Hay House Radio Episode Recap
- Episode Name: “Can You Heal By Changing Your Story?“
- Live Broadcast: November 14th, 2017 at 3:00 pm Pacific Time
Episode Summary Re-cap
Who are you when you are not thinking? And who are you when you are thinking? The way we see ourselves is often based on the story we believe about who we are. What would happen if you could stop all thoughts, become aware of the story, and use it as a basis for healing from illness or trauma? April Wilder, PhD in literature/creative writing, reveals how to find healing through combining the quiet of meditation with the power of shifting your story.
April Wilder’s short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope and McSweeney’s. She is a former James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, WI. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah, where she held a Vice Presidential Fellowship (her doctoral studies focused on “narratives of the absurd”).
Her article, Strings Attached: What Happens When You Get Pregnant with Your Ex-Husband?, was published in Oprah Magazine with great acclaim from readers. The article reveals how, a year after their divorce, April and her ex-husband got tipsy, frisky and—surprise!—pregnant. At which point things got really weird.
Her book, This Is Not An Accident, was published in 2014. Here’s what Kirkus Reviews said about her book: “The stories often pivot on the upending of clichés but also focus equally on the difficult equilibrium of relationships between all sorts of people. Excellent meditations on the human condition, well-suited to rest alongside the likes of Denis Johnson and Richard Ford.”
April lives with her daughter in San Diego, CA.
Dr. April Wilder used to think that fiction and non-fiction were separate things, until she got most of the way through her PhD in literature/creative writing. During this time, she began studying what narrative therapists used in their field. Narrative therapists work to help treat a client’s problems by treating the story of their problems. The idea is that as the story about a problem changes, the problem can go away.
As she looked at their tools, she realized that everything narrative therapists use to help their clients get better are the same tools April used in fiction classes to help her students get published. This was like a lightbulb: a better piece of literature was actually a healthier story!
A More Beautiful Story Is a More Truthful Story
One of April’s favorite quotes is by John Keats and goes like this: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” As she began to realize the parallel between narrative therapy and literature, she realized that a more beautiful story is a more truthful story and vice versa.
So what does this mean?
9 Key Fiction Tips to Create a Healthier, More Beautiful Story & Life:
#1 – Be Realistic About Your Characters
In fiction classes, this would be called “complicating your characters.” What it means is that no one person is entirely an angel or entirely a devil. All of us have a blend of good and bad qualities. For this reason, good characters in fiction contain a blend of what makes us human. It also allows you, in non-fiction, to see the person more objectively, which can be healing in and of itself.
Heather was reminded of a meeting when she was still in her corporate career. The group had gathered to talk about a difficult person who was causing a lot of interpersonal problems on the job. The human resources team member said, “We have to remember that there are people who love him. He’s married, has a family and friends.” This was him reminding all of us that he was more than just the challenges he was creating on the job and it helped everyone have more compassion in the resolution.
#2 – Don’t Pretend to Understand Why Anyone Does Anything
When writing non-fiction (or fiction!), the only way to be true to your characters is to not try to pretend that you understand their motives or reasons for doing what they do. This can be pretty freeing if you are looking at the people in your own life because most of the time, we scratch our heads and wonder why someone would do whatever they did. Recognizing that we don’t have to understand why can be a huge relief and it saves a lot of time creating untrue scenarios to answer the question.
#3 – Bring In Details That Engage All of Your Senses
April calls this “thickening” and it’s about bringing in the kind of detail that allows you to see, hear, taste, smell and feel the scenario. Why is this important to know? Because every time you tell a story like this, it engages you at the mind-body level and creates neural pathways in your brain. If you constantly tell a negative story (or visualize it) with a lot of detail, you are setting the stage for negative neural pathways. Over time, you may even look for evidence to prove the negative story is true. Instead, what if you chose different details, or take on a whole new perspective? What if you decided to focus on a whole new story? That negative story no longer has a hold on you.
A great example of this is writing your vision. When you write a vision containing positive statements that you can see, hear, taste, feel and smell, you are charging up your neural pathways for inviting these experiences into your life. Because your body believes your mind, you are communicating how you ideally want to live your life, how you want to feel, the people you want around you, the work you most love doing. The more you read and visualize this vision, the more you feel draw to take action in your life to achieve it. Olympic athletes and highly successful people use these techniques to transform their performance all the time.
Want to do this yourself? Get your free guided vision exercise here.
#4 – Life Is Fluid
Stories look at an arbitrary point in time. If we look at one story as the be-all-end-all about ourselves, another person, or a situation, it can be easy to forget that the story we tell can freeze a set of details at an arbitrary point in time. If you hold too tightly on to this story, you could be missing out on how everything changes with time. In fact, many quotes talk about how time is the greatest healer. Or if you want to solve a problem, just give it time. None of us is frozen in time and we all have the ability to change our story.
#5 – Perspective Is the Consciousness That Your Story Is Being Filtered Through
In other words, if you want to look differently at your story, consider choosing a different filter. What do you see if you’re a 15-year old walking into a room. Or a 30-year old walking into the same room? Depending on who you are, you have a different filter when you walk into that room.
If you find yourself telling a negative story, what would happen if you choose a different perspective from which to tell the story? Become a 15-year old boy or an 80-year old woman. How would the story change? What if you became the wiser version of yourself – the part of you from the future who can come back and share wisdom with you?
#6 – Write Down Your Story
Now take yourself out of it. To really shift perspective, April suggests taking the role of third person in your story. To do this, write your story down, but tell it from the point of view of another person, so it’s not even about you. It’s about someone else. Give the person a name. Think of it as a whole new persona digesting and processing the details of your life.
#7 – Who’s Dictating The Stories We Buy Into In Our Lives?
Once you realize that everything in life is a story (and April will say everything is fiction!), ask yourself, whose story am I buying into? Perhaps a story has been passed down in your family. Or you may see things through the context of the culture in which you grew up. Perhaps teachers, the media or politics are adding to your story. What if you looked at all of it as exactly what it is? A story? What if instead, you realized that you could stop the narrative from others and start to think about the narrative you would like to be living?
April suggests we have fun with this! It can be exciting to think that you are in charge of your narrative and that as the fiction is happening all around you, it’s you who get to decide how you want to see it. It’s you who decides the details you want to craft into your narrative. The power is in your hands. April suggests that we all think of ourselves as artists – becoming the artist of our own lives.
#8 – Change Your Narrator
A great way to change your story is to choose a new narrator. This is takes #6 and #7 to a deeper level. In this case, you are visualizing a new narrator who will tell you all about the world and interpret your stories. You will actually give this person a set of qualities, characteristics and attributes that you’d want in a great narrator. Remember, this person is digesting and processing your stories, so think about what you really want them to be like! April say she wants her narrator to be:
- Funny (hilarious, actually!)
- Objective and balanced (does not come to her with characters that are all-angel or all-demon, and instead, gives honest portraits of people)
- Fun – can exaggerate for pleasure and effect
- Compassionate – knows there is a whole world in every person
Make your own list and as you think about your day, allow the voice of this ideal narrator to tell you about it!
#9 – Meditate
Go beyond words, thoughts, and language. April shared her “Great Brain Experiment,” an eight-month period in her life where she meditated for hours and went into a place where she began to understand that beyond words and language was energy. Somewhere, underneath the words we choose in conversation or thought, there is an exchange of energy that matters even more. During this time, she began to see how important this exchange of energy is. Meditation is a very important part of this process because it can help you get beyond your story and perhaps, to feel into the energy you’d like to create in your life. In meditation, the story no longer matters. Only the energy of that moment matters. This, in and of itself, is a way to shift perspective.
At the end of her Great Brain Experiment, April recognized the value of meditation and valuing the energy behind words and language, while also realizing that it’s words and language that connect us. How we choose to work in all of this is up to us. Consciously becoming the artist in your own life allows you to be in charge of how you move through your life. With you in charge as the artist, your life could possibly be the greatest and most exciting fiction of all!
If you’re ready to write a new story of your life, bringing the energy of what you want into your life now, get your free guided vision exercise here.
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Tune in next week to Loving Yourself to Great Health, when Heather and her guests, Gangaji and Hillary Larson discuss the real reason we feel fear and anxiety and how to honor and move beyond it.
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