Creativity is the greatest expression of liberty.
~Bryant H. McGill
I still remember the moment when I realized I didn’t have to believe everything I was telling myself. Yes, I had a story, but I didn’t have to stick to it. Not if it was causing me unnecessary pain, keeping me from moving forward, preventing me from opening my eyes to a new and improved perspective on life.
It was a joyous, liberating feeling. I could create a new story that would benefit me and clear away some of the clouds that had obscured the light I needed to transform a painful situation. I acquired an amazing skill that made my life a little easier. Not easy. But brighter, more hopeful.
The stories we tell ourselves are powerful because they affect how we feel and behave. They determine our identity.
In my younger days, when I was feeling unpopular and inept, I made myself miserable by thinking I should have lots of friends and darn it, people should like me. When I changed my beliefs and assured myself that it was okay to have just a few buddies, I reached out to others whose social skills were on par with mine and connected with the interesting characters I found in books. And that was enough.
Sometimes the unhelpful story we’ve constructed about ourselves is that we can’t do something or that we need to be full of fear. Those thoughts block our positive energy and deplete our personal power. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
If we suspect that the narrative we’ve developed is harming, not helping us, we can ask ourselves questions like those recommended by Byron Katie in “The Work”:
Is it true?
Are you absolutely sure it’s true?
We can explore further:
How do I feel and behave when I believe that story?
Who would I be without that story?
When we realize that what society, or others, or our own sad self is saying isn’t the final word, we can summon up our courage, compassion, and creativity. We can reframe a chapter or paragraph in our life in a way that will bring peace and inspiration.
Sometimes the tale we are telling ourselves prevents us from moving on from past injustices. One of my favorite forgiveness stories is that of Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, who has been honored as a “Hero of Forgiveness.” For many years the story she told herself was that of victimhood because she was unjustly hurt by Nazis who conducted horrific medical experiments upon her and her twin sister. Members of her family were murdered. Kor had every reason to hate, but she came to this realization:
Hatred is an infectious disease.
She decided the narrative she believed about herself as a powerless victim was prolonging the trauma of her past. Her new story, one of forgiveness, was self-healing and self-empowering. She called forgiveness miracle medicine and said, “It’s free; it works and has no side effects.”
The story we tell ourselves about our pain determines our degree of suffering. When we tell ourselves that a situation can’t change because another person is to blame or we’re not good enough to do something about it, we become weak. When we ruminate obsessively over a past that inevitably remains the same, we are stubbornly refusing to direct our energy toward creating a better future.
Focusing on fault or regret takes us down a detour of defensiveness or shame. It delays our journey to a destination where burdens are lifted, problems are solved, and relationships are mended. One of my favorite anonymous quotes is, “Fix the problem, not the blame.”
When we’re able to control our harmful thoughts,
they lose their power to control us.
Self-control is a virtue encouraged in the major religions along with the goal of “mindfulness.” Being mindful means creating a distance between our thoughts and our identity, realizing our thoughts are not who we are. They are simply thoughts that appear based on a variety of factors such as our instincts, our past, our fears and desires. We can decide what we want to do with our thoughts and create the next chapter in our courageous, compassionate life story.
I’m a writer and it’s important that I edit my work. I go back to early chapters of a book, or paragraphs of a blog, and modify my words so their meaning becomes clearer and more illuminating. As a human being, I can go back to early chapters of my life and reflect on them with grace and the wisdom that experience brings me. I can use my reflections to create new, improved episodes in my life journey.
Creativity isn’t just about art. It’s about the ability to look at a situation from various perspectives and imagine new ways of being. About having the courage to question assumptions and “certainties” that aren’t really certain. About being determined and persistent as we create a story in which we become a person whom we respect.
Thomas Edison created a story that led him to the creation of the first light bulb. He had many unsuccessful attempts at his goal, but that did not deter him. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
We will all have struggles in life. What’s important is that we don’t lose hope. That we take what we learn and create stories that brighten our paths and lead us to light.
photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash