Tuesday, February 02, 2010
In the spirit of the holiday season, Dee and I (Alan) went to a liquor
store to purchase a gift of wine for a friend. There we asked the store
owner, a congenial fellow named Ali, for some recommendations. We were
pleasantly surprised to find that Ali is a world-class wine expert. He
went into fascinating, poetic details about each wine, describing its
subtlest nuances and mesmerizing us with stories about the history of
each winery, some of which went back over a thousand years. I was rapt.
Finally I commented, "I guess all wines have a story."
Ali smiled and shook his head. "Not exactly," he replied. "All good wines have a story."
comment got me thinking about the stories we tell. Some stories are
worth telling and others are not worth telling. Some stories empower us
and others disempower us. Which of your stories bring you life and
which deaden you?
The end of this year might be a good time to
decide which stories you want to leave behind and which you would like
to take into the new year and amplify. One of the most powerful
exercises I have ever done in a seminar was to ask the participants,
"What story are you ready to let go of, and what story are you willing
to have take its place?" The answers were quite revealing: Participants
declared they were ready to let go of their victim and abuse stories;
poverty, lack, and struggle; loveless relationships; fear, resistance,
and many variations on "poor me." In their stead they were ready to
tell new stories of living with conscious intention; relationships that
yield reward and joy; abundance and success; trust, flow, and
creativity; and "blessed me."
Every time you tell a story, you
reinforce the feelings and experience associated with the story; you
amplify the themes in your consciousness; and you increase the chances
of a similar story repeating itself in your world. That is quite enough
reason to carefully choose the stories you tell.
If you find
yourself telling a story that is taking you to a place you would rather
not revisit, stop and consider what story might effectively replace it.
I patronize a video store that has a computer program that alerts the
clerk if I am about to check out a video I have already rented. The
clerk asks me, "Are you aware that you've already watched this video?"
If it was a good video and I want to see it again, I proceed with the
checkout. If I remember that I didn't really like the movie, I send it
back to the shelf and pick out another one. How helpful would it be if
you and I had a little computer program in our head that reminded us,
"You have already told this story. Are you sure you want to tell it
Many of us keep telling non-productive stories because
we get perceived mileage out of them. They do not bring us reward, but
they are familiar and we build a presentation
and identity around
them. One of the movies I have checked out several times is The
Heartbreak Kid (1972 version with Charles Grodin). In the film, Lenny
has a canned spiel he gives most people to impress them. "I think it's
time we quit taking from the earth and we started giving back to it." A
good idea, for sure, but for Lenny it is purely hot air. Over the
course of his journey, Lenny impresses a number of folks with his rap,
to the point that he manipulates to marry the girl he has been
pursuing. In the final scene of the film we see Lenny at his wedding
reception, sitting on a couch with a couple of eight-year-old kids. "I
think it's time we quit taking from the earth and we started giving
back to it," he tells them. The kids simply roll their eyes, get up,
and walk away. Like many children, they live too close to truth to be
impressed by a hollow story.
Holiday gatherings offer great
opportunities to be at choice about the stories you tell and listen to.
What a wonderful season this will be if you use it to tell a new story!
You can turn around lifetime patterns of negative conversation by
pointing your story in a new direction. You may discover that no one is
too old or too stuck to get a new story. Bill, a carpenter who works at
my house from time to time, is a straight-arrow kind of guy. A military
retiree, Bill is a devoted family man and conservative in many ways.
week Bill told me that, due to a health crisis, his wife picked up a
book on spiritual healing. She got really excited about it, and so did
Bill. As we stood in my back yard, Bill went into a long discourse
about how spiritual healing works. Although I have understood (and
taught) these principles over many years, I listened fervently,
absolutely impressed by the new life Bill had discovered. He got a new
and better story, and he is loving it!
Rather than wishing you
a traditional holiday greeting, I wish you a good story. I wish that
the most wonderful aspects of your current story expand, and if you
have any painful or empty stories, that you find new ones to launch you
into a new year. May your new year place you smack dab in the middle of
the greatest story you have ever told. -Alan Cohen