Stories. Story.

Our weekly Circle of Island women has been sharing stories of our favorite winter activities, when we were kids.  We laughed so hard imagining each other ice skating, sledding out of a second story window, building snow forts, and hurling snowballs at irritating siblings.

We had first met in our library, the island’s living room, I call it, until Covid arrived. Now, of course, we Zoom together, year-rounders and seasonal residents scattered across the country. It was such a joy to hear of each other’s childhood escapades.

Most of us love to tell stories, whether they be hilarious or sad. Most of us just plain love to talk when we are given the great gift of attentive listeners. I certainly do. Making a point via a story, or indulging in a little exaggeration in order to provoke laughter is simply delicious, in my view. And many of my former students would report that I often taught with stories. Story telling is surely deeply human, for it is how we place ourselves within the company of friends and kin.

And, there is another kind of story, a much deeper and more intimate story of who we really are, and how we came to be that person, as known from within. This story may never be told. The story’s person may not even know she holds this treasure in the very center of her self. And when I say, “treasure,” please don’t immediately assume, I mean happy and full of light. Not likely. It is more likely to be a tale of difficulties, challenges, obstacles, disappointments, and heart ache. It is more likely to speak of the hard tasks of becoming a full and whole human being. It will probably carry tears in one hand and howls in the other.

To unearth this story is itself a great creative work. It requires heart-stopping courage and staggering perseverance. It will ask for form, which itself can require years and years of disciplined apprenticeship. To recognize the arc of such a story may become so urgent, it bleeds into every part of a visibly normal life. Extruded, tempered, and compressed into linear time, it may also insist on adding older generations and other geographies, so the story is well grounded in its history.

But the arc of a life – in its private inner meanderings – can that ever be stretched out in a straight line so as to settle into a row of sentences? Or is it too alive, too shimmering with invisible energies, and too vulnerable to the subtleties of mind and heart and spirit? Perhaps it is the case, that the moment we truly know the arc of this story is the moment we die, the moment we take leave of our body.

Except for the part about ice skating and snow ball fights, this is not what I intended to write, when I opened up this blank page. What I intended to write was how hard it has been for me, really close to impossible, to share in my own voice this profoundly intimate deep story of my life, of how I came to be the person I most truly am. As you see, I managed to skitter away yet again.

I will try one more time. This year I have been working on a new book of Teachings from Manjushri, on compassion. I meant it be a companion to our first book of channeled Teachings, What In the World Is Going On? Wisdom Teachings for Our Time. But at every turn, I’ve been poked and prompted to include my voice, my account, my experience, and indeed, my story. My resistance has been fierce and dogged. I’m full of fear. I’ve raised countless objections and persuasive arguments on why this is not a good idea. It hasn’t worked. Step by step, I’ve retreated and surrendered. That deeply hidden central story will out. I don’t know any other grammar to describe it better. That story, intimate and tender, completely private and shielded from the world’s eyes, seems positively determined and willful to live visibly in the world. For it has shaped my life.

I post this now, here, on my web page, to ask you to consider: Do you too have a secret story, known only to yourself, which has taught you everything that matters in your life? What does it ask of you now? What might it teach the rest of us?



13 thoughts on “Stories. Story.

  1. An exquisite contemplation, dearest Penny. Thank you for articulating so beautifully what I have been struggling with— unraveling the deep knot of my inner story which seems impossible to do without sounding flat. Poetry rather than narrative, perhaps, is a better medium, I find myself wondering… Or ‘simply’ the art of being, present and fully alive, moment by moment, in harmony with that inner story… I especially love these lines:
    “ But the arc of a life – in its private inner meanderings – can that ever be stretched out in a straight line so as to settle into a row of sentences? Or is it too alive, too shimmering with invisible energies, and too vulnerable to the subtleties of mind and heart and spirit?”

    Lots of love,


    1. oh dear Humera…must say a bit more. Yes, every sentence in your post resonates for me too. I have been wrestling with exactly this – how to tell the story of my own long journey? It has been a winter, a year, many years. A book is emerging, finally, after these long Covid months. I hope it will cheer you on, when it is published! Much love, as always.

  2. What a coincidence! I just started a year long (13 moon)dive into my own story through painting and writing in a class called Ritual…looking for my own personal story/myth freed as much as possible from conventional archetypes and societal overwrites. To recognize some of the old myths, we are researching our own ethnic traditions of folk and fairy tales, and are working through “All Those Barbarians” by Robert Shaw (who is consulting on the adventure with us.) I do not profess to be a writer, but I agree that it is beneficial to share our true stories with the world before departing.

    1. oh this sounds so so good, Sharon….and finding the myth that really resonates for you is such a gift, such a gift…and for me, at least, shed such light for me. The Wizard of Oz, for example, and Psyche and Demeter, and Persephone. And Inanna, oh, Inanna…Good luck prowling around…

  3. How profound, my beautiful Penny. The writing is exquisite. “To unearth this story is itself a great creative work. It requires heart-stopping courage and staggering perseverance.” – Incredible and true.

    Like you, I believe we do all have a profound story that shapes us in ways we can’t fully fathom even when we have worked hard to develop a deep sense of self-awareness. My younger daughter, at the ripe age of eight years, wrote “Every pebble has a song and a wonderful story to tell. It might have been a fragment of a giant mountain, a stone in the village of Shungopovi. Or it might have been trod upon by George Washington or Paul Revere. Everything is special in its own way. Every shell, tree, rock, or blade of grass has a story and a wonderful song to sing. And they all want to be heard.”

    Her poem always resonated with me and I sense its connection to your beautiful writing here, Penny. We do have within us stories of love, loss, grief, anger, fear, laughter, shame, betrayal, loneliness, passion, and resilence and how those complex feelings blend together does create the person we are. My story, I think asks me to be gentle, to embrace and transcend profound sadness, but to rise with conviction when those in need call out.

    1. oh dear Jeana…that daughter of yours! What could anyone add to that? Yes, we share our sense of these inner depths and it is undoubtedly the real territory of our wonderful friendship. I am wildly grateful for you, dear Jeana..we must talk soon. Love to you..

  4. Thank you, Penny. Your wisdom always open doors, and this time some new doors appeared… now to work on exploring what lies behind them. You give me new perspectives and even a bit of courage to look a little deeper!

    1. oh and you are so right, so right, to use the word “courage.” So, that suggests there is also some fear lurking about. It has surely been true for me, oh, my…and that became the great gift, to see the fear and slowly face it, piece by piece…Be well…

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