Writers give the world a gift: they name experience.
They find words, string them together, and share them. And when they get just the right combination, their audience says, “Yes! That’s exactly right!”
Naming experience feels good. It scratches the itch in the back of your mind. It brings a fuzzy image into focus. It builds a bookshelf, and organizes your library.
But naming also has a downside.
Once we name an experience, it’s frozen. The name makes its meaning so clear, there’s no room for other explanations.
Last week I told a friend a story from my childhood.
It’s a great story. It makes so many things clear. It helps me understand why I struggle.
And my friend heard it that way. “Oh,” she said, with a shake of her head. “Oh, my.”
But then she said, “You know, you’re almost forty years from when that happened.”
And those few words helped melt the ice trapping me in one perspective. They gave me room to see myself in a new way.
Words are certainly a gift. We need tools to bring the world into focus. We need ways to understand the stream of experience in which we swim.
But the stories we tell ourselves are dangerous, because they are so compelling. We clutch them in our hands, holding on for dear life.
It’s not that we should stop telling stories. But we do need to hold them in open hands, to sweep them from the table like mandala sand.
So tell a story. And burn it. Tell another. And burn it. Again and again.
Don’t worry. What’s true will survive.