An Exercise in Mindful Storytelling

I have always loved stories. I read a lot as a kid, I’ve also been journaling since I was young and I’ve been writing fiction since my early twenties.

And of course, stories are incredibly important for us as human beings. They help us to learn, they connect us to each other and they ignite our imaginations. Stories can give us hope; they can help us envision a new and better future, and inspire concrete action in our daily lives.

However, there is an important thing to remember when it comes to stories – and this is particularly important when it comes to self-care and resilience. And that’s the idea that because stories are such an inherent part of our human DNA, we may not be aware of our very own storytelling practices, and how powerful our stories can be. Our personal stories can replay over and over in our minds, becoming engrained to the point that they almost become truths that we believe.

So, it’s important to remember one key point. And if you’re a creative practitioner, listen up, because it’s especially important for you. Here it is. You are not your story. Did you hear me? Say it with me, just for fun. I am not my story.

So, having made that big and bold statement, let’s dive into why it can be so easy to believe our stories – and understand a little more deeply about what’s going on in our own psyche that makes this happen. This practice is a great, and important, part of Mindful Creativity because it allows us to step back and use our mindful observational skills to gain an insight on something it can actually be quite hard to get distance from. 

Are you ready? OK, let’s start. The first thing to understand is how our own egos work.

The Ego as Storyteller

‘The ego consists of positive or negative mind activity we identify with. It can be about having something or having nothing. For example, we may identify with being a great tennis player, a poor public speaker or both. We may identify with being a mother, a daughter, a husband or a wife. We may identify with being stylish or dowdy. We may identify with being popular or unpopular. We may identify with being a peaceful or angry person. We may identify with having a luxurious car or having no car. We may identify with being a vegan or a meat eater.’

We can also describe the ego as the ‘self, defined as a story’. ‘Within each of us survive volumes of stories, an ever-expansive library that holds perceptions about people, events, and experiences in our lives. Each story ends and dove tails into the others, weaving a tapestry of tales that the unconscious reads often, and we come to believe as truth. Right now, your ego is the storyteller, albeit one who is reluctant to rewrite them. (Goodtherapy.org)

What kind of stories does our ego tell?

‘All of our perceptions about our internal and external worlds unfold from the stories that the ego holds as truth. Throughout our lives, the ego has collected volumes and volumes of narratives—stories about you, others, and the world around it.’

Stories become interwoven with the constant chatter within our minds, and if we’re not careful, we can take more heed of them than we need to. This can become even more of a risk for us on our creative practices, because to be creative, we need really healthy amounts of positive beliefs to ensure we can get our work out into the world and have the confidence to share it with others in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

Unhelpful stories that the ego can perpetuate can include:

  • “I am not talented’
  • “I am shy and I’ll never be able to get my voice heard’
  • “People aren’t interested in what I have to say’
  • “My career is going nowhere, lucky I still have a day job!’
  • The chatter is what the ego does all day long, driving us to engage in the same patterns, habits, and beliefs.

How practicing mindfulness helps us detach from our stories

At the deepest level, mindfulness practice cultivates a different relationship with the self. The observing stance that becomes stronger after repeated and consistent mindfulness practice allows participants to take a step back from all kinds of thoughts, including identity related thoughts. Identity, which can be described as a rather static and thought-based story of “me”, creates a room for a more dynamic sense of self, which can be described as an ever-present observer.

Understanding that our stories are not us can be incredibly liberating. We can choose not to have a story at all. Or, we can choose to update and recalibrate our stories to work for us, rather than limiting us. I think that stories remain a valuable tool because of the very fact that they are so closely tied to our imagination, and can so effectively trigger real action. And action is how we bring ideas into being.

We just need an increased awareness of our own power as storytellers of our own lives – and harness stories for good, to help us be our best selves, to have faith in ourselves and our work. And once we are able to see that our stories are not us, we have permission to revisit our stories, to recalibrate them – and to also release the stories that no longer hold true.

How to release, recalibrate and refresh your stories

Dropping attachment to our stories is a big thing. It’s healthy. It gives us room, and license, to clean house, to tidy up and find the stories that are right for us, right now. Because having now realised that they are not connected to our identity, we can start to use stories as tools to help us carve a really positive way forward in our lives.

But first, the work…observation, self-care, gratitude and release

As an observer of our stories, we can start to reflect on the fact that stories we might be telling ourselves that are no longer true – or perhaps were never true in the first place.

The first piece of work, then, is to find some time and space to look inwards, and identify these old stories. Take your time and don’t push it. Use meditation, reflection and quiet moments in a safe and comfy space to begin the listening process.

Observing our own thoughts and stories is not necessarily something that comes easily to us, especially in the current day and age where we are so distracted by the noise of everyday living. So, the first step is to find ways to start turning down the noise of the outside world.

Mindful creativity is great for this – get stuck back in to your doodling, drawing, playful creativity – but also turn your mind to some of the stories that may make an appearance in your thoughts from time to time. Notice if they make you feel good, or if they come from a place of fear, or worry.

Sit with them for a while. Again, I really urge you to take time with this. Releasing old stories; and consequently releasing old ideas of ourselves and our limitations, can be deep work; profound and revealing and magical all at the same time – but that doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t mean you won’t feel emotional as the process unfolds.

Self-care is really important for this kind of work!

Be kind and generous to yourself – and practice self-care along the way. Releasing old stories can be like removing a splinter from directly under your skin (relatively easy, surface-level pain), or it can feel like big surgery because the splinter has gone so deep. (real pain, real tears).

And, as you come up against your old stories, think about what they might have given you; because all stories have a purpose. They may have given you a feeling of safety, of protection, of comfort.

You might like to take a moment to appreciate them for serving you at some time in your life. Thank them. And recognise that the story has served its purpose, but that you no longer need it. You are strong enough to move forward with your life, and you’ve grown enough that you are curious to see what it looks like without the sense of safety and protection that your story offered you.

At the same time, take a moment to understand that life is a journey, and you might not arrive at your destination overnight. You might have to practice living and operating without this story for a while. It might be uncomfortable. You might feel unprotected, vulnerable and without support. And occasionally, you might find yourself relapsing into an old story. And that’s OK. Growth happens day by day and bit by bit.

What can help us to release old stories? Building new ones!

Use my Creative Manifesto work book to help you along the way.  The work book gives you the opportunity to do consider your stories-  and write an old and new version of each, to see how the feel for size. This can provide a great opportunity to revisit and recalibrate your story – and re-imagine your creative journey  at the same time. Then, the work book also provides space for thinking through your Creative Manifesto – which is your creative vision, and another opportunity to refresh your story for right here, right now. I hope you find the work book, and the process, helpful.

Download my Creative Manifesto workbook for free!

”Your Creative Manifesto – with a Mindful Storytelling Re-set’ is part of my Mindful Creativity Toolkit.

It includes:

  • Handy information about Manifestos
  • space to reflect on your connection to your own personal stories – and consider if some of them need to be refreshed or re-imagined.
  • A poster template to use write up the story of your creative work, journey or investigations, in the here and now (as opposed to some time in the past!)
  • Poster template to help you create your very own Manifesto!

Download this great resource now, and deepen into quality creative work. Understand the power of your personal stories – and how you can use them to power your creative work. 

You’ll also receive my fortnightly Mindful Creativity email. And, each month, I’m releasing another part of the Mindful Creativity Toolkit – so you’ll also get that delivered to your inbox for free!

Download your Creative Manifesto workbook!

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What is Mindful Creativity?

Hello, my name’s Jordan. Mindful Creativity is a great way to relax, unwind and enjoy creativity to enhance our sense of wellness. If you’re looking for a way to connect with your inner voice as you develop your own personal creative practice, it might be just the thing for you.

My Mindful Creativity blog, resources and tools provides ways for you to deepen into a more nourishing creative practice!