The first realm we’ll look at is the easiest one to identify. This is where we seem to spend most of our time, where you may be at this moment. It’s the subjective realm, the realm of evaluations, colorations and abstractions. For a quick snapshot of this realm, imagine you’re in your local coffeeshop, talking with your friends, laughing about the latest comedy you’ve seen or arguing about your favorite political causes. You’re surrounded by the aroma of lattes, jazz music playing in the background and the light from the dim lamp over your table, but you aren’t fully aware of them. You’re riding the currents of emotion, but not fully aware of them either.
Now you have a picture of the realm called Storyland. We find our opinions here, our likes and dislikes, all our conclusions about the people and things in our life. There is a dreamy quality about this realm because emotion holds sway here. Looking around we find our hopes and fears for the future as well as our regrets and joyful memories of the past. This is also where we keep our stockpile of meanings as well as our “shoulds” - our strategies for dealing with difficult facets of our life. Included in this realm are all comparisons such as good and bad, useful and not useful, even hot and cold.
The overarching theme of this realm is our ongoing narrative about our relationships with the people and things in our life. We’re constantly adding to it, embellishing it, re-weaving it, adding subchapters, looking for the moral. “Why did Joe have to say that hurtful thing to me? I can’t trust him anymore.” “Oh, there I go again, messing up my relationship with the people at work.” “OK, this new plan of mine will make everything work out great.” “What can I do about my sister? She’s in trouble again, and just won’t listen to what I tell her.” These are some of the story lines we set up in our minds, and we buy into them completely.
When you’re watching a good movie, you forget that you’re sitting in the audience – you become completely enveloped in the story. Even more so when watching your own mind movies, except here there is no “The End”.
When I’m reviewing the conversation I had earlier in the day with my boss, thinking I should have said such and such, I’m in Storyland. When I’m dreaming about how wonderful I’ll feel after my next meditation retreat, I’m in Storyland. When I’m feeling the flush of anger and seeing red, I’m in Storyland. This realm includes all our obsessions, circular thinking and the endlessly-replayed mental vignettes known as tape loops. Maybe in this digital age a better analogy would be that of a portable video player stuck in shuffle mode.
This Storyland realm doesn’t just include our inner narratives; it also includes our seemingly-instantaneous reactions to our surroundings. When you see a person, hear a bell, feel the texture of a piece of fabric, what is it you are actually aware of? Let’s take a look at some common things along with ways you might experience them in Storyland:
- Bell: “What a beautiful tone that bell has.”
- Temperature: “I wish it wasn’t so hot in here.”
- Thoughts: “the committee’s going to love my great idea about how to fix the budget problem!”
- Feelings: “Why did that damned traffic have to make me so late?”
In each of these cases, what you are aware of is your reactions to the objects and events in your immediate surroundings. This is the stuff of Storyland.
This Storyland realm can have multiple levels, beginning with evaluations of people and things, followed by stories built on the evaluations, followed by emotions generated by the stories. Each is a layer built on the previous one, and we seem to have a limitless capacity for adding them – reacting to our emotions we add another layer of evaluation, weave another story around that, generate a more complex set of emotions, and on and on. The original facts of the particular situation may become completely buried.
When you reflect on this realm, what do you see? Two useful observations are that our stories frequently change and that different people have different stories for the same situations. This brings home an important point: we create this realm and all of its contents ourselves.
Characteristics of Storyland:
- Subjective. What we’re aware of is our evaluations and opinions of people and things.
- Emotional. Feelings aroused by our evaluations heavily influence our actions.
- Irrational. We can appear disconnected from reality because our actions are driven by our internal churnings rather than our current surroundings.
Snapshot of Storyland: coffeeshop conversation.