Stories. Have you ever stopped to think about how important they are to us?
To have someone tell us a story (perhaps in the form of a book or movie) is our first impulse after winding down from work, and the last, heartfelt, request our kids make before going to sleep.
There are news stories, sports stories, love stories, family stories, work stories, and neighborhood stories (also known as gossip).
That’s just for starters, and all, apparently, fill a need.
But perhaps the best way to gauge our affection for such things is to follow the money. Of all the professions, which do we tend to reward most lavishly? Surely near the top of that list would be actors, directors, producers, authors—you get the idea.
Evidently, there’s something fundamental about our love for stories of all kinds, real or imagined. And perhaps that’s because in them, we see the dramas that are our own lives, reflected back to us—often with our secret thoughts revealed, or with alternate life trajectories explored, possibilities that inspire, horrify, or simply intrigue us.
I’d like to tell you a story about myself. It’s just a slice of life, really, and hardly inspiring, but it will help me make a point.
A TV hero, mid-century style.
In 1957, when I was ten, a new prime-time show debuted on American TV screens. It featured a character named Maverick, and at a time when Western-themed shows dominated the airwaves, Maverick was a cowboy unlike any other.
Played by James Garner, this guy was everything I wanted to be: handsome, witty, smart, confident, and highly successful (in his career as a clever, but surprising moral, gambler).
Maverick was courageous, too—though, with his self-deprecating humor, he would never have admitted that.
But above all, as the lonely kid I was couldn’t fail to notice, he was the darling of any girl who was pretty enough to catch his eye. He was loved.
So I made a decision: I was going to be Maverick.
Now I don’t mean I bought a wide-brimmed hat and took up poker. But all those traits I so envied—well, why not simply appropriate them? (Though when it came to his good looks I knew I could only go so far.) Why not just change my behavior with Maverick as my model, and transform myself into the lovable person I was meant to be?
So that’s what I did. I remember walking to school, immersed in the suave, confident, persona of this TV icon to whom I had become attached, feeling and thinking my way into the role. “I can do this” I felt, “I can pull this off, and it will change how people see me.”
You understand, I wasn’t responding in a healthy way to someone I admired. I wasn’t allowing Maverick’s best to bring out my best.
No, I was trying to do the impossible: replace my flaws (as I saw them) with someone else’s strengths. I was reacting to all those parts of myself I felt were unacceptable—and there were many—by giving up on them.
To no small degree, I was pushing the real Bruce Siegel out of my life.
Or that was the plan, anyway, a strategy that kept turning up in different guises, and would define my life for years.
The story inside.
Now imagine, if you will, what was going on in my mind. To try to succeed by impersonating someone else—how must I have thought things work, for this to seem a good idea?
Clearly, I saw the world as a place in which at least some of us have to go to extraordinary lengths just to fit in. Constant vigilance and pretense were what mattered; in the reality I knew, simply being myself wasn’t going to get me very far.
In short, I saw my world as largely devoid of love. (An understandable conclusion given my childhood circumstances.)
Let’s give such a perspective, be it true or false, a name. Let’s call it a metastory. Our personal understanding of how the world works.
Expanding the scenario.
Now here’s the thing: we rarely appreciate the importance of our metastory until we stumble on a different one.
In fact, we may not even know we have such a model, until we step outside its boundaries, and begin to see our lives from a fresh perspective. Then we can look back and smile, as the limitations of our former understanding sink in.
But maybe you know what I mean. Perhaps at some point in your life you’ve emerged from a “box” in which you’ve long felt confined, looked out on a landscape teeming with unthought-of possibilities, and felt: “Omigod. There’s a whole different way of seeing the world.”
We sometimes taste liberation of this sort as we begin an important relationship—or end one. It can happen in launching a career. Or in pursuing a hobby, or while reading a book.
One paradigm-busting moment in my life (to fast-forward to my twenties) was entering psychotherapy. It rocked my world. It showed me that the neglect I had suffered as a child was still reverberating inside me, and that I needed to stop running from that sadness, and allow myself, finally, to feel it. For only then could I let it go.
And only then was I able to grasp the futility of my former mindset. For I had been trying to change my behavior while ignoring what was driving it—my pain.
Other surprises were still to come. My worldview was to be challenged again and again, and in Dreaming The Future, I talk about revelations that would stretch my understanding in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible.
The big picture.
All of which might lead one to wonder: forget my worldview or yours, is there a metastory so fundamental it deserves to be called the simple truth? Does it make sense to think in terms of a grand design or model that’s objectively real, one we all share?
As you know, science and religion each has its version of such a tale. And whether or not we buy into them, they tug at us.
For in a world in which mainstream science plays a dominant role—many would call it the new Church—who can remain immune to its pessimisim? Who can completely ignore science’s insistence that we are accidents, brought into this universe by chance, and destined to leave it forever?
Likewise, who is unaffected by traditional religious attitudes? Who can fail to wonder, at some level, if there just may be a God who finds us essentially sinful, one who frowns on so many of our thoughts and behaviors?
So this, you see, is where my experiment in precognition comes into play. For remember: I was a passionate skeptic prior to it. And what astonished—and ultimately, excited—me, was to discover, partly through my dreams, a different way of seeing my life and my world, a vision that jerked me out of the religion-and-science-based storyline I had been living, and introduced me to a new set of possibilities.
To be clear, my newly-discovered psychic ability wasn’t the only factor leading to my change of heart. Other discoveries and experiences had important roles to play, and I look forward to talking about them. For now, I’ll simply share, in the briefest of synopses, what I’ve gleaned from the adventure as a whole.
The one tale.
Stories are second nature to us because storytelling is what this cosmos is about. Or to put it differently, there’s an epic drama being enacted here. Just a single narrative masquerading as many—a plot unfolding in infinite versions, simultaneously. (Two of those being you and me.)
It is a story that embraces oneness and separation, a descent into darkness and return to light; a tale in which death, our most feared enemy, turns out to be our best friend, our ticket home.
And in each retelling—even when it’s seemingly nowhere to be found—love is the hero. Love doubting itself and denying itself.
Above all, love rediscovering itself, endlessly.
This, then, is the MetaStory. And to be clear, it’s not my discovery. (Though my use of the word, in this context, may be original.) Many of us have arrived at a similar conclusion.
But each of us sees the thing differently, each has stumbled on it from a different direction, each has his or her own version to tell. Here’s hoping you’ll find something useful in mine.
What you’ve just read is an early draft of the first chapter of my next book. (Working title: The MetaStory.) Other chapters are in the works, and I look forward to sharing them here as well.
Note that I use “metastory” (lower case) to describe a personal worldview, and reserve “MetaStory” for our mutual, ultimate, reality.