Human beings are narrative creatures. As Yuval Noah Harai and others have noted, most of our basic institutions are based on some of collective fiction that would fall apart if examined too closely. This goes for things like nationalism or the idea of a nation state or even the concept of money and value. (For example, money is almost entirely imaginary at this point. 90% of is just computers sending back amounts from account to account that doesn’t really exist in any tangible way).
But humans are also narrative creatures in the sense that we view our own lives as stories with a beginning, middle and end. It’s the reason our novels and movies follow this basic format. It’s a trick of memory. Narratives are how we make sense of immeasurably complicated world. Without narratives, I think most of us would lose a sense of identity.
But I’d look to push back on that last part a bit. Identity and narratives are tricky. Am I Nepali-Tibetan-American-psychotherapist-writer? What does that say about me? Does it really mean anything except the story and connotations it tells about me? Depends who you ask and what you’re asking about. But does it truly explain the day-to-day experience of being me of being alive?
I don’t think so. On a basic level, when people talk about living in the present moment. they are saying that our past memories and future worries are constructions created by a brain that is meant to help us survive but doesn’t actually care if we’re all that happy. This speaks to the only piece of wisdom that I have found to be true in my life: the only contentment in my life comes from letting go. Letting go of all the injustices we faced. The only of our bitterness. Letting go of control and our lack of control on our lives. Letting go that we don’t know what will happen and that we are terrified. Letting of our narratives that hold us in place.
in some respect this impossible. We can’t easily reprogram our brains. We can’t easily erase traumas. They are painful and will continue to be. But there are ways to help. Meditation is one. But also having people in your life that don’t necessarily reinforce toxic narratives is a good one too. And maybe a therapist who understands that could help also. I don’t know. The answers are simple. But it’s the only path that makes sense to me.