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the trouble with personal stories …

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It’s always a blessing to have coffee with Arnie. We listen closely, offer insights and encouragement, have a few laughs, and then go our separate ways in the hope that we’ll meet again. This morning we ruminated on the fact that personal stories are fictitious. They may be based on actual events, but for the most part they’re embellished versions of what we chose to remember. In my case, many of them lean towards the negative — depicting me as clumsy, unworthy, and lazy among other undesirable characteristics.

I know that they’re based on comments made by people long deceased and that they’re untrue. Why then, we wondered, do they continue to have such a pull? Why do we continue to give them such power over our present-day mind state? Arnie brought up John Bunyan’s allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) in which a man called Christian finds himself sinking in a bog under the weight of sins and guilt.

It is the low ground where the scum and filth of a guilty conscience, caused by conviction of sin, continually gather, and for this reason it is called the Slough of Despond.

Abandoned by his travelling companion Pliable, Christian is paralyzed by fear and remorse as he stands knee-deep in mud and water. It takes him a while to discern that the edge of the slough — and safe, new terrain — was never far away. Assisted by a man named Help he eventually wades to shore and continues the journey. 

source: Thomas, J.H. (1964/1971). (ed). Pilgrim’s Progress in today’s English. Moody Publishers, p. 18. image:


5 responses »

  1. Patricia Grace


    I’m grateful for your insights, comments, and most of all, for the vulnerable you as you express your distain for yourself. I am currently living with a self that I do not like or appreciate. I’m not sure whether to “divorce” her or accept her. I expect I will discover the answer in time, or a more pressing question will arise. My hope is that the answer will be with me soon. Perhaps there are others with experience who will help as I schlep to the edge of the bog?

    • i had to smile at your concept of ‘divorcing yourself’.
      sometimes i wish it would be that easy to get away from the parts we dont like.
      i have two little friends, aged 1 and 4, who have helped me in accepting myself when i feel too fat, too whatever…..i realized that they don’t see me like that…they just like to hang out with me and have my attention and i love seeing them.

  2. ah the personal story that is unhelpful in this life. I am very acquainted with it. Why do we continue to repeat it to ourselves?? Something I have often wondered. The answer I seem to come up with is that it is somehow burned into the brain, emblazoned on the neural pathways and so out of habit, before the blink of an eye there we go down the road. Habit, familiarity?

    It is our work, I think, to turn away from the story, to build an inner confidence that helps us to cultivate and share our practice and strengths with the world.

  3. Sometimes acceptance is all we can do, they other is so final, acceptance can always be changed, I regularly vacillate between disgust and enlightenment in my own mind, I like to look at it as it is always warm & bright around the “big black hole”, seems to get me through….

  4. wise arnie – you are lucky to have such a good friend as i am sure he appreciates you as his friend. what a gift for each other

    i think acceptance is the only option when it comes to yourself 0r myself. big, fat, short, old, wrinkled – what is, just is

    the judgments about success, failure, good, bad, etc
    are just stories that we make up about who we are – is our true nature just fine as it is?


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