Your past, with all its beautiful and haunted memories, is written in your mind. What if you could learn how to access your past and “re-truth” it? In other words, what if you could re-write your past? Would you find this liberating? Your past and learning how to mine it is what connects you to your calling in life. No matter who you are or what business you are in, your story is what connects you to others. Understanding your story is key. By creatively reflecting, analyzing, understanding and recasting what happened in your past, you can become more empowered and fulfilled in your present.
My publisher, Michael Wiese Productions, recently introduced me to John Schuster, author of The Power Of Your Past: The Art of Recalling, Recasting and Reclaiming. They felt that John and I would have a lot in common because of my book, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story; in it, I teach writers how to mine the gold from their pasts and fictionalize their truth in their writing. I was immediately fascinated by the concept of John’s book. I could see the connection in our themes. My book explores how to look into your past, draw from your emotional truth and fictionalize it in your writing while John’s book delves into how you can actually ‘extract’ those truths from your past. I was particularly intrigued by his concept that you can “re-truth” your past. John writes, “Once you begin to ‘re-truth’ your past with balanced and thorough reflection, you are more free to choose a future that you want, not the ones determined by your compressions.”
John explains, “Society and its institutions, and your specific interaction with them—in the form of taunting fraternity brothers, an aunt who taught you how to garden, a lifelong friend who has always gotten who you are, a boss who demoted you over a mishandled project—all these and way more evoked and compressed you into the current version of you. Let’s more thoroughly check out your interaction with those surroundings with specific methodology. We want to fully understand our essential gifts on the plus side, and we want to re-do our less than useful ways of being and doing on the minus side.”
Most of us are afraid to go into our pasts in any real way. We distract ourselves in the present. We hide some of that discomfort through success and achievement, thinking that the higher we climb up the ladder, the brighter the light shines on our present and the more our past can be forgotten. Yet, being in touch with ‘what was’ can mean everything to us in authentically creating ‘what is’. When we understand who we were, we have a much better understanding of who we are now. When we take the time to look at our pasts with the wisdom that we’ve gained from it, we can recast and “re-truth” it in a way that further connects us to our true destiny.
Sharing pivotal life moments is a huge part of what I do. In consulting with writers, I find that when I show them how far I am willing to go into my emotional well, it helps them to do the same. By engaging them in this process, I know that they will find and enhance their voice. What John’s book did for me was to give me a much wider array of stories to draw from in my own past. He helped me to see the value in stories that I had forgotten, suppressed or just no longer saw the value in. He awakened me to more of that which is inside me. By doing this, I am able to teach writers how to go further into their pasts and see so many of their life experiences as universal and rich with true potential for emerging in the present and connecting them to their genuine possibility.
I’ll end with one last quote from John’s book. He writes, “If we think about our past from the factual level only, we are like a Cyclops with one eye—we see just the facts and only the facts, and miss the depth of perception that comes with being bi-ocular….” He provides a solution to this by writing, “If we raise our thinking, however, and go at our past from multiple levels and with both eyes, our recalled yesterdays are a living 3-D movie from the emerging truth of who we are, what we are becoming, and where our commitments can take us.”
I love this book. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in better understanding the past through a clearer vision so that creating the future will come from a more authentic place
The goal of the storyteller is to tap into the truth of the emotions inherent in the story that is being told. How do you find the truth? Through the telling of the story, you learn how to reveal it. Emotions are the key to connecting your audience to your vision. Learning how to mine your own emotions and extract them from your life experience takes tremendous courage, wisdom and strength but it will add a layer to your story that reveals how you feel, connects you to your audience and transforms a tale into a truth.
I recently watched The Tillman Story, a film that explores the true story behind the death of soldier and former professional football star, Pat Tillman. To say it was incredibly emotional would be putting it lightly. The film revolves around a family’s journey, led by Pat’s mother, to reveal the truth about their beloved son versus having him catapulted into sainthood by Army recruiters in order to enlist more soldiers into war. Initially, you might look at this concept and wonder why a family is striving so hard to reveal that their son didn’t die in the heroic circumstance that was touted? Through their journey, you connect with the family, their anger, their sadness and rage over the idea that the government was not only lying to them but was also using their boy as a poster child to get more people to join the war. The family just wanted the real truth of who Pat was to surface. There was one very telling moment when one of Pat’s brothers spoke at his Memorial service and said that Pat was dead. He didn’t believe he was in heaven because Pat was not a religious man. He was just dead. They showed several clips that helped to paint a picture. As the real truth was being told, the picture of a hero was still painted, however it was a humanized version of a man who stood up for a cause and made a choice to leave a multi-million dollar football career in the NFL in order to stand up for something greater. It is a story of depth and one man’s search for purpose and greater meaning by making a critical life choice; it is also about the family who continues to love him and who wants him remembered for the man he was, not for who others want him to be.
I so admired the strength and conviction behind the telling of this tragic but inspiring story. In watching the film, the message resonated with me. How can we all contribute in a way that adds meaning and purpose to our lives? Why do we choose to put people on a pedestal versus understanding the reality of what was? This type of story makes you want to be a better person. This is the gift of story.
How does the writer elevate the emotion in their story? This is something I always work on with writers. The reason I do this is because the goal of the storyteller is to make the audience feel their story. In order to feel, there has to be a truth that is emerging and coming through.
In the 2nd Edition of Stealing Fire From The Gods, James Bonnet affirms, “The author of great myths and legends is inside you.” I love this concept. Bonnet goes on to write, “Metaphor is the symbolic language that expresses the wisdom hidden in the creative unconscious self. The hidden wisdom exists as raw energy and in order to be communicated to consciousness, it has to be translated into visual images – i.e. the characters, places, actions and objects, etc. that you actually encounter in great story.”
In The Tillman Story, I understood the family’s drive to seek the truth behind the death of their son no matter what was revealed in the process. I admired their conviction. The idea of the story behind the story is where we find the truth. We often put things, people and places in a higher regard to appease ourselves versus understanding what was real.
I’d like to leave you with one last quote from Stealing Fire From The Gods, which really sums up the idea that it all lies within. Bonnet writes, “Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell, ‘What is Heaven?’ And Joseph Campbell answered, ‘Heaven is a symbolic place. Heaven is no place. These are planes of consciousness or fields of experience potential in the human spirit
Where is our gold when it comes to telling strong stories that connect us to our audience? How do we learn to tell stories that touch our spirits and make our hearts come alive? Compelling stories often come from a truthful place that lives and breathes inside the emotional well of the storyteller. Your emotional well is your gold when it comes to bringing your truth to the page and learning how to fictionalize it. This is not about coming from an autobiographical place. It is about coming from an authentic place, connecting with your life experience and bringing your voice into your characters. History has shown us that rewards come to those gifted writers who know how to delve into themselves and bring their truth to the page.
An excellent example of this is the Oscar-nominated film The King’s Speech and its writer, David Seidler. As a child, Seidler used to stutter. When I watched this film, I felt more emotionally connected to the plight of this character than any other recent film’s protagonist. I was totally mesmerized by this character’s journey. When King George VI (played brilliantly by Colin Firth) approached the microphone, I felt his fear. I could feel it in my throat. I rooted for him. I wanted him to arrive at the ‘light bulb’ moment by doing the work with Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). I related with his sheer terror. Having personally experienced the challenges of public speaking and learning how to move past the fear as millions of us do, I wanted to see Prince Albert (on the road to becoming King George VI) succeed at his speech. I was on the edge of my seat because I could relate to and connect with his experience. The fear of failure, another life experience that drives most of us, was conveyed flawlessly in this film.
Discovering that David Seidler personally experienced stuttering in his childhood helped me understand why he was able to hit a pitch-perfect portrayal of this character. He drew from his own personal well of experience and emotion and brought it to the page. This allowed the audience real insight into the vulnerability of the film’s central character.
This concept is something I explore heavily in my new book Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story. The book is about learning how to add fiction to your truth. It is also about learning that the stories we experience in our own life have tremendous value. They happen for a reason. And only by doing the challenging emotional work, do we gain the tools to move past the pain and then pass our stories onto others.
In Elizabeth Edwards’ memoir Resilience, I found that she dug deep into her emotional well and came from such a raw and real place. She writes, “Each time I fell into a chasm – my son’s death or a tumor in my breast or an unwelcome woman in my life – I had to accept that the planet had taken a few turns and I could not turn back. My life was and would always be different, and it would be less than I hoped it would be…. I learned that I was starting a new story. I write these words as if that is the beginning and the end of what I did but it is only a slice of the middle, a place that is hard to reach and in reaching it, only a stepping-off place for finding or creating a new life with our new reality.” Think about the words “…an unwelcome woman in my life” and “it would be less than I hoped it would be.” These are powerful admissions and they prompt an emotional experience that millions can connect with.
Resilience reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list. The King’s Speech is an Oscar nominated film. Both stories come from a place of truth and conviction. Both writers draw from their emotional wells and bring their truths to the page, giving their audiences a chance to really see them in their stories. I encourage you to draw from your emotional well in your writing. You never know what can happen.