The Power of Story, Creating Your Life…and The Story of Jessie . . .
Stories. As children, we are read stories by our parents and told stories by our living ancestors. As adults, we sit by the fire, listening to and telling stories. Stories come in many forms, yet every good story has an underlying meaning, or many layers of meaning. We tell stories to impart a message, a feeling or a belief.
My high school college prep English teacher, whom we called Judy “Vogue” (yes, we were young, but she was indeed a former Vogue model.), taught three levels of story interpretation that always resonated with me – the literal, interpretive and applied levels.
The Literal level was the story on its face, what in legal terms is often referred to as the “black letter of the law.”
The Interpretive level is what it means to our life under the surface, below the obvious.
The Applied level is more of a philosophical or higher level of what the story’s message is for humanity.
I like to think of this as also akin to the parts of our self, or even of our soul, breaking it down into three levels as well, to gain greater understanding of ourselves and our stories. There are so many ways to look at it, and I like this one because it is simple, easier to gain understanding and can be used to look at so many different things about ourselves.
The first part is our Middle Self, which would be our personality self, or as Sigmund Freud would refer to it, our Ego. This is akin to the Literal level of story analysis from the English class.
The second level is our Lower Self. This is akin to the Interpretive level of story analysis, and in Freudian terms, it is our Id. You might also call it our subconscious self. This is what is below the surface of the story and the intuitive part of ourselves.
On the third level is our Higher Self or super-conscious self or divine self. This is akin to the Applied level of story analysis, seeking to look at deeper and applied meanings for humanity, and also from a Freudian standpoint akin the Super Ego, which is that higher level of consciousness. (As you can tell, I also have enjoyed my psychology classes through the years.)
Stories have the power to bring understanding. Stories also have the power to shape our life and shape us as a living being. They have the power of creation. We all have the power of creation, to create our lives, shape our life. Stories are a vehicle of creation.
Every day we tell stories. We define and shape our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others. Just like we all have our own truth, yet there are many truths. We have our own truth and our own story. Others have their truth and their story, and it may be different than ours. They may have a different story of us or about us as well.
But the key is to find and listen to your own story. And then rewrite what you want to change and what you want to create.
To do this in the best way, we must be aware from the perspective of our higher self of what our story is, what our truth is. Then we can determine if our current story is in keeping with our true will or our truth from that higher perspective…and if we choose to keep our story or rewrite our story.
To make this shift or make changes in our lives to align with our true self, we can use the power of story. We can write and rewrite our own stories. We can do this mentally, through affirmations or literally through writing a new story on a situation or about our life, thereby integrating it into our heart, body and soul – writing our story and our destiny, creating our future.
Many cultures use the power of story, and of course, we all use it every day. Tribal cultures in general, and cultures/societies such as the Toltecs and the Druids, handed down unwritten stories as a way to pass their cultural heritage and spiritual teachings down to new generations. As one example, in Toltec teachings by don Miguel Ruiz, author of the popular The Four Agreements among other books, he talks about the Dream of the World. The dream is the story that each of us is telling in creating our own Dream of the World.
I participated in a don Miguel Ruiz live online class where he talked about story. To paraphrase his words, here were some of his messages on the power of story:
We are programmed to be what we are from the moment of our conception, but every individual is unique and perfect just the way we are. Imperfection is in our mind because we do not understand our own perfection. We are programmed to create a whole story. But only we can change our story. We all create the story of our lives. We can shift our story and create a paradise for ourselves. You are not responsible for the creation of anybody else or the story of anybody else. They are responsible for their own creation and story, not you.
I would also add that the stories of others or their Dream of the World does not define or create or program us or our story. That is unless you allow it and are not actively writing your own story. You can create your own life, by creating and writing your own story. Story has the power of transformation.
As part of a storytelling exercise three years ago, I wrote The Story of Jessie. You may see similarities in this story and its messages to that of the Story of Job in the Bible. The Bible contains a series of stories, archetypal stories with different levels of meanings. One of those stories is the Story of Job. When I was younger, I was in the Masonic organization The International Order of Job’s Daughters and served as my group’s top elected official called Honored Queen, so its messages resonate with me.
I hope you enjoy my Story of Jessie, a story of transformation, perception and of the power of story itself. Perhaps it will move you to write your own story. You can rewrite the story of your life and recreate yourself anew, just like Jessie…
The Story of Jessie . . .
Jessie had a plan. She always had a plan. Though admittedly some things would go awry, from time to time.
Jessie lived on a plateau high in the mountains. She could look out from her land, gazing across the lush green fields, to the ocean edging into the valley deep below. Flowers grew in abundance over her land. Behind her home of stone and wood was a beautiful hillside, rolling up into peaked and jagged mountains. The snow capped peaks were visible on a good day. A day with no clouds. Though this was not one of those days for Jessie.
Somehow the weather seemed to mimic her moods. Jessie was melancholy. There was so much she wanted to do and see, and even the beauty of her land would not soothe her soul.
Jessie raised sheep. Well, if truth be told, she could, and in fact did, raise almost any animal. She had horses, goats, cattle, chickens and even a few pigs ran around her land for good measure. Not to mention the birds that came to visit her. Yet, Jessie wasn’t satisfied.
She would walk outside at sunset, as the sun set over the beautiful crystalline blue waters far below, and lament her lot in life. She’d always had a strong belief in the divine and always had everything she ever wanted. She never was one to wish for a man or children. It wasn’t that. She yearned for excitement.
On this particular day, with the clouds and this particular sunset, she turned her back on the beauty of the ocean and walked back to the barn. She threw her walking stick against the doors of the barn, startling the animals, which ran to the other sides of their pen and hid in the backs of their stalls. Not feeling better, she picked up the walking stick, and she shook it at the sky, and she asked why. Why is this all there is to life? Why is this all that I have? Why isn’t there something more to do with my life than this? She shouted to the heavens and the sky above.
Jessie would have been wise to choose her words more carefully. Sure, she knew that words were intent and that words were action, but as someone who had so much in life, and never really had been tested, Jessie never experienced what can happen with words. She did not understand what the effect truly can be.
As she let her anger ring out, it reached the ears of the universe. And those words began to weave new threads.
Satisfied for the moment, Jessie decided maybe it would be best to call it a night, so she went into her home, where the warm fire was crackling in the hearth. A pot of stew was bubbling in the iron kettle, and she carefully pulled out the kettle’s arm to spoon some of the delicious lamb and steaming vegetables from her garden into her wooden bowl. She sat by herself by the fire, eating her stew with some dark bread she had baked that morning. Her cat and dog lay near her feet content in the warmth and their dreams. Jessie became sleepy and fell fast asleep by the fire.
But her words were moving out through the web of life, and life would not be the same for Jessie.
She awoke to a crash. Startled, Jessie looked around. The fire was out, and all was in darkness. Wait, though, there was a glimmer above. Fire! Jessie gathered her dog and cat to her and ran out of the house. Lightening must have struck her home as a storm had angrily whipped up from the ocean, which was none too pleased by Jessie’s recent lack of appreciation. She tucked her dog and cat safely into the barn and then she ran to the well to try to connect the hose. But the mechanisms were stuck. Jessie was watching her home, with all she owned, burning to the ground.
Meanwhile, the sheep, having found an opening in the fence that Jessie had meant to fix before she went in for the evening, but forgot in her tempest, ran through the opening of the fence. They followed their fearful leader, running to the edge of the plateau. As the roof of her home collapsed into the flames, Jessie heard the sheeps’ bleating and spun around. But it was too late. The leader was already over the edge of the plateau, with all the other sheep following blindly behind, and they fell, bleating in terror to the valley floor. Jessie ran to try to stop them, but in that moment, a driving rain started and pushed her back towards the barn.
Jessie had hoped to find respite in the barn. Her cat and dog were safe. The horses were safe in their stalls. The cattle and goats had been milling about in another pen. But then, there was another crack of lightening. It struck the top of a mighty oak. An oak that had stood the test of time for 200 years. Down it came, crashing on the pen, crushing the animals. It hit the barn, and all she could hear were the cries of the animals around her. Animals crying out in terror and fear.
Jessie crouched low, relatively unharmed, as much as she knew, as Jessie was in shock. All she had with her were her precious little dog and cat.
As the sun came up over the hills in the morning, the rain had finally stopped. Jessie crawled from under the remains of her barn, leaving her dog and cat safely tucked under an old horse blanket that somehow had stayed dry through the storm. She wandered around in a daze. Everything was gone. Her home was gone. The barn. All the animals. Everything she had spent her life building.
Tears streamed down Jessie’s face as she cried out for help. She asked, through the sobs wracking her body, how could you let this happen? Why did this happen? Why have you forsaken me?!
Her cries were ignored.
Jessie had no food really to speak of, as all had been burned in the flames, washed away by the rains or crushed under the blow of the mighty Oak. She was hungry. Her clothes were torn. Somehow she managed to find some food, and she gave what little she found to her dog and cat, before she left them safe and snug, though shaken, as she began the long walk in to town.
Now, no one had really known Jessie in town. They always thought she was rather aloof. And, not understanding Jessie, they took it as an insult and gossiped about her whenever they had the chance. Stories ran rampant at her expense.
By the time Jessie walked the 20 miles into town, in her bare feet as she’d lost her boots somewhere running after the sheep, she was quite a sight to behold. Her dress was ripped and torn, mud was caked on her legs, blood streamed down her face from the cut where the nails from the barn planks had struck her. She went seeking help, but everyone’s doors were closed to her. She knocked at all the doors, and no one answered.
She finally found a beggar at the end of the road, and collapsed down next to the man, and cried. He asked why she was crying. Jessie answered that the universe had taken away her home, her barn and all her animals and that she had nothing left. She coughed. Actually, she had been coughing all day, as Jessie had caught pneumonia. It didn’t take long, and Jessie became delirious while talking to the old man. She’d walked by this beggar many times and paid him no heed. He really had been nothing to her.
Jessie slipped out of consciousness and the world went black. Her dreams were tormented. When she finally came to, it was several days later, and her first thought was of her dog and cat that she had left snuggled in the blanket in the remains of her barn. They must be dead too, she thought. Jessie had no idea where she was or what had happened to her. What time was it? What day was it? She bolted upright in fear.
Jessie was in a little hut, by a warm fire, and over by the hearth, in a big basket lined with rushes and a soft blanket, were her dog and cat. Relief swept over Jessie and she cried tears of joy at seeing her two beloved animals, which ran into her arms.
But, how did she get here? Where was she?
The door opened, the warm sun pouring over the stone floor and he walked in. This was that beggar! But, no…was it?
He introduced himself to her as Rick. And he was all cleaned up now. He had been spending time at the edge of town praying for those in need. He was a monk. Well, was a monk. He never took too kindly to all those rules at the monastery, thank you very much, and he had his own views about it all. When in prayer, he never worried about appearances, and it was of no concern what others thought of him – only what he thought of himself. Rick was a happy soul.
He assured Jessie that her dog and cat were fine. Jessie was so sorry for all she had said before. Her home and life were destroyed. She cried tears of gratitude to the divine for saving her life, and more importantly, for saving the lives of her dog and cat, who were now snuggled up against her. The scars on Jessie’s face from the nails began to heal.
That day, Jessie finally had a true picture of the difference words can mean. Slowly, the web was woven anew in Jessie’s gratitude, and the rough and torn fabric was healed. All Jessie felt was gratitude to the divine and to Rick for helping her, and love for her dog and cat.
When she was finally well enough to travel, Rick packed up Jessie and her dog and cat into his wagon, and they drove off to her land. And there before her eyes, were a newly built home and barn! The fences were all repaired. And, there were her animals! Her dog and cat jumped out of the wagon and ran to sniff and greet their old friends.
Most of her sheep, cattle and horses had been found over this past fortnight while she lay in a feverish sleep by his fire. Rick had, unbeknownst to Jessie, wrangled the townsfolk into helping him. Rick was secretly wealthy. Surprising what good will a bit of the gold coins could produce. But really, to their credit, the townsfolk had been in fear of what they did not know of Jessie.
As they saw the ruins of her home and barn, they took pity on her. The Oak had not really struck the animals, but had broken the fence and the animals had run off in the storm. The whole time she was recovering, the townsfolk had retrieved and tended to her animals. They had rebuilt and restored her land. The Oak was cut up and neatly stacked by her new home. And there, by the door, was her walking stick.
She turned in gratitude to thank Rick, but he was gone. Jessie ran to the newly repaired barn to see her horses all safe and sound in their stalls. The other animals were safely in their pens. She saw the beauty of the sun setting over the ocean, and she was thankful.
Jessie walked over to her new home, picked up her staff, held it aloft to the skies and cried out in gratitude to the heavens.
Jessie was home.