Stories and Frames
“Tell your story before others tell it for you” ~ Unknown
“What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it.” ~ STARHAWK
I’ve written a lot about stories. I hear them at work almost everyday, read them from books and social media posts, hear them from family and friends, politicians and true leaders…and from within myself!
We humans are all and each of us framed by many of them: there are stories with religious origins (such as the story that says we are different from Nature and made as God’s image to reign and/or steward the Earth and their “other” living beings) and stories with cultural roots (such as the story that says that Western civilization is more advanced and better than other cultural and social arrangements seen as “primitive” or “wrong”). There are also stories from our communities, families and childhoods, stories that create “characters” within ourselves, such as the victim, the warrior, the competitive, the caring and so on…we tend to absorb these stories so deep than they become part of how we see, interpret and as a result, respond to the world.
These stories shape our “frames”: the lenses through which we see it all.
The interesting thing with stories is that everyone has their own…each of us carries their own stories as frames over our shoulders and measure and judge everyone else (and everything that happens) through them, thinking and feeling our frame is more complete, important and/or “right” than everyone else’s frame.
Because of this, not only we become trapped into these stories and the characters we develop within them, but we also judge and compartmentalize others in such ways that we start telling stories about them and labeling them as “characters” of our own stories: this one I can trust, this one I can’t, this one is hypocritical, that one is a coward, or an abusive, or worse…
“We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters of our minds.”
~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Time
It doesn’t really matter what your intentions or expectations are, what attitude you have, not even what you do, when and how or why…what truly matters is how the “other” perceives, feels and ultimately reacts.
That’s why is so important to not only be aware of our own misunderstanding of what others’ intentions, expectations, attitudes and actions actually are, but how our lack of clarification, our flawed ability to see “only” from our frame’s point of view makes things even worse.
As a result, I feel left behind, attacked, looked down or blamed by you, even when your intentions may have been otherwise, and I create an entire story around these feelings, feeding this story back to you, you’ll do the same back to me and so forth until we have misunderstood, hurt, separated and blocked each other beyond repair.
That’s how all hurt, abuse and oppression in the world begins; that’s how isolation, detachment, numbing and self-withdrawal feed us back into more isolation, detachment, numbing and self-withdrawal…some respond to this flawed feedback with a defensive attack on others, some create an armour around them trying to avoid pain and some even use the strategy of attacking and hurting in advance to make sure others won’t bully or abandon them.
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
Two weeks ago I went to the VanDusen Gardens to pick up a rain barrel the cities are encouraging us citizens to install…however, it hasn’t rained since and it will probably continue like this all summer and beyond. 2015 summer was drier and hotter than usual and so it has been the first part of 2016. Scientists and many naturalists and ecologists have been warning us about what climate change means: more droughts, more storms, more “weirding” of the climate systems…
The World Bank just last week stated that “Climate-driven Water Scarcity Could Hit Economic Growth” and nothing is said about the impact on life (human and otherwise) and ecosystems…
Last week, the city of Fort McMurray (which was born and grew as a result of the tar sands in northern Alberta, one of the most destructive and polluting industries in the world that not only has contributed to climate change but to a story of power, oppression and consumption) fell into the unstoppable flames of a huge wildfire…wildfires have increased in size and frequency and have started to come earlier in the year as a result of climate change. The wildfires prompted the evacuation of almost 90,000 people, many of who are still at evacuation camps or friends’ houses and won’t be able to come back in weeks or even months. Many have lost all their possessions. Many of them were attracted to this city because of the opportunity of a well paid job, sometimes what they saw as “the only” choice in a society where jobs are more and more scarce…and sometimes it was a conscious decision of making money that started from their career choice in the first place. While none of them are “evil” and for sure didn’t deserve this, they were (as all of us are) contributing directly or indirectly to a story based on the world “out there” as one made for us “humans” to take and use for our own comfort and “needs”.
Burnout manifests when healthy critical thinking and skepticism turn into cynicism, disillusionment, pain and anger. When our frame (stories we tell ourselves about the world, others and ourselves) allows us to only see the barriers, the misunderstanding, the detachment, the hurt in the feedback.
We can see ourselves falling into it and still feel unable to do anything to avert this falling. We fall deeper and deeper and turn bitter and bitter, making the frame’s prophesies a reality: now we are truly detached, isolated, left behind and hurt.
Burnout is a result of many complex things, but all the elements come from stories and their characters as well as how we frame things and shape the feedback the world is always providing to us.
In some occasions, things become so unbearable and difficult to understand, share or work out that burnout becomes chronic and feeds those characters we all have inside who don’t bring the best of ourselves.
In the last few months, I have been swimming away from stories of compassion and active hope and hitting one wall after the next. I’ve allowed certain characters take hold of me and certain stories to prevail.
The interesting thing is that I have seen the same happen to many of those I trusted as “leaders”: with the climate change “debate” over after Paris COP21 and an overwhelming presence in mainstream media of all what I’ve been denouncing and fighting against (climate chance, peak resources, pollution, economic and social/political collapses, corruption, etc.), the cards are clearly on the table: as Bill McKibben from 350.org said recently, we no longer have an “argument” (when you have an argument, you present evidence and use the logic); we have a fight: in a fight, both sides use whatever power they have to try to silence and “win” the other…with all the “evidence” already out there, the only reason stopping each and everyone of us from becoming radical and doing something is…???
What we saw as peaceful protests and projects for regeneration, education and the like are becoming frustration, pain, even anger and cynicism: “the other side” have always had all the evidence in their hands and still, still, they made the choice of continue to pollute, abuse, oppress, ransack…
It is obvious everyone is following a different story…
It’s difficult to function properly when you carry so much pain inside. It is difficult to ground yourself and just “be” when the worst characters (the defensive, the offended, the warriors) start coming out of your own self.
That’s my story, or at least the one that explains my silence for the last months…while engaged Buddhism, active hope and permaculture continue to be part of the stories I adopted as a response, I am now embarked in a more personal journey: to try to understand the big picture and when and how (or if) I have to let go or hold onto certain stories and characters; whether the story I have been telling myself about my own relationship with Gaia is certain and ultimately what’s my role (if any) on the bigger play.
“But the final price of freedom is the willingness to face that most frightening of all beings, one’s own self. Starlight vision, the “other way of knowing,” is the mode of perception of the unconscious, rather than the conscious mind. The depths of our own beings are not all sunlit; to see clearly, we must be willing to dive into the dark, inner abyss and acknowledge the creatures we may find there. For, as Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding explains in Woman’s Mysteries, “These subjective factors … are potent psychical entities, they belong to the totality of our being, they cannot be destroyed. So long as they are unrecognized outcasts from our conscious life, they will come between us and all the objects we view, and our whole world will be either distorted or illuminated.”
~ Starhawk (The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religions of the Great Goddess)
“May the wind carry her spirit gently May the Fire release her soul, May the Water cleanse her, may the Earth receive her, May the Goddess take her in her arms and guide her to rebirth.”
~ Starhawk (City of Refuge (The Fifth Sacred Thing Book 3))
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Crodron