So simple, so amazing: a journey into awareness
Chapter 8: Self help
There’s a big book by Christopher Booker called The Seven Basic Plots. I bought it when it came out in hardback, very unusual for me, for £20, but I didn’t actually start reading it until about twenty years later. Even then (now) I only read enough to get me here before I left it and moved onto something else. (This is the same way I have treated religions, spiritual practices, etc etc.) The idea is that there are seven basic types of story that are repeated in all genres and all over the world. These stories seem to appear even in cultures that have no apparent links with each other, via the collective consciousness or archetype explained by Jung. Once upon a time there was a… and then one day, something happened. A hero, a villain, obstacles, things getting worse to crisis point and then an untangling, a resolution.
It struck me that I could work out which plot I am in and then as a result identify where I want to go and what to do next. I could look for characters and work out what questions to ask to illuminate my journey. Maybe my plot is The Quest, or Voyage and Return. Certain conditions have to be met before any story can come to a fully resolved ending.
I googled therapeutic writing and found a study that found that participants’ mood went up as the agency in their storytelling went up; and they were connected; and the writing came first! They wrote a story in which the protagonist had more agency in their lives, and then their lives picked up!
Of course, we have free will, so we can choose. More than likely, we will see several plots or possible plots within our lives. The expression losing the plot. Had I lost the plot both metaphorically and literally? I had stopped writing for a year. Christopher Booker took 34 years to write plots… Maybe I was just sharpening my axe?* Which plot am I on? We’ll see whether or not I finish this book… and what else will I do? I can decide….
*One of the psychologists (Beth) at work told me this lovely story: When she was in the middle of doing her PhD she had got herself exhausted and super stressed and was taking it out on the house, frantically cleaning and about to set about vacuuming. Her boyfriend, concerned, tried to get her to stop and have a rest. At first she refused, but then he wrapped his arms around her, walked her to the sofa, got her to sit down, put a blanket over her and said I’m going to tell you a story: Once upon a time there were two woodcutters. One chopped wood all day without a break, and even though he began to tire and his axe got blunt and he was hungry and thirsty, he did not stop chopping wood until night fell. The other wood cutter chopped until it was lunchtime, and then stopped to eat a lunch of bread and cheese, and took time to sharpen his axe and to rest his tired muscles. After his lunch he returned to his work until night fell. Which woodcutter do you think ended up chopping the biggest pile of wood? Beth, her boyfriend said, you need to sharpen your axe.
I am my own obstacles. I am the villain of my story**. ‘Normal’ society is too; it constrains us, other people constrain us… and what makes people like this is the lives we live, what we do to ourselves, everyone individualised, worrying… It’s not obvious like if we were living under ISIS occupation, rather it’s a quiet suffering that goes on and on.
**The amount of things I do to myself, even now, to knock me off my path, or just to spoil my present moment: beating myself up for not having painted the entire kitchen this weekend, getting so far into something on YouTube that it completely freaked me out, not eating properly, getting over tired. (However, I also know how to fix all those things and so today I cooked a super nutritious vegan feast, had a nap in the afternoon, unsubscribed from a YouTube channel, and painted a bit of the ceiling and was happy with that. And wrote this, of course.)