commitment to living the day peacefully and joyfully just as Gary would wish for me.”
“My problem,” she continued, “is that my parents and Gary’s parents don’t understand my joy. They think I must not have loved Gary. They think that the more you love someone, the more angry and sad you should be. I’ve asked them to come see you Ted, but they don’t want to let go of their story that if you love someone you must be angry and sad.”
I acknowledged Denise’s challenge. I have seen it many times before. Many of us have been socialized to tell ourselves stories that undermine our ability to live in peace and joy. And so we live a life filled with anger, fear and resentment, not knowing that the solution is within us.
We are wise to acknowledge and consider the kind of stories we tell ourselves. Mastering our stories is the key to our happiness. The power of storytelling was so clearly understood by the Hopi that they declared – “He who tells the stories rules the world.” You can rule your world, but only if you master the power of storytelling.