Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Finding meaning and purpose through story

Michael Mahoney

Story is everywhere.

When we talk to our friends, our family, our partners, sharing our day or our plans for the future: it is story. When we listen to the news, read, surf the Internet, watch TV, listen to music: all is story. Science and religion are two different ways of telling stories about how the world works. And when we think, our thoughts to ourselves are perhaps telling the greatest story of all, the one that constantly redefines us, from one fleeting moment to the next.

A thought has no power unless you attach a story to it. If I say to myself "I did not write today", the statement in of itself cannot harm me. I can have the thought and then simply watch as it floats on by without meaning. It's nothing more than a fact, something that took place (or did it?). But if I attach a story to it, the thought changes, gaining power over me with every new detail.

I might add, for example, that I did not write today because I was too busy. Okay, so what. Well, maybe the story I tell myself is that I was too busy because I had a crazy day at work. I might simply accept this story as beyond my control and move on. But even this is an attachment to my original thought that says either I am powerless to change my day or that I am okay with my lack of writing because I have come to accept each day simply as it is.

But what if the story I attach to the thought is something like "I did not write today" because I am a terrible, lazy piece of !#$@!. The mind will quickly race to validate any story that you attach to each thought. I begin to think of all the reasons why this story is true. I begin to remember strange, self-flagellating occurences from my past to validate my sense of complete failure at life, like middle school gym class. Or maybe I fixate on the entire evening I spent watching a Real World marathon. The less rational the better, because stories are like celebrities: the more ridiculous they are, the bigger they get, until they warrant their own spoofs on YouTube. The story doesn't care about its content, only that it you continue to feed it so that it can grow until it's power is so complete that it becomes your very own personal religion.

By remaining aware of the stories you attach to your thoughts, you can learn how to separate yourself from them -- giving yourself a feeling of tremendous relief and the ability to shape your life and your creative pursuits the way the authentic YOU want them to manifest, rather than the way your ego tries to shape them to its own demands. This can also be tremendously helpful when listenening to others because it forces you to hear what they really say instead of the projections we place on their words. How often does "You look fantastic!" quickly turn into "So what are you saying, that I used to look like the back end of a walrus?" That's just one story of many, trying to tell itself like a ghostwriter without a contract.

Know your stories, and you can rewrite them to have the endings you want in every aspect of your life. What stories do you tell yourself now that you'd like to change? Where else do you see story in your daily life and thoughts?

Next post, I'll be looking at the role of the Trickster in myth and story, and it's cultural impact in the new movie Batman: The Dark Knight.


Michael Mahoney is a fiction and screenwriter, creativity coach and international direct marketing copywriter living in Cape Cod, MA. With a background in Jungian psychology and mythology, Michael is particularly interested in the way in which story can be found in every area of our lives, from spirituality to our politics. You can contact Michael by sending an email to

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