In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day…
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
– The book of Genesis
“Our dreams and stories may contain implicit aspects of our lives even without our awareness. In fact, storytelling may be a primary way in which we can linguistically communicate to others—as well as to ourselves—the sometimes hidden contents of our implicitly remembering minds. Stories make available perspectives on the emotional themes of our implicit memory that may otherwise be consciously unavailable to us. This may be one reason why journal writing and intimate communication with others, which are so often narrative processes, have such powerful organizing effects on the mind: They allow us to modulate our emotions and make sense of the world.”
― Daniel J. Siegel
Telling stories is both the way we communicate with each other as well as the way we make sense of the world. Dan Siegel describes making sense as a process of sorting through memory, present experience, and imagination to create a coherent picture of the essence of how our lives are unfolding. This making sense is an integrative process that links past, present and potential future in a way that allows us to be situated in a social world of experience. Narrative links us to other people now and across time through recorded stories passed down through culture.
We are story-telling creatures and our stories serve to bind us together. To understand what it is to be human we must understand the structure and function of narrative. The mind is shaped by story. We have evolved to see the world through narrative eyes. Stories, as well as shaping our very sense of self, are also at the heart of culture – a process that links minds to minds in ‘an expanded self’ across the boundaries of bodies and generations.
Stories evoke the imagination of youth and enable the transfer of wisdom from older generations. Young people are influenced by stories from family, school and community, take on these meanings and then re-shape them to make them their own. This is how culture evolves – through the transformation of stories.
The mind has both an observing self and an experiencing self. This observing self narrates what an experiencing self has experienced in the past, therefore, this observing self can retrieve and remould the meaning of recalled events. This can be a healing form of resolution of trauma. Just like in the book of genesis, the stories we construct can create coherence out of chaos. In this process we can move from being a passive victim of painful events to an empowered author of our own life stories.
Have you ever given thought to your own narrative(s)? What is your story? How is that story unfolding? What are some of its key themes? What are the major events in that story? How might you create coherence out of chaotic life events? What are the possibilities for the development of that story in the future?