Shock and narrative

Saturday, 22. May 2010

It’s about the impact of shock, any shock from a mysterious occurrence, through a friend surprising you with something they said, a loss of any kind, a bad dream, a disappointment, accumulated resignation that turns into drama, any kind of series of life changing or life threatening events, something bad happening to someone close, your cat being run over, the loss of your savings in a pension scam… Whatever.

People who know more than me have claimed that our memories contain so much shock and loss that we can never process it all before the system clogs up with more happening, that we only get some brief relief through separation.

But here is my theory for your consideration: as you have probably realised, your consciousness is not all rational, not all alert, not all even awake. Much of what takes place in the being you call home consists of daydreams, fantasies, speculations, theories, creative images, drifting responses to beauty and music, powerful desires both physical and behavioural – not to mention the third of your life you actually are asleep. I believe that this consists of enough experience to claim that all that stuff, which I shall call for now your “inner narrative”, forms a crucially important part of your life. In fact we generate narrative all the time and we live within its gripping sway most of the time, while we plane, wait, expect, examine, experiment, investigate and draw hypotheses about what is going on.

My theory is very simple: when you overload with shock your mind defaults immediately to narrative drive to protect you against unacceptable truth.

That’s why shock creates grief, madness, despair, depression – all of which are complex negative stories we impose on life. That’s why hope creates hysterical longings and great expectations, also narratives, because the infuse of hope is also a kind of shock. A stable person would feel neither loss nor impending gain; they would treat all experience as equal. We cannot be that person. We must manage our lives. And to achieve that we must manage our narrative lives. People under long term stress commonly develop odd behaviours, sometimes known as mental illnesses, in order to cope. But I’m saying we all do that to a lesser extent….

Someone responded: It would seem to me Steve, most of our inner lives are made up of these inner narratives which are positively designed to keep us asleep. To keep us from seeing ourselves as we really are. Internal lies that play all day everyday, to prevent that bubbling cauldron of ugly reality of self from being faced. So in that sense, I dare say for most people the narrative is always uncontrolled and lulling people into a false perception of themselves and life.

…I’m sitting with it all the time, waiting for things to come forward and wondering how to integrate what I know about the potential healing power of moments of truth. Perhaps sleepwalking in narrative is an imaginary friend who can hold us back in some ways, certainly it is when a person makes up life completely, like a paranoid does, losing all contact with the ability to read motivation and see rational routes to outcomes.
On the other hand there must be an intrinsic de facto narrative that begins as a young child when you differentiate yourself from others and start to realise that your own life is yours alone and has a path that is different from other lives. I think perhaps that process remains confused for a very long time in most of us. And I note that the peoples of the east often subscribe to mental disciplines intended to mesmerise themselves out of the desire, judgement and motivation that might fuel narrative, this finding a safe space in a passive and self-chosen contact with unspecified, meditative reality.

To me their results seem lifeless and I think of westerners who go that route as space cadets who think they have risen above the turbulence of life but are more correctly in denial about what’s going on.

On the other hand, trying to ride the dream world I inhabit and function effectively requires a lot of strength and would be much easier if I found more resonance in the world at large. I do note, however, that whenever I sit down with people, whatever they claim about their point of view, what they do is commence to bleed out narrative. And that it is almost impossible to get them to be congruent, here in the room, so strong is the energy of the narrative, tantamount in force to a sexual desire that they cannot control. If they flirted with me the way they tell me their lives the room would be seriously charged and for me, after a relatively brief period, listening to narrative does begin to feel like a lover who comes on strong only to push you away and then comes on stronger when you try to back off and then cries rape at the moment of truth.

I can’t tell you how many people I have taken right to that moment in my life, only to see the portcullis slam down just before the final, painful release of the lies they live in. And wham, back comes the pulsing narrative, the story, the justification of the way they have lived and the things they have done, all the mishaps that were never their fault and the malaise they suffer that just happened, without warning, over 30 years or more !!!!

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