You Are Not the Story Someone Else Wants to Tell About You

Stories.  They are how we make meaning of the world.  What happens in your life shapes who you are. The stories you tell about your experiences, the interpretative lens you put on the experience, shapes you more. Sometimes it is hard enough to remember that you are not your stories.  It gets even more complicated when other people tell stories about you, to you and maybe to others, well intentioned or not, that they want you to believe, that may or may not reflect your own experience of who you believe or know yourself to be.

And it is, if you take a moment to think about it, surprising how many people have a need to tell a story about you or about other people. (Oh, and you do it too, just in case you thought this is all about “other” people.  If you are honest with yourself, you will acknowledge you also tell stories about who other people are that you want to believe or you want them to believe – good, bad or indifferent.)  It is a dynamic process of being in relationship – from intimate relationship to “I don’t even know that person but I’ve read what they’ve written or I’ve heard about them”.

Case in point, how much do we project onto celebrities without really knowing anything about them other than what the media, paparazzi and twitter feed would have us believe? Or, rich people for that matter? Lots of judgment.  Lots of projection.  Lots of blame, as if other people having money or success somehow directly affects whether you do or not.  It’s actually not about them.  The sooner you stop focusing on what’s not in your sphere of influence and start refocusing on what is, the sooner you reclaim your power, your sense of self, abundance and flow in your life.

Part of the way you learn to distinguish the stories you are telling of yourself – or the stories you own or need to own as ours – is in relationship and interaction with others. Others provide a reflection back to you of where you are in your journey.  But it can be difficult to distinguish when it is a reflection of your journey and when it is a projection of someone else’s view of you.  And projections abound. The less sure you are of who you are the more likely you are to be influenced by the story someone else wants to tell about you.

When you are unsure of who you are, you are more likely to seek external validation, in fact, you are more likely to invite projection.  This sometimes happens when you want to please others, meet their expectations of who they want you to be in relationship to them. Sometimes it happens when you do good work, are seen to be a good leader or get magnified to some super human status (to greater and lesser extents depending on how well known you are). Then you feel good, but it is fleeting. More often you disappoint others.  Sometimes you argue with them about their view of you.  Often you do not feel seen or supported.  The irony is, in intimate relationship in particular, the opposite is also true – the other person also does not feel seen or heard.

It is always interesting when others disagree with you about you, insisting their view of you, their story of you is the right one and that you need to do something about it. (And, again, read that you also do this to others.)  That may be true.  The question is, what are you responding to?  Someone else’s need for you to be different so you fit into their view of who they want you to be or your own need to walk a path of personal alignment or integrity which might invite you into your own journey of growth and change? You have a choice, although you are not always aware that you do, or even happy about it.

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

Messiness of entanglement. Is another person providing a reflection of who you are or a projection of who they think you should?

It can get really messy. Different people have different hopes and expectations of you in the midst of all their own struggles. Even one person’s expectations of you can shift and change, sometimes over a period of time and sometimes suddenly with no warning.  Or not change at all, even though you do.  It gets way more complicated when there are many people you are trying to please or appease. Either way, as long as you rely on others to validate your experience or your sense of who you are, you give away your power and the ground beneath your feet is really sand that sweeps away and upends you as the tide shifts – which it does continuously.

We all have people who wish we would live into and believe the story of us they carry in their own mind, their own interpretation of their experience of us, as they seek to understand their own identity in relation to us.  When others need to believe a certain story of you it is likely that they themselves might not have a very good understanding of who they are.  They might be giving their power away – even trying to give it to you and then, sometimes, blaming you for it.  It is easier to look at others and assign blame to them for your business not growing, your abundance not flowing, your relationships not working, for you not being happy than it is to understand how you step into your own power.

It is alluring to want to believe other’s stories of you when they are stories of success.  At the same time, if you do not see or own that success for yourself then you have dissonance within yourself that will rise to the surface in some way, often in self-sabotaging kinds of ways.  It is more impossible when the story others want you to live into is how you disappointed them.  But, you are not that story any more than you are the story of success that you do not own.

You can step into your own power and not take power from someone else.  Are you willing to put your power on and own it instead of wondering when someone is going to come and take it away from you? Or wait forever for someone to give you permission for what is yours all along? You have a choice. You have many choices. You can choose to discover who you are in your own journey to openheartedness.  You can choose to live into the stories of how you want to live. You can choose to be powerful in setting the course of your own life.

You Are Not Your Story

It is deeply heart-opening when people who read Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness share how the stories in the book resonate for them in their own journey.  And then they thank me for being so courageous to share those stories as they feel they have glimpsed into my own vulnerability.  All true.  And it has generated a curiosity for me about what my relationship with this book is – because it doesn’t feel quite so courageous from my perspective.  This book has its own life, energy and flow – thankfully and interestingly.

Story at work

How are your stories working for you?

And I get to remember, again, what I already knew and now know more deeply.  I am not my stories.  I am not my book. I am not the stories other people tell (or think) about me.  And, you are not your stories.  They do not define you – unless you choose to let them.  Of course, they shape you.  And, you have choices as to how they shape you – looking at life through the human tragedy or drama perspective or from the soul journey perspective – that which we are seeking to learn or experience at the soul level.

There are moments in my life that are seared into my memory as pivotal moments.  One such memory, complete with date, is March 1998.  I was halfway through a severance period, having been royally fired from my job, in the middle of a divorce and having bought a home, for me and my two young boys, predicated on a salary I no longer had with no idea what I was going to do next to support myself.  I was in the highest anxiety of my life – to that point.  I could only focus on what was right in front of me – the next moment, maybe the next day, but certainly not weeks, months or years down the road – because otherwise the stress was overwhelming to the point of being debilitating.

I was sitting in my kitchen, making a choice of which book to pick up and read – the practical What Colour is Your Parachute or the transformative The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  I didn’t know it would be transformative when I picked it up, but it was.  I was transported to another world.  Mesmerized.  It moved me to tears and to laughter. And I understood maybe for the first time: I am not my stories.  I am not my failure.  I am not my divorce.  I am not my job loss.  These are things that have happened in my life.  I have a choice as to how I view them. The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore offered me a different, expansive option for how to view these things that happened to me.  The author, Alan Cohen, offered that I had attracted these things into my life. If I had the “power” to attract those life altering “negative” things, I had the equal and opposite capacity or power to also attract more life affirming circumstances into my life.

What I understood is that I had been increasingly drifting away from the things I hold true in my life, the things I valued – or said I valued.  My actions did not always support my beliefs and what I thought I valued.  I was in increasing dissonance and did not know how to live a fractured existence anymore. At the time I felt like I was looking out a picture window at my life as it unfolded, I was so dissociated from my experience and my existence.  And I did not have the skills to know how to navigate it – or relationships – in a healthy way.  It made me believe the human tragedy/drama perspective – that I must be a bad person, maybe even evil.  Otherwise, why would these things have happened to me?

In this one day, I was liberated.  I was invited into choice.  I wish I could say it was only a generative upward vortex from then on but of course it wasn’t.  It was, and still is, a human journey, fraught with the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences.  It took me another decade to surrender into the journey with a greater degree of fullness and I’m still learning about surrendering.

The book was and is intended as an offering of stories for others – for you even – in your own journey.  An invitation to journey on, journey deeper, journey more lightly. An invitation to view your stories in a different way from different perspectives, ones that generate more expansiveness, spaciousness and choice.  An invitation to trust what you doubt, to know someone has navigated similar waters with varying degrees of success, sometimes at peace and sometimes in turmoil – because this is life and this is how we grow. To understand that life is more than just the physical experience and to trust the non-physical as you experience it, as you surely do.  To treat yourself with compassion, love and forgiveness and to invite that into your relationships – all of them, even the ones where you would prefer to hold onto a bit of resentment.

When you live your stories as if they are you, you disempower yourself.  When you understand your story shapes your journey but is not you, you show up more fully in your strength and your power and it is a thing of beauty to behold.

Not Just Cover Design: Sacred Art

Like the book itself, the artwork on the cover of Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedenss, has a story of its own to tell.  It is a story of synchronicity and timing, one of flow, one of channeling and of ritual or initiation.  It is the story of two things, each percolating for years, each on their own.  The book, of course.  And the artwork. And not just any artwork – sacred art.  Sacred art for me and for the book.

The genesis of the artwork was a long brewing curiosity and interest in possibly getting a tattoo.  Around 2009, when I felt the birthing of the second half of my life, I began to imagine getting a tattoo.  I didn’t know what image I wanted, nor did I know where on my body I would want to put this image.  At one point, my son’s girlfriend found a fabulous shamanic image of a woman and a power animal – which I bookmarked and then lost when I got a new computer.

When my interest in a tattoo renewed itself, I began searching the internet for images, knowing I wanted a lion as part of the image. Nothing ever emerged that resonated deeply for me or that I wanted to put on my body in permanent ink.  And then, early in 2013, at the same time my book was moving to its publishing phase, a Facebook friend began to blog about her journey to a sacred tattoo and I knew I was supposed to pay attention.

Through this friend, I got in touch with sacred tattoo artist Tania Marie.  The tattoo was to represent the spiritual dimension of my journey so I shared a couple of chapters from the book that reflected this journey as well as other reflections on what I felt the tattoo was to represent.  Tania meditated on me and my journey and began to channel the design.  What she channeled, before even reading what I sent her, was very consistent and resonant with what I shared.

Around the same time, the publisher started asking me about any ideas I might have for the design of the cover of my book. It was the first time I put the two things together.  Without even seeing the design, it occurred to me that the spiritual skin just might become the artwork for the book cover.   When I saw the artwork, I knew it was so.

Kathy Sacred Tattoo DesignArtwork by Tania Marie

There is much story contained in the elements of the art which embraces the elements of earth, fire, air, water and spirit and I will share some of it here, largely in the words Tania shared with me.

The medicine woman is in the process of shapeshifting into the lion who is my journey partner since my first drumming circle experience in 2000.  The medicine woman wears feathers of the eagle or owl in her hair, entwined twigs and leaves of Mother Earth, his mane and her hair and shawl all merging and integrating.

A lotus essence, almost like ethereal fire, emerges atop the swallowtail butterfly, with energy integrating into the lion’s mane, the medicine woman’s hair and shawl. The butterfly is releasing and freeing its creative abundance and joyful breadth of life-giving and is a messenger of powerfully transformative healing and regenerative energy and symbolism across time of the precious miracle of life, hope, love, transmutation, magick, joy,

The art is hugely rooted in shamanism, centeredness, balance, groundedness, empowerment, expansion, opening, releasing and honoring, as well as deepening emergence – all symbols and allies in deep journey and in transformation which is in continual motion.  Such a humbling experience to be offered this gift to be put at my back as a symbol of deeper healing, gifts, growth and protection.

Kathy 07 natural - Version 2

Photo by John Coleman and Michelle Murton

 

When it was time to have the tattoo inked on my skin, I went to see Kyle Bowles at Soul Harbour, the same tattoo artist that my friend had used.  It was done in two sessions, the first to do the outline, the second to do the colour.  Many people have asked me if it hurt.  It is hard to explain.  It is pain and not pain at the same time.  The only way I could think of it was as an initiation – like I might have gone through in a previous time, as the medicine woman depicted in the art, ritual, something that had to be done.

I love the colour version of the tattoo on my back – Kyle and I picked out the colours and it is even better than I imagined it would be.  And it was the black and white original art work that was to adorn the cover of the book.  I sent it off to the publisher and the design team there sent it back with the colour and shading that was just perfect for the book.

The interweaving of story, synchronicity, beauty, love and joy. A depiction of one aspect of the stranger in me showing up in the fullness of the openhearted journey.

9781452575728_COVER.indd

Welcome to Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness

A memoir is a strange beast. It is an attempt to distill an individual’s life’s experiences and lessons in story form with the hope that in the storytelling someone else sees a thread that resonates with their own life journey, that some inspiration arises or, at the very least, it is viewed as something worth reading.

CA red dress Day 1My good friend Christina Baldwin is known to say, “The shortest distance between two people is a story.”  My book, Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, is full of stories.  I am tempted to say by way of humour, “And some of them might even be true.”

When I found out I was adopted at the age of forty-six I learned that many stories I had been telling myself about myself and my life, that helped me making sense of my life and its journey, turned out not to be true.  They were small stories; like why I was shorter than all my immediate family members, why my hair turned grey at a young age, where I was born. It gave me pause. In discovering I was adopted, everything had changed.  And, yet, nothing had changed. It made me wonder what other stories I was telling myself about myself and my life that also might not be “true”.

Abraham-Hicks says the biggest disservice we do to ourselves is in telling “the truth” over and over again, keeping alive the stories we wish would go away, the ones we don’t like living into but which we continue to tell simply because “it is the reality of our situation”.  If we want to change our situation, we must tell a different story.  When we tell it often enough, it can shift the shape of our life, eventually becoming true since our minds do not know the difference between what is real and what is imagined.  This is why Napoleon Hill in his seminal work, Think and Grow Rich, said, “Thoughts are things.”  But it is a tough thing to grasp when many of us are attached to the suffering of our stories rather than the joy of them, to the human tragedy experience rather than the soul journey perspective.

I have been imagining myself as a writer and an author since high school when I enrolled in a journalism correspondence course (which I never fully completed), imagining I would enter a career of journalism (didn’t happen) and when I chose to write a novelette in my final year of high school for my English class instead of doing all the other assignments (the novelette did get completed and I still have it).

The first time I created a vision board for myself back in 1998, the first image that came to my mind unbidden was that of a podium, partly because I imagined myself as a motivational speaker and partly because there was something in me that just knew I had stories to share that maybe other people would resonate with.

The early gestation of my book was back then too and some of what is contained in the book was originally written a decade or more ago.  It is with a little bit of disbelief that I hold my first book in my hand, with copies already sold, readers already saying the most beautiful, heartwarming things about it, ready to send it further out on its own path into the world.

Stories and life journey do not happen in isolation. I am aware that these are my reflections, stories of specific moments in my life, moments that have intersected with others on the journey.  The way others have experienced these same intersections may be somewhat or vastly different than the way I have experienced them. Their experiences are their stories to tell but I would not be the person I am today without having crossed paths with these fellow journeyers, without having had the experiences that I did in relation to them, good, bad or otherwise.  For each and all of them I am grateful.

I share my stories as a way to dive into the deeper patterns that shape life, relationships, healing, and journeys. Even as I re-read and edited them, they moved me—sometimes to laughter, sometimes to tears. Even though I have spent a lot of time unearthing and living with these stories, some of them still have the capacity to delight and surprise me. My hope is that they do the same for you, that along the way you find your own intersection points with your story – or, at the very least, you enjoy stories of someone else’s experience – believable or not.

I imagine this blog will capture many of the soul journey stories, hosting self stories that used to all reside under the Shape Shift blog and that there I will continue to write about what I’m learning through the Art of Hosting work and world that is so much a part of my life and experience. Sometimes a post will show up in both places when it seems relevant.

I would also invite you to check out the Embracing the Stranger in Me Facebook page where I am already seeing a community of support and inspiration arise, fuelled by all who interact with it; as well as the Twitter page for the book.  And I would also love to see your comments here.

Thank you for intersecting with my journey now.  May you immerse yourself in the book or the blog or both and may your path rise up to meet you as you journey well.