The Transformative Story
by Jennifer Paros
It has been a while since I first started writing steadily – around age nine when I began keeping a journal. In the beginning, writing was just a chance to talk more. Soon, it evolved into a means of telling the stories of things that were happening and the stories of how I was feeling about the things that were happening. And then, it took a turn and I started to write to try to feel better about those stories.
Eventually, I wanted to explore my old stories, retell them, and hopefully in doing so, gain perspective. I admired their sorrow and power and thought they held inherent value. But I realize now the reason they were sorrowful was not due to specific events or circumstances but to my withdrawal of love from myself at the time. The transformative power of the story I was seeking would only come with the reintroduction of love and self-compassion. The circumstances had long since passed; all that was still active was my own retelling of them and what I had determined they meant about me. The only thing that was going to transform my experience of those stories was to set them down in writing, in the presence of love, for the first time.
“In art, as in life, everything is possible so long as it is based on love.” --Marc Chagall
In a related subject: over time, I have developed a middle finger that likes to talk to me. Every now and again, the upper half to a third of it goes white and numb. It doesn’t happen often. In medical terms it’s called Raynaud’s Syndrome but because I like to think in emotional terms, when it shows up, I’ve taken to asking myself what I’m angry about (as it is the middle finger). I search backwards from the most recent moments and always find something. And even if it seems to be about someone else or something else, it soon becomes clear that I am angry at myself, condemning myself for some failure of strength, some lack of courage, some egregious shortcoming. Then, I focus on the finger and on love flowing into me – the love that I had previously denied – and the finger gradually refills with blood and feeling once again.
When I focus on letting the love in, I become aware of the emotional pain of my previous pinched-off position and I can feel just how badly I need that comfort and acceptance. This experience never fails to surprise me – as on the surface it is a quirky medical thing, yet it manages to serve as a portal to something so valuable.
This point came in to greater focus the other day after catching part of an Oprah show in which she profiled a boy, Zack, who had severe rages starting from early childhood, and who had gone so far as to even threatening to kill his mother. Eventually Zack was prescribed strong psychotropic medications. But his mother doubted the drugs were calming him and was concerned they were impairing his ability to learn and remember. He has since been taught a technique called “White Light,” which he uses to center himself and help him feel “calm and peaceful” (his words). This technique is not dissimilar to my finger technique. He focuses on white light while affirming things such as, “I am loved.” He has made great progress applying this approach.
“The moment you have in your heart this extraordinary thing called love and feel the depth . . . you will discover that for you the world is transformed.”
Zack speaks of blocking out “negative” energy with this light, and another way of describing it would be to say he is changing his focus from potentially negative thought, whether from himself or others, to compassion. He is learning how to tune in to love and see through a different lens. In using this tool and taking charge of the focus of his thoughts, he has transformed his experience by transforming the way in which he sees life.
Ideas like these can sound like painting a happy face over an inherently disturbed and distressed one. But this work is not surface. When we set the old story down - including all we made it mean about us – and allow in the love we originally denied ourselves, then the story we’re currently living naturally transforms. And when we set it down in writing, it naturally becomes a Transformative Story – a lens through which others can now also see life anew.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.