Out beyond the shadows of our old thinking, a wholly different world appears. A world that delights in our explorations, our need to join with others. A world that welcomes and supports our endeavors. The world knows how to change and grow. ~ Margaret J. Wheatley & Myron Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way
We love epic stories, those invoking the heroic journey. We resonate and identify with larger-than-life characters, not simply because we are fascinated with their exploits, but because we are drawn to the archetypal qualities they represent. And that allows us to tap into the inner resources we can discover in our own inner treasure chest:
- Resilience (how I suffered yet survived)
- Independence (how I heard the call and stepped out on my own)
- Courage (how I overcame obstacles and sacrificed for something beyond myself)
- Compassion (how I embraced the feelings and needs of others)
- Faith (how I held the vision)
The very names of our cultural heroes serve as mantras for what we value. Pause for a moment to feel what each of these names stirs within you:
- Charlie Chaplin
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Anne Frank
- Muhammad Ali
- Mother Teresa
- Mary Magdalene
- Nelson Mandela
- Jane Austen
- Louis Armstrong
- Dr. Seuss
- Bruce Lee
- Florence Nightingale
Our proven heroes transcend the banal and live on purpose, giving themselves to the greater good in their field, just as we would. But what happens when we’re stuck on the hamster wheel of day-to-day to-do lists, or caught up in our own problems and unable to zoom out and see the big picture?
We know all too well what it’s like to become a smaller person, preoccupied with petty grievances and repeating the same emotional patterns, while expecting someone or something to rescue us from ourselves. Neuropsychology research shows that our brains are wired to tell the same old story about life situations, triggering the same coping mechanisms, no matter how dysfunctional. Yet as Einstein pointed out, “Problems cannot be solved by the same consciousness that created them.”
How do we move from just coping with the current landscape of our lives to self-transcending horizons? Every life has its own personal mythic structure. Behind every life story are the histories, tragedies, comedies, and mythologies of humanity itself. We serve the bigger story whenever the literal sequence takes on a larger theme.
Here’s what happens when you assume authorship, unfold your own myth (Rumi), and recast the plot lines into larger archetypal meanings:
- The abuse of the past becomes a catalytic agent for the hero’s journey (you survive difficulty and thrive).
- A “thin” cause and effect explanation is rewoven into a “thicker” story — with a new tapestry of choices and options available (you discover your creativity).
- The clinical bugaboos of regression or relapse are reframed as the inevitable tests and hardships encountered on an archetypal quest (you prove your worth).
- Mistakes are learning opportunities without the need to blame ourselves or others for making them (you exercise spiritual generosity).
- The dragons guarding the portal of new possibilities can be slayed or tamed (you transform your life).
Our deeper sense of self is inclusive of meaningful symbols, sacred histories, and archetypes; everything that makes human consciousness rich, rather than impoverished and vacuous. Therefore, we can reprogram old histories and plotlines as we re-tell the story with creative possibilities, themes, and forms of self-mastery.
How did Cassius Clay become Muhammad Ali? How did Robert Zimmerman become Bob Dylan? Siddhartha Gautama become the Buddha? Therese Martin become Saint Therese of Lisieux? By living in a bigger story.
The description of who we are, what we are, and why we are is not summarized by an aimless chronology of events. Those events are dramatic masks for the archetypal ideas, perspectives, larger purposes, and myths that form the foundation for the bigger story of the soul’s journey.
It’s up to each of us to listen deeply and dignify the sequence of events with archetypal significance, which expands our identity. To find entry points to your own bigger story:
- Identify your archetypal strengths and sources of inspiration. Invoke inspirational allies and heroic figures.
- Explore your inner life with contemplative time devoted to activities such as journaling, meditation, active imagination exercises, and any of the creative arts.
- Clarify and act upon your humanitarian hopes, spiritual ideals, and religious beliefs.
- Explore meaningful connections with friends, extended family, shared interest groups, and community.
- Pay close attention to whatever arouses gratitude, evokes humor, lends perspective and leads to wisdom.
Your bigger story won’t necessarily be featured on the big screen, or make the Newsweek list of “100 People Who Shaped Our World.” Yet it will shape you and whenever you are ‘all in’ as a bigger person, it changes everything.