Our Stories are the Best Evidence

The sentiment “everything has been said before”  may be true of most things, but nothing has been said the same way that you say it, because we are all unique beings with a distinct voice different from all others.  We are all as similar as we are different, and though we may share similar experiences, the way we experience things, the way we express them, and what we learn from them also differs.  All of this means there is so much knowledge we all carry, individually and collectively.  Nobody says something quite like you do, therefore every single person and their voice counts because it adds to the understanding of eachother and our world. 

Sure, many things have been said before, but many things aren’t said enough, or are misunderstood, or have been forgotten in a cultural amnesia for those of us trapped in predatory or oppressive cultures/families/environments that hurt and hinder our safety, growth and well-being.

We are said to be living in the “information age” where we’re blasted with info-overload.  “Education” often means the mass consuming of info and mindlessly regurgitating it, which, if we’re not careful, reduces us to passive machines incapable of thought, let alone expanding on existing great ideas or coming up with new ones.

In school, I came across a great article by Laurence Simon who blasts the hollowness of so-called abnormal psychology textbooks and the pseudo science behind psychiatry.  I think what he says about textbooks applies to most levels and fields of “formal” education and the textbooks that come with it:

Students [..] have been so consistently subjected to mind-numbing, intelligence blunting, emotional deadening textbooks that they cannot, or perhaps fear to read, process, or analyze anything written with intelligence, passion, and commitment to a topic or a cause.

Herein lies the important distinction between information and knowledge:  Information is data or “facts”, and pretty meaningless until we assign meaning to the facts.  Knowledge is the meaning we make from this data and facts.  It’s all subjective because human beings are involved in this meaning-making process, no matter whether we call it “science”, “religion”, “law”, “academia”, “personal experiences”, or whatever.

In my blog travels, I am constantly reminded of the power of personal story-telling versus academic or legal or medical story-telling which all have their own languages which are too often removed from simple human being-ness.  Blogs that impact me the most are those which tell, in their own unique voice, stories about a person’s life.  These stories shape and convey certain messages that readers take away and then use to inform their own lives.

Some stories are funny, some are sad, scary, disturbing; and not all have happy endings.  Some stories are true others are not. Some are animated and some are somber. Some have room for embellishment; others must remain as true to the way they have been told for centuries. [S]tories that must remain as true to their origins as possible are usually ones that are fundamental to the teachings, ceremonies, and way of life of Aboriginal people (source).

This applies to everyone, not just Aboriginal people, because we all come from Indigenous roots; some of us are just more removed from these roots than others and so have more work to do to connect with this way of Being.  As John Trudell says, we live in a world that is rapidly forgetting what it means to be human.  Story-telling is a powerful way to connect to and reclaim our humanness as well as liberate us from any mental prisons that we carry.

[Stories] may differ from one to another, one key reminder should be acknowledged about Aboriginal Storytelling. These are our stories . They have a rich connection to who we are as Aboriginals since they are an important component of Aboriginal identity. If the stories are not understood, perhaps the fault lies not with the orator, but in the bridge between the orator and his/her audience that might include negative stereotypes. It is impossible for our storytelling to resist evolving or changing as our culture continues to; however, our storytelling and stories are still considered sacred. As storytelling is rooted to spirituality; it is the basis of all customs, traditions, and everyday actions. [..] we cannot easily compartmentalize categories of our customs and lives (source).

Again, I feel this applies not only to Aboriginal people and their diverse cultures, but it applies to all of us since we all come from Indigenous roots before oppressive forces began mining our minds and eating our Spirits (as John Trudell describes it).

I went to an AWP feminist psychology conference last spring and attended one workshop called Focus & Flow Interventions and Therapy (FFIT): Empowering Women Through the Energy of Conscious Engagement — (this of course can apply to men, trans people and children too).  The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Shelly P. Harrell of Pepperdine University in California.  Below are cut and pastes from parts of her presentation* that I find particularly powerful and important as we journey through our lives, tell our stories about it, and strive to reach our optimal well-being.

“Energy” as a Common Multicultural Construct

  • Many cultural and spiritual traditions have the concept of a dynamic energy that flows through and connects all living things
    • Variations of this concept include Ntu/Seriti (African), Chi (Taoist/Chinese), Pi (Japanese), Holy Spirit (Christian), Wakan (Lakota), Prana (Indian)
  • Our “lived experience” (i.e., being-in-the-world) is a continuous, complex, interconnected, and dynamic process that is never static; relational, psychological, and spiritual (psycho-spiritual) energies are always flowing within and between persons and contexts
  • [The] challenge is achieving healthy identity and liberation in the context of multiple environmental influences, many of which threaten the development of optimal functioning and well-being

Person, Culture & Context

  • The whole person is understood best in terms of the existential idea of “Being-in-the-World” and the African idea of “Ubuntu”
    • Emerging from these concepts is the theoretical position that a decontextualized “self” is meaningless; our existence is meaningful only in relationship (to others, to community, to culture, to settings, to systems, to nature, to God)
  • Descriptions of human behavior and behavior change must reference the whole Person-Culture-Context complex in order to fully capture the dynamic process of the person as an living system that is embedded in and interdependent with multiple cultural and ecological systems

FIVE “Being-in-the-World” Modes

  1. Feeling-Sensing
  2. Attending-Observing
  3. Doing-Engaging
  4. Relating-Connecting
  5. Evolving-Transcending

If this sounds familiar, these ways-of-being are similar to – but different from – the personaltiy traits found and tested by the famous Jung & Briggs Myers’ Personality Typology assessment.

The Human Condition:  “ICHE’s” and “OTE’s”

ICHE = Inevitable Challenges of Human Existence:

10 Life ICHE’s:

  1. Change
  2. Imperfection
  3. Purposelessness
  4. Invisibility
  5. Nongratification
  6. Uncertainty
  7. Painfulness
  8. Separation
  9. Ineffectiveness
  10. Oppression
  • ICHEs are the inescapable existential and experiential “givens” of the human condition; the challenges of “being-in-the-world”
  • They can be thought of as reflecting the imperfections and strivings of human beings that are persistent “itches” that are constant reminders of our humanity as we journey through our lives
  • They emerge in different forms and vary in intensity based on the nature of the transactions between the person and context
  • Struggling, fighting, avoidance, and running from the ICHEs can misdirect and/or deplete life-enhancing energies and result in less engagement with life and prompt constricted ways of being.

Scratching the “ICHE’s” with “OTE’s” —->  Optimal Transformative Energies

  • Healing and transformation involve awareness of how we are experiencing, participating in, and reacting against relevant ICHEs and making a conscious choice to place attention and direct energy toward empowerment and wellness.
  • Acknowledging the inevitability of adversity and pain as part of the human condition allows increased freedom from the fear and anxiety associated with the anticipation of suffering.
  • This consciousness frees psychological space and energy to live proactively (i.e., with authenticity, empowerment, and intentionality) and direct energy towards optimal well-being (life-engaging “being-in-the-world”), rather than reactively (e.g., trying to fight, control, avoid, or escape from the inevitability of suffering) from a place of fear (life-constricting “being-in-the-world”).

OTE’s” (Optimal Transformative Energies) “are purposeful, proactive processes and are considered transformative because they can transform the experience of the ICHEs (e.g., contextualize, lessen the intensity, redirect attention).”   So the 10 ICHe’s and their transformative OTE’s are:

  1. Change ———> Presence
  2. Imperfection ———> Compassion
  3. Purposelessness ———> Grounding
  4. Invisibility ———> Authenticity
  5. Nongratification ———> Intentionality
  6. Uncertainty ———> Receptivity
  7. Painfulness ———> Transcendence
  8. Separation ———> Engagement
  9. Ineffectiveness ———> Flexibility
  10. Oppression ———> Liberation

This table briefly describes these ICHE’s and OTE’s (click to enlarge):

At the core of all OTE’s is Empowered Acceptance:  Accepting responsibility for personal, relational, and collective healing and transformation with consciousness of the ubiquity of the ICHEs as part of the human condition:

  • Involves the willingness to be present with “what is” (i.e., “this is what is happening now”) without spending excessive energy on trying to avoid, escape, or exert rigid control over internal experience
  • The active choice and intentional process of observing and moving past reactivity to, avoidance of, and fusion with internal experience
  • Allowing oneself to experience the present moment increases clarity of mind so that one is liberated to make proactive choices rather than responding reactively
  • Not the same as resignation, helplessness, or apathy

Giving Testimony and Bearing Witness

  • The therapist is a facilitator of the client’s process of giving the testimony of their lived experience, as well as authentically sharing their own testimony of the therapeutic process and relationship as appropriate
  • The therapist bears witness to the client’s experiences of connection, voice and visibility, and the client’s lived experience of “being-in-the-world” within and outside of the therapy relationship and intervention process

This does not only apply to a client-therapist dynamic.  Why shouldn’t we use this method in all of our relations with people and the stories we share with eachother?  Seems to me this mode of being would result in much more harmonious and respectful relations.

Voice and Silencing

  • The metaphor of voice is often used in reference to feeling silenced in various areas of life (family, intimate relationships, social networks, within communities, etc.)
    • Many women have difficulty finding a genuine voice that echoes their personal experience
    • Effects of feeling silenced can include: loss of sense of self, diminished humanity, risk of depression
    • A culture of silence can leave women unstoried; without personal narratives that represent and establish self identity
    • Silencing can work to continue feelings of shame and secrecy around personal experiences

The Importance of Telling Our Stories

  • “Human understanding operates through storytelling and identity, indeed a sense of self is constructed through the interrelation of life events and the meaning ascribed to the life story.”
    • Identity is further confirmed when personal narratives are able to be understood and heard by oneself and others.
    • “Within western societies, women’s ability to tell their stories is often subject to the constraints of dominant public discourses, and their lived experiences do not necessarily find expression in wider contextual narratives. On the contrary, contextual narratives are likely to perpetuate limited dominant constructions that shape and define women’s lives in ways that are at best incomplete and at worst destructive.”

Dr. Harrell talks about “Empowerment Journalling” which she says can “be used to facilitate the development of the OTEs of Grounding, Authenticity, and Liberation and increase self-esteem by using writing to challenge the internalization of oppressive narratives and reclaiming the power to define self.”  Some of the brilliant blog writers I’ve come across are evidence of and inspirations for this kind of empowerment.

———————

Those of us in so-called “civilized” society are surrounded by a cluster fuck of confusion, conflict and deep dis-respect that is painful to and harmful for the psyche.  Sharing our stories and listening to others’ stories helps us make some sense out of the world, discard what doesn’t make sense, make room for what does, all while strengthening our relations with eachother and creating the kind of community and connection we want through an authentic story-telling process.

Tell your story.  It matters because YOU matter.

* If you would like to see Dr. Harrell’s entire 71-page powerpoint presentation about FFIT, please contact me through the ‘Contact’ section of this blog and I will email you the document.

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