Illuminating Stories

Some months back, I attended a workshop with the acclaimed Harvard-trained biologist, practising psychologist, and best-selling author, Joan Borysenko. The workshop explored her studies in evolutionary narrative. With her unique blend of hard-core scientist and decades of study and practice in meditation, she has an abiding certainty in the mind-body connection, and how critical it is to marry a healthy mind to a vital body so we can become a meaningful presence in the world.

Borysenko’s work in narrative is well renowned. As an immunologist working with HIV patients in the early years of the AIDS crisis, she saw how the story people told themselves about their illness influenced how well they responded to treatment. People holding onto a story of courage and a belief in their strength to get through their sickness, responded far better to their treatment. The stories we say to ourselves change our brain circuitry, alter relationships and vary our path through the world. Our quintessentially human capacity to create meaning through story either elevates our life towards heavenly stratospheres or drops us unceremoniously into the fires of despair.

Our stories can enmesh us in the profane world of regrets, resentments, anxieties and limiting beliefs. However, with a change of perspective about who we are and through choosing a different response to a situation, we can shift our experience into something far more sacred and expansive. In order to do this, we need to stay open to a grander view of how the world works, and how our very own nature reflects the same principles that govern the universe.

The research evolving about the quantum universe is gradually altering our frame of reference for understanding life, nature and what it means to be human. This newer metaphor being used to make sense of our existence, replaces the Newtonian concept of a clockwork universe that is safely governed by the repeatable laws of physics allowing for a predictable movement through time and space. In a universe that is governed by quantum theory, our compulsion for certainty and control has to come to terms with the realisation that the universe, to which our human heart and mind belong, is reigned over by chance and uncertainty. Life has a modicum of probability and an inordinate amount of possibility.

Many of us have mapped out formulas for life. We apply our tried and tested methods, knowing how things will behave and how we should react. It serves us to believe we have a level of governance over our lives. This plays out in pre-determined expectations of how certain people will behave and how we must present ourselves in situations. It’s as though we have mentally constructed role profiles for every type of person or creature we may encounter, and have a script for how we should be in any given situation. If we don’t have a script for something we just avoid that scene or person.

The quantum view of particles tells us that the smallest parts of life, from which we are all made, can behave in unpredictable, even whacky, ways and can even exist simultaneously in multiple locations. The inter-connectedness of things is growing in its likelihood and is quietly seeping into our consciousness. More and more of us are waking up to the realisation that everything is an outcome of our choices. If we continue to make choices and react to the world based on an existing identity of ourselves, we cannot expect new or different outcomes. If we want something different from the world we need to want and expect something different from ourselves. We have to embrace a new identity.

When we are in the midst of our stories that compel us towards limiting thoughts about others and ourselves we are being pulled into the dingy corridors of our fear-driven reactions to the world. This is where we feel separate from others, nursing the injustices served up to us and bitterly enacting how justified we are to feel this way and react that way. Like a beguiled Gollum we cherish our precious views no matter the harm they cause to others and us.

Many of us are enraptured by the story of what has happened or what will happen to us. Our attention is looking out for proof that our experience matches the existing identity we have created for ourselves, and others. We are comfortably validated when the world serves up to us experiences that match our expectations no matter how limited or negative those expectations might be. If we genuinely want a different experience from life or from others we need to shift our focus from ‘the what’ to ‘the who’. It is less important to retell the story of what is happening or what has happened to us and far more interesting to examine or re-author the story from the perspective of who I was and who I will become. Re-authoring our stories from the perspective of a changed identity creates more possibility in our lives.

Dr. Jacob Israel Liberman, an optometrist and pioneer in the study of the fields of light, vision and consciousness, has written the book Luminous Life. Here he explores the misconception many hold that if we think ahead and make the right choices, we can manifest our dreams. Yet the world is peopled with more discontent and dissatisfaction than we believe has existed in previous decades. Liberman posits that we have misunderstood some fundamental ideas about life.

He compares human life with the rest of nature. There is an animating force in the universe that causes plants to follow the path of the sun and the planets to circumnavigate that sun, and the tides to ebb and flow based on the movement of our earth and the moon. Hibernating bears, migrating birds, elephants that prolong the gestation of their young– these are all signs from the plant and animal kingdom that show us that life responds to nature and nature activates action.

Liberman believes human life is being guided the same way as that of plants and other animals. Once you tune into the possibility that your life is responding with nature you can look for different signs from life. What Liberman says is, “Anything that catches your eye is actually looking for you.” He suggests that the light emanating from things catches our attention and inspires us to move in a certain direction, so we can fulfil our purpose of being. The body is responding to an animating force on its journey to fulfilling a purpose. Invisible winds propel us towards our intended life and if we look for the light in situations we will find our guides. Nature mysteriously provides the clues if we pay attention.

During the workshop with Dr. Borysenko, we explored the different stories we create to define our identity in the world. She asked us to recall a magical story. In everyone’s life there are stories of unexplainable happenings. Miraculous changes in circumstances, chance encounters with a person that alters the course of our life, falling in love, or the signs we believe we receive from our departed loved ones – apports from a spirit world. Certainly everyone in the workshop had experience of events they could classify as magical. A few people shared their stories and then Borysenko reminded everyone that the universe is burgeoning with possibility at all times. Magic is ever-present if we look for it.

She encouraged us to stay alert and to use each day as an opportunity to look for magic. She described the magical experience she had encountered that very day walking to our training venue. Travelling along the pavement, her attention was suddenly drawn to an approaching mother pushing a pram with her young child. The baby was at that stage of development when he was discovering his feet and had contorted his little body to have the toes of one foot in his mouth. Joan was struck by the beauty of this moment – the infant’s miraculous discovery of his body and his clumsy grappling with his appendages as his life force tried to use its developing muscles to pull his foot towards his mouth. That ordinary moment became imbued with magic when she chose to see the wonderment.

It’s everywhere this magic. It’s in the swing of girl’s ponytail, the burst of colour on a flower, the giddy hover of bee, the power of the athlete crossing the finishing line, the slow track of a tear down the face of a mourner. All we have to do is see it, and you can’t see the miracle if all you can notice is the profane story of your suffering. Looking for magic makes you see life from a different lens. When you see life from a different perspective, life changes you.

Letting go of our known stories can fill us with dread and concern because we might not know who we will become without our stories. An apple tree doesn’t need to be reminded to produce apples; its nature and nature itself cause that to happen. Try as it might an apple tree will not produce bananas – it’s not its nature. Maybe if we trusted life more, followed the light that catches our attention and believed that it’s possible for us to take on new identities at any point in our life story we might reveal the innate gifts and qualities of our being. Start by looking for magic every day. Scan the world for what’s beautiful and wonderful and catches your attention. You’ll begin to notice what’s exceptionally right with the world and pay less attention to what’s not working in your life. The luminosity of life will begin to shine in you and you might become the very thing someone else is drawn to notice. Your light might ignite a new possibility for someone else.


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  • Michelle Daley
    August 16, 2018 at 11:50 am

    There truly is magic in the ordinary circumstances of life………..thank you Cal for the reminder to focus on the beautiful things in the world and let go of those stories that are doing more harm than good!

    • Cal McDonnell
      August 16, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      You’re always so good at leaving comments – thank you. My wish for you is that all the harmful stories dissolve


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