Stories of Transformation

Sounds True has recently launched a new feature called “Stories of Transformation.” The idea is simple: we want to hear stories from Sounds True listeners about their discoveries and insights as we journey together on the path of awakening.

Why stories? Stories make abstract teachings real and personal. As a producer, I will often sit in the studio with an author and record their ideas for many hours at a time. At a certain point, I know the program will seriously benefit from the inclusion of a personal story. Enough theory, I want to hear the teaching exemplified in a real-world example, in a way that “hits the ground.”

Now of course, when it comes to our own personal “stories of transformation,” there are many different ways we can approach sharing our stories with each other. Are we trying to prove something? Are we trying to impress others? What might it be like to tell our stories for the sake of touching and being touched?

A further question is what distinguishes an everyday story from a “story of transformation”? When is a story a prison and when does it empower? I believe it all comes down to how we frame our experience. Do we hold the frame lightly? What lens do we use when we tell the story of something that happened to us? Are we blaming ourselves or others, or are we seeking to learn and transform?

Recently, I interviewed Lewis Mehl-Madrona for the podcast series Insights at the Edge. Lewis is a physician, psychiatrist ,and clinical psychologist who is part Cherokee and part Lakota. He is also an expert in “narrative medicine,” an emerging field of study that looks at the power of stories in the healing process. In the interview, Lewis told me that when he meets a patient for the first time, the most important question he asks is, “Will you please tell me the story of your illness?”  He then listens with every fiber of his being. He is listening to hear whether or not the story is a healing story or a story that is imprisoning in some way (perhaps filled with self-recrimination or a sense of futility). As an expert in narrative medicine, he then works with the patient to help them reframe their experience of illness, to find a new story that is empowering and growth-oriented. Lewis helps his patients turn whatever is happening in their lives into a story of transformation.

Now what about the idea, quite common with many people who are interested in present-moment awareness, that we should “drop our story” altogether. I believe that such people are pointing to the pure field of aliveness that exists when we are not trying to frame experience in any way. When we drop our story, there is nothing to hold on to. We find ourselves in a wide, open space that is groundless, uncertain, and free of any solid position or stance. All stories become fiction. And of course, this is an important point of view to keep in mind—all of our stories are simply stories. We must hold them loosely, even our stories of transformation.

All that being said, here’s how this new feature works: each month, Sounds True will ask our listeners a question, and then collect “stories of transformation” in response. The question, as well as a selected story each month, will be shared in our “Weekly Wisdom” as well through the “Discussions” section of our Sounds True Facebook page.

This was the question for this month:

“Have you ever experienced an unexpected transformation in your life as the result of suffering from an illness or other debilitating physical condition? What happened?”

And as a way to help launch this new feature, I am writing my own story of transformation in response to this month’s question:

Looking in the Mirror

Recently, I had a three-week flu. “Flu” is a short 3-letter word, but this flu felt like a terrible giant. It stormed through my body and pinned me down.

I don’t get sick very often, and when I canceled a speaking engagement and a series of out-of-town meetings because I felt too ill to fly, the people who are close to me were simply shocked. I had never missed a week of work before due to illness in over 25 years. I felt shocked as well—not that I canceled the trip—but by the lessons that followed.

It was clear that my body had a singular message for me: rest. But that was not the message I wanted to hear. I kept thinking of all of the supposedly important meetings I was missing. I kept my BlackBerry with me in bed even though I was too blurry-eyed to read the screen. And then, I asked myself this: You have been a meditator for over 25 years. Your body needs you to rest. Can you please just let go and surrender?

And that was the moment when I looked into the mirror. I saw that I was seriously attached (we could say addicted) to the sense of power that comes from doing and making and creating. I knew how to relax into space and sit in silence (I have been on several solitary meditation retreats), but relaxing into illness felt different. It felt like I was being dragged into the underworld, a world in which I was a worthless, grey slug. It was humiliating.

What did I learn from this? That illness is a great initiator. I was initiated into indisputable helplessness. That ultimately I am not in charge of whether I stand up or lie down (I had to lie down when I wanted to stand up), or ultimately whether I live or die. That I am not in charge, period. I learned to embrace my brokenness. I couldn’t breathe beautifully and enjoyably in the ways that I know how. All I could do was accept the fact that each breath hurt, each breath felt broken. What could I do? Be merciful toward the feeling of brokenness.

This flu stopped me. It stripped me of the illusion of control, and it exposed a part of me that is addicted to outer-world accomplishments. Looking in the mirror isn’t always pretty, but I prefer truth to self-deception.

Here is the question for next month: “Have you ever undergone a profound transformation or breakthrough as a result of forgiving someone (or yourself)? Are you in the midst of a forgiveness challenge right now? Tell us your personal story of forgiveness.”

You can submit your story of transformation through, or through the discussions area of our Facebook page.

Please write your heart out. We would love to hear from you!

5 Responses to “Stories of Transformation”

  1. Wendy Says:

    Hi Tami
    I really appreciate this concept of others telling their stories because I know that my story comes down to my hearts desire of my truth. Even though this feels scary to write I would like to share my time of what I now realise was very transforming to me.
    In September 2006, the day after my 51st birthday and when I had been married for 32yrs, had worked and achieved all I wanted I broke down and ended up in a Mental Clinic. I now realise it was a “break through”. My husband and I had just returned from an overseas holiday which was to all the places I had wanted to visit since my high school days. I had put this dream on hold all my life to marry and have two beautiful sons and help my husband and sons fulfil their dreams. During our holiday my anxiety, even though I had lived with this all my life, became very high and when we returned home my anxiety turned into panic attacks. I went into that Mental Clinic totally broken and helpless. One of the nursing sisters said to me that she sensed all my defense structures that I had built up over all my life had broken down around me and that I was like a helpless vulnerable child. Thankfully I was able to get this concept and know that I didn’t want to go on the “Medication Roundabout” as I witnessed so many other people go through in that Clinic. When I left after 5 wks and 12mths of outpatient visits 3 days a week I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took to not go back there and also to “for once in my life” know myself and put myself first because I now realise that’s what I was being called to do. This was now coming up to 5yrs ago. That experience transformed who I was and I have embarked on a very confronting, healing and continued journey of restructuring my life, listening to all my inner messages that I chose to ignore about myself, my life and those around me before and learning to become more authentically my whole self. My body tells me when I am making unwise or false choices and I pay attention now.
    Sadly I ended my marriage 13mths ago knowing I needed to have a relationship with myself before I could have an honest one with anyone else. I am continuing to restructure myself back to me knowing now I had been changed from my true self by trauma.
    I have been following your website and teachings now since I left that Clinic. I am so grateful for your website and attribute a lot of my learning, healing and support to the teachings from yourself and all whom you work with. I will continue with all of you as I continue my journey. I also meditate and participate in Holotropic Breathwork Retreats and follow Stan and Christina Grof’s teachings. I am very grateful to everyone who crosses my path now and to be able to share this, my story. Many Many Thanks. Sending love and respect. Wendy

  2. Paul Darwish Says:

    Yes, Tami, I love how you address the paradox of our story-telling being (potentially) both liberating and/or imprisoning. This is something I’ve played with in my writing. Following are a few haiku that look at stories from both perspectives (as prison and as freedom). The first line in caps is simply the title…

    What’s more true than fact,
    and even truer than truth?
    Your story, of course…

    “What is your story?”
    when asked with an open heart,
    seduces the soul (especially, your own!)

    Teenagers know there
    is wisdom in “whatever!” –
    your story’s not mine!

    We love our stories,
    and the meaning they provide –
    but they’re just stories…

    Personal stories
    might make great fiction, but they
    are de-void of Truth.

    Cleverly disguised,
    stories are control in drag –
    Awareness… just is.

    Your path is your path,
    whereas the Truth is the Truth –
    don’t confuse the two…

    Paul in Cincinnati

  3. Anne Says:

    In response to Tami’s illness experience. All my life I have been capable of handling many situations and in control of my life. Having cancer leaves me helpless and even tho I have tried to control this illness thru various alternatives, they are not eliminating the cancer, in fact it is gaining. I am most surely not in control. I do have trouble embracing this helplessness. I recognize it, but cannot bring myself to embrace it. Your story has helped me to verbalize this.

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  5. Richard Frosdick Says:

    Hi Tami
    I would like to share my story of personal growth and transformation.

    Just before Christmas on the 09th December 2011, I unexpectedly collased while out shopping in a supermarket. Paramedics were called and I was taken to the Accident and Emergency Hospital for checks. On arrival, I had a number of unconscious seizures and lost all feeling and movement down the left side of my body. I was later MRI Scanned and transfered to a ward. The next morning, I awoke on the ward to find that all my feeling and movement had returned, but was told the bad news that they had found a mass on the brain and suspected a Brain Tumour.

    I was operated on the 30th December to debulk what was a Grade 4 malignant Glioblastoma (The most common, but aggressive form of brain tumour), the operation was successful and I only had some temporary memory and coordination problems that have largely already corrected only a few weeks after surgery.

    I want to explain that up untill this point, I considered my life to have gone badly off the path, I have always considered myself as a seeker of truth and have had a keen interest in Buddhism and Spiritualism for many years, however my rather materialistic nature has never quite allowed me to fully transform. I have suffered a lot from a failed marriage and an unhappy career and unemployment over the last few years.

    A couple of years ago, I met a very spiritual person, who became my partner for a time, I also suffered a lot of hardship in our relationship, not realising at the time that me trying to change her ways was the cause of my suffering. She introduced me to Authors such as Abraham Hickes and Jane Roberts, but one teacher/authour in particular that really seemed to gell with me was Echart Tolle and his ‘Power of Now’ and ‘New Earth’ publications.

    I feel fortunate to have had the experience of the last few years of mysery and turmoil as I consider it to have been a valuable teaching. As for the tumour, I can only see the positive side, in as much as I now have a direction, purpose and true love of life, where before there was only material existence. If I start to become complacent and sorry for myself then I will have to remember the time I starred into the eyes and soul of a 5 year old boy, riddled with cancer and waiting patiently in the que for Burger King, all I could see was total acceptance of what was, and not one hint of why me.

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