In my Loving Kindness group, I posed a question about feeling resentful after backing down from an awkward situation.
The man sitting opposite me said “Changing the narrative could mean that instead of feeling forced into a decision, it becomes your choice.”
Is changing narrative as easy as seeing silver linings under clouds, or seeing a new door when the familiar exit shuts, or is that over simplification?
Is changing narrative as easy as re-naming unwanted behaviour, calling an expensively priced dog a Terricolliedoodle instead of a mongrel, or announcing a train is unavoidably delayed when its downright late. Or is that Positive Spin; a job with a lofty title and equally high salary?
Jon Kabat Zinn, Professor Emeritus of all things Mindful, leads us to focus on breathing while imagining sky and clouds. Thoughts are not our mind; they are merely clouds that we can un-hook and allow to float away, which is an extremely useful narrative change for shedding anxiety.
Mindfulness in any form doesn’t just change the narrative chimp, it positively dismisses it and asks that instead we simply notice. Simple yes, but not easy.
Is changing narrative something that needs to be learnt and practised, or do we absorb its use from others, to apply ad hoc. If changing narrative reveals a different perspective, does that make every life event a moveable feast, and problems only problems because that’s what we call them? Can we actually alter a situation by approaching it differently, or are we sidestepping what is plainly obvious in order to avoid misery. Do we ever change narrative of a happy or satisfying event?
If changing narrative is a practised skill with its own rules and limitations, where exactly are those limits?
Medication is an interesting example. Does medication change a narrative?
Our body and mind tells us we’re depressed and anxious. Some meds flood mood-changing Serotonin while others act on nerve patterns. Are they saving us the agony of climbing out a pit that feels too deep to scale, or are we silencing a narrative that’s desperate to be heard.
Would traumas be better if we re-named them Creative Sources? Would those of us needing to release the pressure of what we carry inside, be as empathetic with our creative output, if we led the lives we change narrative to create?
Does a heart by-pass change a hopeless narrative, cancer treatment a dire one- when ‘incurable’ becomes a synonym of ‘terminal’ what exactly does it change?
A strong belief in religion or spirituality, or even a nod to something more forceful, can change the narrative from ours to theirs. Will reading an ancient tract or repeating a mantra provide a different perspective, or just give permission for a current one, however heinous that may be?
For most of my adult life I’ve been fighting an illness I can’t beat; tenacity has become second nature. I’ve been asked many times for my secret, and I’ve always shrugged and suggested I must be very lucky.
It wasn’t until I properly- PROPERLY- began noticing how much I change narrative to lessen the burden, that I saw it as the tactic that saves my sanity.
Yes, it’s a good way to avoid the enormity of unavoidable truths, but it’s also a good way to accept them with equanimity. We don’t have to like everything, but neither do we have to shoulder too-heavy burdens. Invest in a trolley-on-wheels and carry them alongside. Forget them entirely when the terrain is difficult, secure in the knowledge they’ll find their own way home.
Perspective, changing narrative; you can’t change a situation but you can change the way you look at it.