There are secrets to be discovered, secrets that will make a difference in how you live. They are hidden in surprisingly obvious places. It just takes a little time, some thoughtful remembering, and of all things old pictures from the past.
The secrets are hidden in the story of your life. It is a story, maybe a more interesting and entertaining one than you might have thought. The story begins with people who lived at least for a time before you were born. It might include people who lived and died before you were so much as a twinkle in someone’s eye.
You are not simply an accident of nature. That observation is not exclusively a statement of faith. You are not an accident of nature dropped from nowhere into existence at birth. You swam in a gene pool before popping out into the world. Then you spent time with the people who raised you whether or not you share genes with them. Then there were people whose lives intersected yours, in the neighborhood, at school, at camp, at church, in your extended family, at work.
Your life is a story with subplots and twists and turns, all of which have shaped the sort of person you are right now. To tell the story of your life is a way to discover secrets that can reveal the reasons you do what you do the way you do it. Those secrets can help you understand why you view the world the way you do, why some things are so important to you. Those secrets can help reveal why some things are beautiful to you and other things ugly. They can reveal to you why some things people do make you so angry or attract you to them.
Knowing those secrets can help you develop better relationships with others or make friends more easily. When you are more aware of your own view of reality, the things you value, the reasons for the way you are, there is a better chance that you will not be so reactive when others say and do things differently from the way you would say them or do them. One of the side effects of telling your story is not just better self-awareness but more self-acceptance. There is less need to spend time feeling inadequate or carrying some amorphous feelings of guilt for being who you have become.
One morning a week a small Spiritual Formation group meets at my house for almost two hours. We have used variety of resources to help spark conversation. In recent weeks we have been using a resource intended to guide us in preparing our Spiritual Autobiographies. We are midstream in sharing with each other what we have prepared. One member of the group has the entire time to walk us through his/her life story with an eye toward those people or events that impacted that story and how they affected it. While we look at that story with an eye toward the impact of the people and events in it on our Spiritual formation, the exercise can be done just looking at how those people and events affected the sort of person we have become.
One in the group recently attended a story-telling conference where one of the presenters said that looking at old pictures can be an especially effective tool in bringing back the stories. Pictures of places we have been can trigger memories when we try to put ourselves back in that place and think about how we felt when we were there, who else was there (or not there), what we did when we were there. If we don’t have photographs, there are the snapshots of those places that remain in our minds.
Some of us in the group have used pictures (digital, projected on the living room wall), and others have exclusively used words. Some of us did this same exercise a number of years ago. It was no less beneficial and informative the second time around adding the last few years to the story. Gathering the information can be a very significant part of the story itself when asking those who have known you about events in that story. It is a wonderful way to spend time with Grandparents and Parents and Siblings. In the age of Email and Facebook and the various other social media communicating with old friends and distant extended family is easier than in the past.
One way to begin is just to start writing in a journal, paper or digital, remembering, writing down the things, events, names of people that pop into your mind. Look at some old pictures. If you are a doodler, draw some of the scenes that are prominent in your memory. Then reflect for a while on those memories. Why do those memories stick in your mind? How do you feel about them? How did those events or people or places affect you? Then, what if anything do they reveal about your values, what is important to you, what you like or dislike. Did they contribute something to the sort of person you have become?
There may be no profound discoveries, but the chances are you will learn something in the process. Having seen your story, the story that has shaped who you are today, I suppose the next question might be: What choices will you make as the next chapter is being written? We can’t change the past, but we have something to say about who we become as our life’s story goes on from here.