I feel a bit behind the curve. Though he may be the best-selling author in the world, I only discovered novelist Paulo Coelho a couple of weeks ago, and I just finished reading The Zahir. I’m awestruck. I can see why this was the best selling book in the world in 2003, even before it was released in the United States.
In this book Coelho makes a profound point about the power of telling our life stories. The main character is involved in a journey of self-discovery and must free himself from old attitudes and limitations in order to obtain what he seeks. (I don’t want to give away the plot for those few of you who may not have read the book yet.) The key to his chains is telling stories about his past. Once told, the stories lose their power to trap him in his status quo.
For most readers, taking the path of telling stories to free themselves from the past would be a matter of faith and intuition. Those who have been following the field of memory and neuroscience will assure you that this strategy is based on bedrock. Rather than explaining the science, I’ll give an example of how it works:
I became aware of the risks inherent in lingering over potent memories when I played an LP album of the Kingston Trio that I hadn’t listened to since I graduated from high school over a dozen years earlier. Listening to those old songs transported me back to an evening at a friend’s house where a group of us sat on the floor listening to that album. I felt the wall against my back and the cool hardness of the wood floor. I saw the shape of the dining table in the center of the dimly lit room. The taste of pizza lingered, and more than anything, I sensed a certain fellow sitting tantalizingly near — not touching, but close enough that I felt his warmth and inhaled his pheromones.
For several days I played that album nonstop until I suddenly realized the magic was gone. The moment no longer seemed real. It had receded into the background, never to be so poignant again. I had corrupted it by embedding the act of remembering into the original memory. It had lost fidelity as surely as the grooves on that plastic disk.
I can still recall that evening, but now the memory includes the replay, the frustration I felt when the freshness fled, and my fascination with the transformation. The evening has become objective now, lacking the power to warm my blood, even if I will it to be so.
The mere act of remembering changes memories and dilutes their power. Telling them to ourselves has that effect, and telling them to others may work faster. Telling your stories in writing is one of the most powerful ways of defusing them. Writing stories has the advantage that you can reread and rewrite them as many times and ways as you like.
I’ve even heard that magical things can come from writing a painful story, your own zahir, with a new and happy ending . . . .
Tell your stories. Write your stories. Through them, like the characters in The Zahir, you may find resolution, peace, and the freedom to love more fully.
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal