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?