Category Archives: mindfulness

Stories Against Anxiety

I have been feeling a bit anxious lately. My financial and professional situation recently changed dramatically, and I am no longer young enough to go the usual route of job-hunting. Even spring chickens are having trouble finding work in this economy. I know spring chickens. And I am no spring chicken.

Then, in the past six weeks, I had an amazingly fortunate promotional coup that has brought in a lot of work for the coming year. (More about that in a later post.) Given that situation, one would have thought that the anxiety would have tamped down a lot. One would have thought.

Instead, I still lie awake at 3 a.m. worrying. Not about this year’s financial prospects. I worry about NEXT year. Why should the same people and organizations hire me again? Are there going to be MORE who will want to hire me? And, worst of all, what happens when I actually have to fulfill all the obligations I’ve taken on thanks to that PR coup? Am I going to be overextended and overwhelmed? Am I going to be able to handle it all? As they say in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future….

Then, fortunately, I recalled my storytelling training. I remembered that the step-by-step, sense detail-by-sense detail nature of storytelling teaches us mindfulness, aka living in the moment. I remembered that in the present, which is all I know for sure, I am well-fed and well-clothed (okay, sometimes my husband questions this assumption, but that, again, is for another post). I have my health and more-than-adequate shelter. Storytelling also tells us that anything can happen to anyone: the youngest, most foolish son always gets the treasure and the girl—eventually. Storytelling reminds us that tomorrow, as that great philosopher Scarlett O’Hara once said, is another day.

We storytellers are always touting the psychological benefits of our art form, but like any professionals, we can fall into the physician-heal-thyself, shoemaker-whose-children-have-no-shoes trap. We sometimes forget that we and our listeners are reminded every time we hear a story not that all will necessarily be well, but that endings are not usually foreseeable, and that conflict is often the seed of the most beautiful flowers.

Again, stories do not tell us that everything is always going to be all right. But there is at least an even chance that it will. We can never, ever know the story’s end until it’s over. Even with the help of the imagination that stories help us exercise, we can’t possibly imagine what that end will be. As another great philosopher once said, it ain’t over till it’s over.

Whenever I forget this, even for a moment, I will go back to this post. I hope you will, too.



OMG Social Media Promote a Storytelling Mind

photoThis may come as a shock, but I’m going to go on record here and now as saying that social media are NOT destroying the fabric of culture (Grammar alert: Media is a plural noun.) Twitter is not forcing us to take in the world in ever smaller sound bites. Texts are not preventing us from engaging with the here-and-now, and Facebook is not turning us into moronic belly-button gazers.

At least they don’t have to. Because every time we communicate to another person about what we are doing, thinking, eating or (it happens) excreting, we are paying attention. We are stopping to notice what is going on in the real world in order to report upon it in the virtual world. And paying attention, or mindfulness, as I noted in my last post, is what promotes the storytelling mind.

So is communication. There are media that cause us to sit in the dark and watch a feedback loop of other people’s dreams and talents, but social media are not like watching DVDs or streaming video. They exhort us, they demand that we participate. That we engage with another person. True, we are not doing so face-to-face, but the advent of telegraph and telephone already did away with that a long time ago. They force us to frame a message and anticipate a response from an (albeit faceless) other person or persons. In fact, we use our imagination to conjure up the person with whomwe are engaged.

Now let’s be clear: I don’t personally like  any of these media except texting, which, frankly, makes life worth living, in real time. But my argument is like my take on bottled water. Sure bottled water is the bane of the environment. All those awful plastic bottles that blot the landscape would not exist if we just carried around our own canteens wherever we went. Before there was bottled water, there was bottled soda, yet everybody is on about bottled water. Frankly, I’d rather see a child drinking 10 16-ounce bottles of water than drinking a Coke. Bottled water exists because people are trying to drink less liquid sugar, which has got to be a good thing, right? The lesser of two evils. So why go on about bottled water?

That little bottled water rant came up because I think social media get the same rap. Yes they are ubiquitous in classrooms, movie theaters and supper tables, where they don’t belong. Yes, it is preferable in many ways to look someone in the face, interpret her body language, decode the texture of his voice. But we are not face-to-face with our friends and colleagues and acquaintances, and the lack of social media is not going to put us any closer to those people with whom we wish to communicate. Quite the opposite.

What social media do is cause us to focus and articulate those aspects of our lives and thoughts (however trivial they may at times be) that we would likely otherwise have left unexamined. And as Socrates said about social media, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Neither is a life without texting.