Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Danger of the Single Story

There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.”  Thich Nhat Hanh
What’s your story? When I ask clients, I get an answer that breaks down into three categories:  The Victim (the tragic story), The Blank Slate (no memory of a story), or The Pretty Picture (everything in my life was wonderful story).
We all have a story. We must honor our story in order to move forward in our lives. Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegard's words, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” are a testament to the power of honoring our story. To live our lives forwardly, we must connect the dots from the past to have a clear view of our purpose in life. 
How do we look at our history without feeling trapped by it? Honoring our story and being trapped by our story are two distinctly different things. Understanding the lessons of our past and using those lessons to grow is honoring our whole being. Feeling trapped by our story is giving our story too much power, which keeps us feeling stuck. I grew up in a family where domestic abuse was present. I developed an eating disorder in my teens. These are the facts of my life. I am not defined by these facts because of the lessons I learned from those events. I learned that domestic abusers can only abuse when they are given permission, which helped me to take personal responsibility. My eating disorder taught me to find within myself a space to honor and love my body instead of seeking outside approval, which can never be a substitute for self-acceptance.
How do we live forwardly? Nigerian Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warms of how impressionable we can be in the face of a story in her popular TED Talk.  She tells of how she was perceived as a woman worthy of pity and representational of the whole of the continent of Africa by some of her American college professors. She speaks of her own way of defining her Nigerian “house boy” who, unlike her family, was from an underprivileged home. She only saw him as being poor. My freshman English students view this TED Talk. I not only ask them how they are singularly viewed as community college students, I ask them how they view each other and themselves. Being aware of how we form our identities is the first step. Once we are aware, we can choose to reject or incorporate outside perceptions.
To Thine Own Self Be True - Finding the Lotus  Most of us knew who we were as dreaming children. We knew we were talented, capable, kind, whole, powerful, and were ready to make our unique contribution to the world. Finding our true self by getting back to our dreaming child comes with awareness, courage, and a realization that our stories are simply the fertile mud to help us to grow into the divine beings we were meant to be.