One of the most essential elements of the human experience is the acquired ability to narrate one’s own life story. It’s also the very core fundamental of psychotherapy, and those who are good at it can go on to transform their own lives in the most remarkable ways. In a fascinating piece published in Scientific American in January 2011 entitled “Psychotherapy And The Healing Power of Narrating A Life”, May Benatar writes:
“An important part of the psychotherapy process, as I understand it and have practiced it, involves constructing a narrative of one’s life. This may seem like a curious task given that we all know or should know the story of our lives. We’ve been imagining the movie to be made from that story forever, right? Well, that may be true of some us, but a surprising number of people actually don’t have a coherent story: something that hangs together, makes sense, and has some internal consistency. The story may have large, important chunks missing. Or the narrative is fragmented and chaotic. Sometimes the story is there but it is self-condemnatory and unfair.”
“… It’s also very true that often our stories may not be our own. We may have adopted the stories of our parents, grandparents, siblings or some other authority figure rather than having developed an account of our own experience as we felt and perceived it. To construct a story of our life is to make meaning of it. To compose memory, emotion and internal experience as well as autobiographical facts into a story helps us to become who we are. Interestingly, story-telling is taught in school very early: in pre-school and kindergarten. A pre-school teacher noted that children’s stories often become autobiographical quite spontaneously. The children include details of family life without prompting. Story-telling is an important part of self development. The narration that has gone awry can be addressed and realigned in psychotherapy.”
In 2012 more than 1 billion of us are doing much of this realignment on a daily basis with our own carefully curated personal Facebook storybooks. This new social diary technology has happened so fast that it has had somewhat of a time-warp effect on our society — it’s almost difficult to remember life pre-Facebook. But as my relationship with Facebook evolves and I become more aware of how it is affecting my life, I have discovered this relationship is composed of a tug-of-war between a left side and a right side.
On the left is a diehard appetite to share my life’s narrative with my close friends and family. From my favorite music, to my favorite photographs, to even my own FEELguide stories and discoveries. I am the first to admit that I probably share more than the average person, but this passion for sharing discoveries is connected to a deeper interest in telling my own life story, which I’m convinced is the core motivation for must of us with social network technology.
This left side is coupled with its opposite right side as well, that being the embrace of the mysterious. Life’s truth is not only rooted in the need to tell our life stories, it’s also connected to the mysterious and the unknown. One of poet John Keats’ most memorable insights revolved around what he described as the ideal state of the psyche being what he referred to as negative capability – the ability “of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Renowned author Joyce Carol Oates echoed Keats when she wrote, “The truth of life is its Mystery.” This comfort with mystery and the unknown, as Maria Papova notes, “is at the heart not only of poetic existence but also of the most rational of human intellectual endeavors, as many of history’s greatest scientific minds have attested. And yet, caught between the opinion culture we live in and our deathly fear of being wrong, we long desperately for absolutism, certitude, and perfect truth.”
In their 1993 book The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning, authors Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham take a fascinating look at what is arguably the most important dimension of what it means to be human (our inherent imperfection) and the countless ways in which we violate it daily — especially with Facebook. The book is a powerhouse resource which delivers a fascinating wisdom and practical insight into how we can navigate the human condition in a way that empowers, rather than disables, our humanity. “A spirituality of not having all the answers, stories convey the mystery and the miracle — the adventure — of being alive.”
All day I have been captivated by Maxence Cyrin‘s piano cover of Arcade Fire’s gorgeous song “No Cars Go”, which is set to the visuals of Takeshi Kitano’s 1997 film Fireworks (Hana-Bi) about Nishi, a violent and unpredictable police detective who quits the force after a terrible incident results in his partner, Horibe, needing to use a wheelchair. The video follows a wheelchair-bound Horibe as he finds himself alongside a Japanese flower store one day where he has a revelatory experience as he stares into the array of flowers that surround him. In many ways we are all very much like Horibe as we move through our own lives — limited to our mere mortal selves as we reach outwards towards the bounty of flowers that make up our friends and families and everyone we love. In the end, our lives are a delicate dance between public and private; picking the flowers or leaving them be. Share too much and we risk suffocating the mysterious. Share too little and there would never be any fireworks at all.