1.3 ~ A Non-Narrative Approach to Life ‡

Wherein we escape the tyranny of narrative by wielding narrative.

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It seems almost impossible to get through life these days without some sort of bumper-sticker answer to the question: “What’s your Purpose—your WHY? / What lights you up? / What’s your Passion? / What were you put on this Earth to achieve? / What’s your vision/mission/goal?” (and so on).

The trouble with these questions (and the whole ‘Motivational Empire’) is that—whilst they sound so innocuous—they encourage a kind of ‘forced adherence’ to pre-ordained narratives. At one level, this forces a kind of fixed rigidity in our self-concept, wherein we invest ongoing effort trying to be ‘true’ to our ‘authentic self’—the narrative we have groomed and maintained over the years. This can become tyrannical if left unchecked.

Your Ritual of Becoming is an attempt to ‘soften’ this otherwise ossification of self. To bring in a little more fluidity and grace, so that you might better become who you are.

The last couple of lessons introduced the notion of the narrative fallacy: “our need to fit a story, or pattern, to a series of connected or disconnected facts” (to quote Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile—things that gain from disorder). Further:—

A non-narrative approach to life ‘does not depend on a narrative for the action to be right—the narrative is just there to motivate, entertain, prompt action’.

And this is how we take a non-narrative approach to life. Any narrative we weave or wield—any Word we conjure—is partly there to motivate, guide and amuse. But it is also a means with which we can better navigate life itself.

People tend to value things that minimise cognitive burden. No one of us can possibly contain the sheer richness, complexity, nuance and depth of another. How could I possibly even begin to grasp who you are? Impossible to achieve within a single lifetime. But! I can potentially grasp a semblance of a simulacrum of a sense of who you might be, via the words you use and the actions I see.

In my own world, I have come to adopt the term ‘Wizard’ to ironically-yet-sincerely provide a ‘good enough / that’ll do’ narrative archetype to folks who seek a sense of who I am and what I do. (It’s so much better than ‘Thought Leader’, hoho. Ridiculous.) This originated as a Word I chose years ago, and has since been subsumed into my overall Character. It’s fun—but enough of that, for now.

The lesson at hand is to start to sense and see the narratives that surround us. The narratives that shape us in this sea of meaningness. It’ll be tricky to engage in any self-development until we first loosen the grip on the narratives we hold that define and confine us.*

* This then extends at a societal level, where race, gender, ‘class’, sexuality and myriad other stereotypes stubbornly persist in shaping the meanings we collective make of things. But, with time and development in our own ability to ‘see’ the narratives at play. To ask of ourselves—from a transpersonal perspective—if these are useful, kind, accurate, or fair. And then, poetically, to seek ways of reimagining how we co-create new meanings and ways.

In this Ritual of Becoming I am going to teach you—vaguely, inaccurately—how to be more of a trickster-like infinite player and poetic flâneur in life.

A flâneur is someone who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision opportunistically at every step to revise their schedule (or their destination) so that they can imbibe things based upon new information (paraphrased from Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile—things that gain from disorder).

A trickster might maintain that it is “Better to operate with detachment, then; better to have a way but infuse it with a little humor; best, to have no way at all but to have instead the wit constantly to make one's way anew from the materials at hand.” (as direct from Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art).

And, as the philosopher James P Carse* says: “Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.” Furthermore:

“There is a risk here of supposing that because we know our lives to have the character of narrative, we also know what that narrative is. If I were to know the full story of my life I would then have translated it back into explanation. It is though I could stand as audience to myself, seeing the opening scene and the final scene at the same time, as tough I could see my life in its entirety. In doing so I would be performing it, not living it.” … “True storytellers do not know their own story.”

You are going to hear me quote this guy a heap. Can’t help myself. Finite and Infinite Games—a vision of life as play and possibility is utterly wondrous and apt. (Not to be confused with ‘The Infinite Game’).

To contemplate…

Do you subscribe to any particular narratives about ‘who you are’ and what you ‘should’ be doing in this life? And does this coincide or conflict with the narratives others hold of you? (Keep alert for words like ‘should’, and feelings of guilt and shame—they can serve as beacons for deeper introspection).

Next we switch from this delightfully qualitative approach to self-knowledge, so as to adopt a more quantitative sense of things. From the Book of You to the Chart of You.


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This a work-in-progress ‘virtual book’, meta-blog and online programme by Dr Fox. Illustrations by dangerlam. (CC BY-NC-SA)