“These women seem to have such perfect, well-planned out lives – its almost intimidating,” commented a friend, after reading profiles I’d written for a Palm Beach lifestyle magazine of three women with unusual career trajectories.
That got me thinking. Because not only are each of these women flawed and imperfect (as well as talented and beautiful), but each of their lives has been marked by as much challenge as success. Yet somehow I organized the stories of their lives in a way that made every step along the path seem logical and well thought out. Portraits of perfection.
There is nothing wrong, I think, in looking for some sort of greater narrative in our life’s journey. Especially during difficult times, this idea that there may be a bigger, coherent vision can help us survive a period of emotional fragmentation, and move forward with hope.
On the other hand, I am reminded of the Yoga Sutras, written in 300 BC, in which Patanjali teaches us that it is the nature of the human mind to search continually and incessantly for patterns – contrasting, comparing, categorizing each new event or experience to see how it fits the existing pattern. Even modifying how we view events to fit the pattern. We come to identify with this false sense of reality, to vehemently defend it, along with all the fluctuations of the mind and the emotions around this sense of reality.
It is wise to understand that the stories we create about ourselves and others are stories, a creative attempt to organize information into a way that is pleasing, or admirable, or suits our own particular turn of mind or situation. Social media is just one way in which we are doing this all the time. But identifying too closely, adhering too rigidly, to these stories can cause us to hold onto beliefs that make us unhappy, cause us to miss opportunities, blind us, prevent us from changing, growing, evolving.
One of the first yoga sutras reads: yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Or (loosely) Yoga provides us with the means for restraining the mental chatter, so that we may focus the mind and see what is. At Kripalu, there is a sign posted with a quote attributed to Patanjali that reads simply: “Yoga is seeing life the way it is”.
I know I will continue to view my own life, and the lives of others, as stories, narratives, its the way I think. But perhaps with enough flexibility so that the story can remain fluid, adapting and evolving to encompass “life the way it is”.