Stephanie Tolan wrote an essay about gifted childen called “Is It a Cheetah?” It’s fairly well-known in gifted homeschooling circles and it is a cogent argument for honoring the intelligence of children and providing the level of challenge and the variety of subjects they need. Her Newbery Honor novel, Surviving the Applewhites, about a very unconventional unschooling family and the delinquent who is placed in their care as a last resort, is a delight and mirrors many of the tenets of our own unschooling journey in a conventional, competitive, consumer-driven society. So I was predisposed to enjoy a book-length exploration of the power of story when I stumbled across it in pursuit of some other scrap of knowledge.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life is Tolan’s primer for using the power of mind/intention/imagination to write your own story. She espouses something she calls the Story Principle that holds we are each the Author of our own life and can write it how we choose. The idea is to script the ordinary and the profound events into a narrative that works for you. Too often, in fact most of the time, she writes, we blindly accept the conventional wisdom we are handed and the way things have always been since we were old enough to notice. But these stories may not serve us at all and typically lead to missed opportunities, failure, depression and fear. By consciously writing our own narrative, we tell the story that should happen and life aligns itself with our plot.
Tolan’s research is deep and wide. She has read Eastern mysticism, Western philosophy and psychology, spiritual classics from all cultures, and scientific journals on the workings of the mind and on quantum physics. She’s bright enough to pull it all into a coherent argument for listening to the small, still voice within and taking action in our own best interests, not out of habit. She writes explanatory chapters followed by exercises to give readers the visceral experience of trying the storytelling practice and having it work. You may recognize experiences of your own in the examples she provides.
“A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings” is one fabulous remark in the section on ways to view death and what happens next. Tolan compares the process of letting go of physical life to the formation of a chrysalis from which an entirely new and transcendent creature emerges. It’s a sensible and beautiful way to confront the social stigma of death and move past the fears into curiosity and empowerment. She discusses the need for a suspension of disbelief—skepticism being the norm in our world when it comes to the numinous and miraculous. Her view is that miracles are just the triumph of belief and practice over negative thoughts and their consequences.
Change Your Story… is not a Pollyanna prescription for avoiding harsh reality. It’s a seminal shift in POV that can determine our mundane and magnificent moments. I think, if you believe in the essential power of story and you create your own, you narrate a world and a role in it that can mirror your deepest desires and allow you to live them. Several years ago, I printed out the phrase Stories are Healing, a perfectly balanced assertion (s t o r i e s | h e a l i n g– both seven letters, easy to set in type) and taped it to my computer to counter existential despair. So I’m already on board with the basic premise. Really, how does it make sense to consign a conscious life to a hamster wheel, followed by oblivion? For those who don’t mind reading on .pdf, you can access the whole book for free at http://www.storyhealer.com/story_healer_full.pdf.
Tolan’s Story Principle is logical and, in both small and substantial ways, it delivers. Try telling yourself you will find a parking space easily at a crowded mall, or that the train you need will arrive just as you reach the platform. Bingo. Life just got simpler. Try it with bigger and bigger things to prove to yourself that it works. Add some practices to still your monkey mind, like meditation or quiet walks in nature, tune into your own intuition, begin to study the volumes of science and spiritual wisdom she suggests and you can become a powerful bard with a life you choose—electrifying page-turner or peaceful journey. Think about it. This could be the only New Year’s resolution you need–tell your own story, invent a beautiful life.
Change Your Story, Change Your Life | Stephanie S. Tolan 2009