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The Great Beauty and Danger of Stories

Photo by Riley Nelson

There’s reality, and then there’s our perception of reality. There’s what happened, and then there’s our recounting of what happened. The band The Decemberists have lyrics that touch on this pattern: “And we'll remember this when we are old and ancient, though the specifics might be vague. And I'll say your camisole was a sprightly light magenta when in fact it was a nappy bluish gray.”[1] I think of these words whenever I hear an elderly couple stumbling through an event from their past, trying to get the details right, but invariably spilling some inconsistencies.

How do we account for this discrepancy so common among human regurgitation of events? The great Epictetus wrote that “It is not the event itself that is the problem; it is the perception of that event.”[2] What problems can arise from this incongruity between events and our interpretation of them? Can writing and repeating our stories actually cause more harm than good?

But there is good in storytelling. We all love a good story: being swept away in a narrative that helps us temporarily escape our own, or come to understand our own in a new light, helping us feel less alone. I also think we all like telling our stories, when they’re listened to with love and validation; this feeds the human need of being understood. Storyteller Kevin Kling said, “When I turn something into a story, it doesn't control me anymore."[3] Author Karen Blixen shares this sentiment: “All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”[4] I feel similarly when I come up against an awkward situation that makes me want to bury my head in the ground: “At least this will make good poem material.”

But I do believe there is a danger in clinging too strongly to our stories. I first consciously began thinking about that after hearing these words from the Irish poet John O’Donohue:

“And it often seems to me here that a person believes that if they tell you their story, that that’s who they are. And sometimes these stories are constructed of the most banal, secondhand psychological and spiritual cliché, and you look at a beautiful, interesting face telling a story that you know doesn’t hold a candle to the life that’s secretly in there. So what I think happens here a bit is that there’s a reduction of identity to biography. And they’re not the same thing. I think biography unfolds identity and makes it visible and puts the mirror of it out there, but I think identity is a more complex thing.

And if you cash it out, what it means is that your identity is not equivalent to your biography and that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there is still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you.”[5]

This coupled with a poem from one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, and I really got thinking:

Do you still not know how little endures?

Fling the nothing you are grasping

Out into the spaces we breathe.

Maybe the birds

Will feel in their flight

How the air has expanded.[6]

What stories are we holding onto as societies, as individuals, as reflective writers, which are less than our identity and maybe no more than a nothing to which we grasp?

A simple but revolutionary example of this from my own life was the narrative I’d been told while growing up and thus told myself for years: that I was too sensitive, a baby, and needed to get over that; I could be too withdrawn, too solitary, too shy. These attributes were a weakness, a flaw, an obstacle of my character. But then I started to come across a different narrative, one in which these “negative” attributes could actually be strengths. I learned about Elaine Aron’s psychology work with Highly Sensitive Persons (HSP)[7]. I came across Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking [8]. I gradually began seeing the things I’d always perceived as faults as potential valuable characteristics. Sensitive people can be really good at relating to others and using their finely-operating intuition to pick up on otherwise undetected things. Introverts can be excellent listeners, independent, and self-motivating.

--Side note: I didn’t even recognize at first, but after quoting O’Donohue and Rilke, I thought, “I need to add some kind of personal experience here. This is getting too heady.” In other words, I needed to tell a story! Stories give some kind of framework, something more concrete, from which to base our understandings.

Social psychologist Ellen Langer has spent years studying these understandings and how they’re altered when framed in new ways[9]. She’s explored how one could negatively view another as gullible, only to realize they’re actually trusting. Maybe you’ve only viewed someone as rigid, but you could accurately see them as stable. Impulsive to spontaneous.

But then, in my own story, I’ve felt myself terrified of using that positive spin as an excuse. Do I really need to stay in tonight to recharge in my alone time, or do I just not want to put in the energy to socialize? Do I really still feel sad or hurt, or am I just using that as an excuse to not face further rejection? Am I really overwhelmed with anxiety, or am I just scared of having a hard conversation with someone? (If you can’t see…I tend to overanalyze things. Or then again, am I just thoughtful? Haha, oh dear). But honestly: am I taking advantage of storytelling to avoid facing reality?

Author Adam Miller has delved into the danger of stories distracting us from what really is. He talks about how stories are an “idealized version of how the world ought to be.”[10] But in addition to this hopeful story about our life, there is our actual life itself. And a part of maturity is realizing that our lives are “way too big and messy and complicated and beautiful to ever fit inside the teeny tiny confines of the very self-centered and idealized story we’re trying to tell about ourselves.” Wow! He goes on to explain how storytelling and story-clinging can affect relationships. Speaking particularly of romantic relationships, he says, “You fall in love with another person often initially because they complement your story in just the way that you would like. They make you feel really good about yourself, they seem to fill just the role you wanted someone to play in the story about how your life was going to go. . . That’s the first blush of romance, right? Those heady days in which you think to yourself, ‘Oh, my story might actually work out the way I wanted it to.’”

But then further along into the relationship, you inevitably come across things about this other person that don’t match up with that idealized version of them. He says at this point, you’re “going to have to decide whether you love your story about them, or whether you love them...for who they actually are.” And he says, unfortunately, “lots of times we end up choosing our stories. Lots of times I end up choosing my story about my wife over my actual wife. Or I end up choosing my story of my children over my children. And that’s when things fall apart, that’s when we lose a deep connection . . . we end up choosing our narrow little fictions over the beautiful, complex messiness of actual stuff” [italics added].

If anything could make me pause and reassess my whole life, Adam Miller’s words did it. Hearing these words for the first time a few months back, I started looking at every significant problem in my life. I realized they all stemmed in some way either from me choosing my stories over others or others choosing their stories over me—becoming so stubborn in our clinging to narrative that we failed to accept the realities.

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symbols & models

This makes me think of symbols. You know that famous painting of the pipe with the words below it: “this is not a pipe”? The whole point of that controversial piece was to help people think about and understand how representations of reality are not reality itself. In fact, I just looked it up, and its title is “The Treachery of Images.”[11] Additionally, the words I’m typing right now intrinsically mean nothing. But we’ve come to imbue certain lines and curves with specific meanings in order to foster understanding. Images, words, and stories are not themselves reality.

So though symbols can be helpful as well as powerful, in that translation of representation, some complexities are inevitably lost. Speaking of this, the poet Padraig O’ Tuama wrote: “It is the tense vocation of language to contain and constrain meaning.”[12] From Jack Gilbert, another poet: “How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, and frightening that it does not quite.”[13] I think it is important that we don’t confuse representations for the real thing, or simplifications will sweep us away.

In an ornithology class I once took, we talked about the models scientists utilize in order to understand and predict the natural world. Instead of getting into the ugly mess of mathematical and statistical models (ex: y = β0 + β1 x + β2 x2 . . . YUCK), suffice it to say that models are defined as: qualitative generalizations of nature. (Simple example: think of building a small-scale model city in order to understand street layout and infrastructure). The concept of models has stuck with me beyond the post-finals-release-of-crammed-knowledge, and so have these two PowerPoint slides[14]:

Going back into my notes to find these slides, I was struck with how perfectly “stories” could be substituted for “models” with this information. Richly thought-provoking. Especially that reference to George E. P. Box’s “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” That sentence has haunted me over and over again in relation to stories. At the end, I’ll include a table of reasons why stories can be useful, and I fully acknowledge they can be. But what haunts me is their insufficiency, and the danger in becoming to fixated on them.

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learned helplessness / self-fulfilling prophecy

I think of the danger of stories in the form of learned helplessness, which happens when an organism (this includes humans) repeatedly encounters inescapable or unavoidable pain or encumbrance. Faced with repeated hopeless adversity, the organism accepts the loss of control and gives up trying, even though circumstances change and relief becomes possible. How much of our story telling—to ourselves and to others—is a result of learned helplessness? How much of it has become an excuse, but one we genuinely believe?

Writer and surgeon Sherwin Nuland talks about this from his own personal experience:

“You reach a point in an emotional illness, on the upswing, when you’re starting to get better, when you have to make a decision because you’re now strong enough to make it. The decision is, ‘Am I going to hang on to these symptoms?’ Because the symptoms become very meaningful to you, you depend on them, you’re comfortable with them. They represent things to you.

They represented a sort of comfortable familiar thing that I could come back to. It’s almost as if they represented family. And it’s hard to give those things up. It’s very difficult. There’s an old suit and it looks terrible on you, but you like it, you know it’s really good, and the elbows are patched and you feel like sitting by a fire and smoking a pipe in that suit but you know that if you do that you’re never going to get in the world and live.”[15]

I can relate to that feeling very deeply. Who doesn’t want to curl up next to the fire in their favorite sweater, an aromatic cup of tea in hand, and doze away? Especially with the array of obstacles life’s constantly throwing in the way. Honestly, just knowing about the existence of learned helplessness inspires an extra measure of helplessness in me.

But! Alas! We must remember this concept of learned helplessness is closely related to self-fulfilling prophecy, which can be used positively. An example of this is the Rosenthal-Jacobson study, in which teachers’ positive expectations led to enhanced performance from the students[16].

Another example comes again from Ellen Langer and her studies on how our realities are shaped by the ideas and words we attach to them[9]. Conducting a study with chambermaids, she had them exchange the usual word “work” for the word “exercise” when describing what they do. This reframing resulted in lowered blood pressure and weight loss in the maids. A similar study was done by retrofitting a retreat to look and feel as if it were 20 years in the past (this included speaking as if it were so), and placing a group of men in their 80s to live there temporarily. The results of this were that over merely a week, the men experienced improvements in hearing, vision, memory, and strength, just as if their bodies were retrofitting to an earlier time along with their settings (an incredible, recommended article about this in references[17]). Langer said if we “see that the things that are happening to [us] are a function of [our] view of them, [we] needn’t be so afraid.”

This concept of positive framing and self-fulfilling prophecy is full of potential. Just think of when you overheard someone say you were kind or good or smart…then suddenly you wanted more than ever to be kind or good or smart. You received extra fuel to do so. Their comment didn’t abruptly change reality, but it inspired you to change it. Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator, said, “And if we tell ourselves a different story of who we are, then the chances are that we're going to try to act in accordance with that story.”[18] I want to be able to be intentional in including compassion, hope, and possibility for change in my stories, maybe especially when I'm feeling helpless.

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subjectivity versus objectivity

This leads me to acknowledge the flimsiness and unpredictability in human emotions and perspectives. In a world of hard science and increasing factual knowledge, the unstable human beset so easily by emotions and carried away by feeling becomes a bother. At least to me. When something doesn’t go my way, I wish so badly I could keep my cool and maintain an objective perspective that assures me the world isn’t in fact ending. I’ve been working on the reactivity of my emotions and do think I’ve improved in not letting them get the best of me so easily. But can we actually escape them conclusively? Or should we? Should we strive for a strictly-objective view of the world, since it seems to offer more control and stability? Sometimes, it feels like we should.

I’m currently reading a book that is preaching just that[19]. Though I can see how practicing objectivity could be useful in some situations, the vehemence with which the author asserts the superiority of objectivity alarms me. He seems to want the readers to become robots for the sake of success. Thinking about this, and recalling the many messages I’ve personally received throughout my life to be less sensitive, I feel that trying to live strictly objectively is like trying to convince ourselves we’re not subject to gravity. Both gravity and emotions are ultimately inescapable aspects of human life on Earth. We can’t just approach the edge of a cliff as if gravity doesn’t have to apply to us, and we can’t approach our lives and stories as if emotions don’t have their force too.

[I was just about to come up here and state a disclaimer, apologizing for how emotional the next paragraph gets, but considering the subject, I’m decidedly not going to].

And I’m not saying we should sit around, balled up on the ground, bewailing the fact that the world pulls us down. I’m not saying we can’t stand up, walk around, jump, use the friction which gravity lends to build cars, bikes, trains. Heavens, look at airplanes! We can occasionally escape the ground and defy gravity to fly through the sky, or even just jump on the trampoline. I’m not saying we give up and wholly succumb to the downwards pull of gravity nor emotions. We can take breaths, steps back, and time-outs to reassess how much we’re letting emotions limit us unnecessarily. Maybe Buddha is the ultimate parallel of an astronaut on the moon, and something we can aspire to. But if we pretend that we can forsake all feeling and that we’re above being subject to subjectivity, then we’re just delusionally fighting against something that is an engrained part of our beings.

And speaking of beings, a source I’ve found that has discussed objectivity versus subjectivity is The On Being Project. Their work in human development and expression is unparalleled, taking a look at and discussing the many facets of what it means to be a human being (I thought about renaming this piece: “What I’ve Learned about Stories through On Being” – haha, partway joking, part serious). I’ve listened to the host of the podcast, Krista Tippett, interview a number of world-renowned scientists [9], [20], [21], who, though these attributes can sometimes be dismissed, discuss the validity of human consciousness and emotion as real aspects of science.

In an interview with Krista, the Tibetan-Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard put it this way (who, interestingly enough, has been studied by scientists curious about the controlled calm of his meditation-trained brain): “When someone sees red, or someone feels love, you could describe right down to the most single neurons what’s going on, if you had the power of investigation. But you have no clue what it means to see red, feel love, as an experience”[22] [italics added]. So right there, we have a limit to the objective. It’s like the time-old challenge of describing the taste of salt to someone who’s never had it. You could scientifically describe the chemical components all you want, but in the end, what actually matters to us? That or how our pasta tastes? I don’t mean to trivialize it with a food analogy, but I’m trying to convey the impracticality of living objectively.

Ellen Langer said this: “My belief is that our beliefs are not inconsequential. It’s not that they matter a little. They’re almost the only thing that does matter. It’s a very extreme statement. OK. If you were going to say, what matters, real or perceived time? To me, it would be perceived time.”[9] Back to the opening line of this: There’s reality, and then there’s our perception of reality. Objectivity and subjectivity. So which one should we chase in our stories?

During an interview with one of those scientists, Krista Tippett said, “We articulate and sense reality through experience.”[20] Whether we like it or not, we are each learning about reality through personal experience and the confines of our own inescapable filters. We cannot live in this world without some measure of subjectivity – we are one person, with pasts and presents that shape us, unavoidably. The poet Ming D. Liu put it this way:

Who am I, you ask?

I am made from

all the people I’ve encountered

and all the things I have


Inside, I hold the laughter of my


the argument with my parents,

the chattering of young children,

and the warmth from kind strangers.

Inside, there are stitchings from

cracked hearts,

bitter words from heated arguments,

music that gets me through,

and emotions I cannot convey.

I am made from

all these people and moments.

That is who I am.[23]

We cannot escape “all these people and moments” that have influenced who we are today. We cannot escape our bodies and the sieves they put on our perceptions. Simply think of how your view of the world changes when hungry or fatigued. Take into account heredity and all of its repercussions on our lives. We cannot escape the often-uncontrollable environment around us. But a glimmer of hope comes through this tragic-feeling trap, which is articulated well in a book entitled Resilience: “You are not responsible for everything that happens to you. You are responsible for how you deal with what happens to you.”[24] We may not be responsible for receiving the genes we have, or the upbringing we did, or any of the uncontrollable and ever-present influences on us. But we do have control over what we do with them.

Overall, our experience affects our reflections, and our reflections affect our experience. Realizing that everything is a lot more interconnected than simply “objectivity is greater than subjectivity” or vice versa, we are empowered to try our best at intentionally telling the stories that best help us navigate through this messy world.

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how to use stories

Another iteration of George E. P. Box’s model quote goes like this: “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful?”[25] And the follow-up question to that might be: are these models/stories useful to us in a hindering way (provided excuses and justification for wallowing in our story), or an empowering way (giving us wings to rise above the woes of this world)?

And: how can we harness the beauty of stories to stretch our understanding of and compassion in this world?

I am by no means proclaiming I actually know anything about answering that giant question. But as I’ve thought about this, and now written some more, here are a few things that’ve stuck out and meant something to me:

- - I think at the very least we must be intentional in our story-telling and story-listening, realizing that stories have limits, that stories themselves aren’t reality (though they can be helpful in stretching us beyond it). Like language, stories are symbols of meaning, not the meaning itself. But even despite the insufficiency of stories to replicate reality, stories, like language, make new connections possible.

As a version of storytelling, music also creates connection. Recently at a live show, listening to the musician Adam Torres play his song “Juniper Arms,”[26] I was swept away into an intense trance, transported into memory of a special spot nestled in the Cascade Mountains with tall pines and a sweeping river. I wrote a thank-you to Adam, stumbling to try and explain how much he made that song feel so similarly to sitting among the peaceful outdoors. This is from that letter: “It's not that you captured the natural world. (I think capturing is a yearning we tend to have, but that can be quite limiting/destructive). It wasn't a false replicating (who can even pretend to replicate that). It was a harmonizing. An honoring. Flowing freely alongside the natural orderly and disorderly movement of things.” That is it. If I can create my stories to do a third of what Adam’s music did in the way of harmonizing with reality instead of falsely trapping it, I will be ecstatic. I think that is a worthy goal in storytelling.

- - On the subject of honoring, and hearkening back to subjectivity, I think it is important in the creation of our stories to honor our feelings and the roles they play. Miguel Clark Mallet, writing for On Being, wrote this: “I do not mean that emotions are infallible or that reason doesn’t have a major place in my life. But when I attend to, rather than try to banish, them, my feelings offer me information; they provide clues that something may be wrong in the story I’m telling about myself and the world.”[27] Attending to our feelings, and the feelings of others, is imperative in creating a compassionate story.

- - Along with that is the practice of listening attentively to others’ stories. My Grandpa West used to say, “You’re no better than anybody, because you can learn something from everybody.” What wisdom. I’ve found that when I open myself up to the stories of others, I inevitably find more of myself and more of humanity along the way. We can “hear each other into speech,”[28] as author Parker Palmer puts it. “No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no correcting each other” as we listen. And without those barriers, we can listen truly, which to Parker Palmer is “one of the most critical tasks of our time.”

- - Another way to stretch and reassess our stories is through meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus of medicine, said he hopes people understand that meditation doesn’t mean you give up yourself into order to become a “transparent weirdo of sorts.”[29] It doesn’t have to be a strange, hokey experience in an incense-and-yogi-filled room. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. It can be simply sitting alone in silence, reflecting. Meditation can come in a variety of forms (I’d recommend looking into the Apps “Breathe” or “Calm” to help get you started. Or simply typing in “guided meditations” into YouTube). Jon Kabat-Zinn has said that no, meditation doesn’t mean becoming a weirdo, but “that you change your relationship to who you think you are as a person, and in particular to the story of who you are or think you are.” It helps you get outside yourself and see things a little more objectively (*gasp*, yes, even that suspicious objectivity is indeed useful), to see more clearly the nothings which you may be grasping, as Rilke put it.

- - And lastly, the practice of telling our own stories, and moving on, can be healing. When it’s been too long since I last sincerely shared what’s going on inside my mind and heart with someone I can trust, I feel an emotional damming. When we hold our stories in, they can become distorted and harmful. It feels incredibly pretentious to share my own poetry here (I rarely share with anyone at all), but I figure it’s an opportunity to practice exactly what I’m preaching: sharing in order to connect. And it explains in a pared-down way what I’m trying to say. So here it is:

Sorrow comes crashing, folding,

churning against the door

Like water assaulting a dam.

I feel uncertain and certainly


& then I open the doors

& let it in.

It floods over me, washing me,

Touching every part of me

& flowing on.

Finally releasing our pent-up stories and letting them flow on can be one of the most powerful things in our lives and for our emotional health. Researcher and author Brené Brown studies how this applies to power over shame. She wrote: “Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it—it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”[30] I’ve personally felt that. And not only with shame, but with fear and feeling overwhelmed. It’s like when I was a little kid in the darkness of night, and there was a pile of clothes on the chair that looked like a monster. How many nights did I lie, paralyzed, waiting for it to move and eat me? But the nights during which I had the courage to go flip on the light, I was able to see it for what it was, disassemble the “monster,” and go back to bed. Putting my experiences into words is my figurative flipping on the light. The fear shrinks from a paralysis to a relief, and I can get on with my living.

When our stories prevent us from getting on with our living, they become harmful. We can become stuck in subjectivity and symbolism. A dear friend recently told me of a Hawaiian tradition on the Big Island that helped overcome this miring. When one experienced injury or illness, they were treated by a healer. As the healing was concluding, a visit to Coconut Island was prescribed. One would declare themselves healed, jump into the ocean, and swim around the small island. My friend Terri told me of how when she sought a local healer for an ailment some years back, this was prescribed for her. She spoke of how powerful that declaration felt, and how indeed she sensed the confirmation of her healing as she swam. I was floored with how beautiful that tradition is, and how declarations of release can be used in application to healing by and from our stories.

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“Stretching our fixation to our stories is an act of love we can give ourselves each day. . . as we practice challenging our habits, judgments, & assumptions (our stories, in other words), [we] can open up a more extensive capacity for more love to come in, & to be sent out. We feel more whole, & less fragmented.” –Sharon Salzberg [31]

So, what’s more important: events, or our perception of them? Reality, or our stories? Maybe it’s not an either/or. Maybe it’s a both/and. A blending. As Sharon Salzberg suggests, we can stretch our fixation to our perceptions as an act of love. Educator John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”[32] We need both: the objective experience and subjective reflecting. May we be intentional in our creative efforts of constructing, hearing, telling, and reassessing our stories, all while we live our lives.

The end.

 The Benefit of Story
TED Talk: “The Power of Personal Narrative” by J. Christian Jensen[33]

Mid 1990s study by Marshall Duke on why certain families stick together when others fracture:

Result: children who knew more stories about their family history, their childhood, and about challenges of the families = stronger sense of control over their lives, higher self-esteem

--This story-knowing was the best single predictor of emotional health and happiness…also the biggest factor in making them resilient to stress

TED Talk: “The Power of Storytelling” by Andrea Gibbs[34]

--“In the end, that’s all we really are, right? We’re just stories. Stories are what our lives are made up of. Stories are how we remember people. And stories make us feel a little less alone in the world?”

--“We can’t always choose the stories that we have in our lives. But if we take a risk, and we show that we’re human, and vulnerable, then that’s where the best stories live.”

TED Talk: “How the story transforms the storyteller” by Donald Davis[35]

--Tell the story with the agenda of: what do you think ______ learned by living through that? You? Parents? Doctors? Etc.

--Discover the stories that are sitting on you like stone and crawl out from under them

Invisibilia podcast, “The Other Real World”[36]

--Wanted to see if radio programs influenced war/genocide/cultural behaviors

--(31 minutes): Psychology’s focus use to be “all rhetoric and no poetic.” HOST: “The way to change someone’s behavior, psychologists assumed, was to change their ideas. And you did that through argument, or rhetoric. But starting in the 90s, Betsy said, poetics started gaining ground, because psychologists realized that people consumed stories in this qualitatively different way.”

--When listening to a story, their defensiveness is disabled. Their counter-arguing is at rest. . . We’re trying to do a lot of things. We’re trying to picture what’s going on, what will happen next, it really engages us to listen to a story, whereas we’re engaged in different ways when we listen to an argument. We assess whether we believe each assertion, and we measure up what we’re hearing with what we think.

On Being podcast, Rachel Naomi Remen, “Listening Generously”[37]

“And that’s very important about stories: They touch something that is human in us and is probably unchanging. Perhaps this is why, you know, parables — the important knowledge is passed through stories. It’s what holds a culture together. Culture has a story, and every person in it participates in that story. And so story, and not facts, are the way the world is made up. The world is made up of stories; it’s not made up of facts.

The facts are the bones of the story, if you want to think of it that way. I mean, the facts are, for example, that I have had Crohn’s disease for 52 years. I’ve had eight major surgeries. But that doesn’t tell you about my journey and what’s happened to me because of that, and what it means to live with an illness like this and discover the power of being a human being. And, you know, whenever there’s a crisis, like 9/11, do you notice how the whole of the United States turned towards the stories in order to… Where I was, what happened, what happened in those buildings, what happened to the people who were connected to the people in those buildings. Because that is the only way we can make sense out of life, is through the stories. And the facts are a certain number of people died there, but the stories are about the greatness of being a human being and the vulnerability of being a human being.

They tell us about who we are, what is possible for us, what we might call upon. They also remind us we’re not alone with whatever faces us and that there are resources, both within us, and in the larger world, and in the unseen world, that may be cooperating with us in our struggle to find a way to deal with challenges.”

On Being podcast, Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson, “Choosing Words that Deepen the Argument of Being Alive”[38]“We erase our stories, we erase our existence.” –Marilyn Nelson


[1]The Decemberists (2002). July, july! [Recorded by Simon Widdowson]. Castaways and Cutouts [CD]. Portland, OR: Hush Records.

[2] Crane, T., & and French, C. (2017). The Problem of Perception. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford, California:  Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. URL = <>.

[3] On Being Studios. (2016, May 16). Kevin Kling –The Losses and Laughter We Grow Into. Retrieved from

[4] A Gathering for Story. Retrieved from

[5] On Being Studios. (2015, August 6). John O’Donohue – The Inner Landscape of Beauty. Retrieved from

[6] Rilke, R. M., & Macy, J. (2009). A year with Rilke: daily readings from the best of Rainer Maria Rilke. New York, NY: HarperOne.

[7] The Highly Sensitive Person. Retrieved from

[8] Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. London: Penguin Books.

[9] On Being Studios. (2017, November 2). Ellen Langer – Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness. Retrieved from

[10] Hodges, B. (2014, January 17). #6- Adam Miller discusses Letters to a Young Mormon. Retrieved from

[11] Magritte, R. (1929). The Treachery of Images [Painting]. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California.

[12] Tuama, P. O. (2013). Sorry for your troubles. Norwich: Canterbury Press.

[13] Gilbert, J. (2014). Collected poems (p. 125). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

[14] Bissonette, J. A. (2005). 13 – Populations Communities [PowerPoint slides].

[15] On Being Studios. (2014, March 6). Sherwin Nuland – The Biology of the Spirit. Retrieved from

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