Santa and other fun fairy tales

Remember when you believed in Santa? It was great fun, and then you grew up. Our beliefs change over time, we don’t have to hold onto them too firmly.

Santa Claus and other fun fairy tales
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This is even after the Easter Bunny turned out to be a lie. Even after Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and Saint Christopher and Newtonian physics and the Niels Bohr model of the atom, this stupid, stupid kid still believed the Mommy

Someday, when he’s grown up, the Mommy tells the shadow, the kid will come back here and see how he’s grown into the exact outline she’d planned for him this night.

It wasn’t until years later, until this stupid little loser was through college with honors and he’d busted his hump to get into the University of Southern California School of Medicine—until he was twenty-four years old and in his second year of medical school, when his mother was diagnosed and he was named as her guardian—it wasn’t until then that it dawned on this little stooge that growing strong and rich and smart was only the first half of your life story.

Chuck Palahniuk. Choke.

At some point you probably used to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy or dragons, goblins and vampires. And almost everyone changes some of their beliefs about religion, politics, money, family or health at some point, as they grow older. So by all means, have your beliefs— but hold them lightly. Keep in mind that all beliefs are stories, whether or not they’re ‘true’.

Russ Harris. The Happiness Trap.

Overcome the pressure to conform

Even great mythical heroes could feel forced to conform to society’s wishes. Under this kind of pressure, it’s important to stick to your own values and do what you feel is right.

Overcome the pressure to conform
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The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him. For the bliss of the deep abode is not lightly abandoned in favor of the self-scattering of the wakened state. “Who having cast off the world,” we read, “would desire to return again? He would be only there.” And yet, in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door.’
Joseph Campbell
. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Morals are social conventions about what is good; values are personal choices about desirable ends. To be maximally effective, the ACT therapist must be able to work sincerely with the client. Some clients enter therapy with histories or current problems that are morally repugnant to the therapist, such as battering, addiction, repetitious suicidal behavior, and so on. Values clarification work often exposes these areas, yet the ACT therapist cannot be drawn into the role of “moral detective,” using the social influence of therapy to openly or implicitly coerce the client into conforming to broadly held social values. The therapist makes the same move the client is asked to make, namely, to see valuing as essentially a personal exercise.’

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

How to live according to your ideals

Myths provide a general formula for life and show that obstacles are everywhere. Use your values as a guide to stay following your ideal path.

How to live according to your ideals
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Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late. The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women, wherever they may stand along the scale. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula, and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. Who and where are his ogres”? Those are the reflections of the unsolved enigmas of his own humanity. What are his ideals’? Those are the symptoms of his grasp of life.

Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

If you were on a bus trying to go east in a maze of dirt roads in a large valley, you might not be able to tell your direction from moment to moment. If someone took a series of snapshots, sometimes the bus might be facing north, or south, or even west, even though all the while this is a journey to the east.

Paths are not straight because obstacles sometimes prevent movement in the desired direction. A person who values creating a loving family may nevertheless have to go through a divorce. In that situation, the intention to be loving may be revealed only in limited ways, such as not establishing oppositions between yourself and your spouse that will negatively affect your children, or treating a soon-to-be ex-spouse fairly in the division of assets. Only over time will the underlying value become evident, like tracks left in the snow that show, even though the path is not straight, it is headed east.

Paths are also not straight because we are human. We may intend to go east, but our attention may wander, and we may find ourselves heading north. Someone in recovery from a drug addiction who values sobriety and helping others may still relapse. That person’s mind may be screaming, “See, you can’t go east! You are a liar and a failure! You can’t be trusted!” as if to say, “Because you are heading north, as usual, you cannot value heading east.” In such an instance, that person’s task will be to thank his or her mind, feel the sadness and pain that comes from relapse, and then turn and head east once again.

Steven Hayes & Spencer Smith. Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy.

* In a series of posts I call mythology Monday, I look at quotes from the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell and consider them alongside extracts from books and papers on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and related publications.

Create a character worth following

Define your characters’ morals and values to discover which way they would go in a crisis, and your readers will be more likely to follow too.

Create characters you can follow
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If your deepest beliefs drive your writing, they will not only keep your work from being contrived but will help you discover what drives your characters. You may find some really good people beneath the packaging and posing—people whom we, your readers, will like, whose company we will rejoice in. We like certain characters because they are good or decent—they internalize some decency in the world that makes them able to take a risk or make a sacrifice for someone else. They let us see that there is in fact some sort of moral compass still at work here, and that we, too, could travel by this compass if we so choose.”

Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

‘Defining a valued direction produces a more consistent compass heading to direct action during the storms of life, when waves of emotion crash and the screaming minds of the wind blast. Anyone who has engaged in mindfulness meditation for any period of time is aware of how fickle and changeable emotions and thoughts can be. However, values tend not to change so rapidly over time. If the therapist can help clients describe their most basic values for their life, clients can contact a source of stability in an often-chaotic landscape of changing thoughts and feelings. Once clarified, stated, and committed to, values can be like a lighthouse, providing direction during dark psychological nights and story situations.’

Jason B. Luoma, Steven C. Hayes, Robyn D. Walser. Learning ACT: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills-Training Manual for Therapists

Discover your moral compass

Your thoughts and emotions are not the best guides. Discovering what truly matters to you – your values – will give you a more stable direction in life.

The Ambassadors by Henry James
The Ambassadors

If ever a man had come off tired Lambert Strether was that man; and hadn’t it been distinctly on the ground of his fatigue that his wonderful friend at home had so felt for him and so contrived? It seemed to him somehow at these instants that, could he only maintain with sufficient firmness his grasp of that truth, it might become in a manner his compass and his helm.”
Henry James. The Ambassadors

‘Thoughts about the past, emotions, bodily states, and the like are often very poor guides to action, especially when they are viewed in the contexts of literality, control, and reason giving. Chosen values provide a far more stable compass reading. This is true because thoughts and feelings often lead in contradictory directions, and they invite a focus on irrelevant process goals (e.g., getting rid of a certain feeling or having only certain thoughts). Values can motivate behavior even in the face of tremendous personal adversity.’

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson. Learning ACT: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills-Training Manual for Therapists

Don’t be bullied by your thoughts

You don’t have to let your thoughts lead the way. Find out what’s important to you, what truly matters to you, and let those values guide your actions.

The Writers Journey by Christopher VoglerTom Dunson, played by John Wayne in the classic Western Red River, makes a terrible moral error early in his career as a cattleman, by choosing to value his mission more than his love, and following his head rather than his heart. This choice leads to the death of his lover, and for the rest of the story he bears the psychic scars of that wound. His suppressed guilt makes him more and more harsh, autocratic, and judgmental, and almost brings him and his adopted son to destruction before the wound is healed by letting love back into his life.

A hero’s wounds may not be visible. People put a great deal of energy into protecting and hiding these weak and vulnerable spots. But in a fully developed character they will be apparent in the areas where she is touchy, defensive, or a little too confident. The wound may never be openly expressed to the audience — it can be a secret between the writer and the character. But it will help give the hero a sense of personal history and realism, for we all bear some scars from past humiliations, rejections, disappointments, abandonments, and failures. Many stories are about the journey to heal a wound and to restore a missing piece to a broken psyche.

Christopher Vogler. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.

Often we know full well when we’re making excuses—we just need to be honest with ourselves. But if you’ve set a valued goal, and your mind gives you a reason not to attempt it, sometimes it’s not so clear that this is just an excuse. So if you’re genuinely unsure whether the thought is merely an excuse for inaction, or a statement of fact about something that truly is impossible, just ask yourself this question: ‘If the person you care about more than anyone else in the world were kidnapped, and the kidnappers told you they will never release that person until you take a particular action toward your goals, would you then take action?’ If the answer is yes, then you know that any reason (for not taking that action) is merely an excuse.

‘Ah, yes,’ you may be saying, ‘but that’s just a silly hypothetical question. In the real world, the person I love has not been kidnapped.’

Right you are. But what’s at stake in the real world is something equally important: your life! Do you want to live a life in which you do the things that are really meaningful to you? Or do you want to live a life of drifting aimlessly, letting your demons run the ship?

‘Okay,’ I hear you say. ‘I agree that I could attempt this goal, but it’s not that important to me.’

The question here is, are you being honest with yourself? Or are you just buying into another thought? If the goal you’re avoiding is truly unimportant to you, fine, don’t attempt it. But make sure you check in with your values. And if this goal really is something you value, then you are faced with a choice: either act in accordance with what you value, or let yourself be pushed around by your own thoughts.

Russell Harris. Introductory Workshop Handout.

Inspiration from the inside

Find inspiration to write a truly great story by examining the things that matter most to you.

Write Something That May Change Your Life

First, write down your wish list, a list of everything you would like to see up on the screen, in a book, or at the theater. It’s what you are passionately interested in, and it’s what entertains you. You might jot down characters you have imagined, cool plot twists, or great lines of dialogue that have popped into your head. You might list themes that you care about or certain genres that always attract you.

The Anatomy of Story by John TrubyWrite them all down on as many sheets of paper as you need. This is your own personal wish list, so don’t reject anything. Banish thoughts like “That would cost too much money.” And don’t organize while you write. Let one idea trigger another.

The second exercise is to write a premise list. This is a list of every premise you’ve ever thought of. That might be five, twenty, fifty, or more. Again, take as many sheets of paper as you need. The key requirement of the exercise is that you express each premise in one sentence. This forces you to be very clear about each idea. And it allows you to see all your premises together in one place.

Once you have completed both your wish list and your premise list, lay them out before you and study them.

As you study, key patterns will start to emerge about what you love. This, in the rawest form possible, is your vision. It’s who you are, as a writer and as a human being, on paper in front of you. Go back to it often.

Notice that these two exercises are designed to open you up and to integrate what is already deep within you. They won’t guarantee that you write a story that changes your life. Nothing can do that. But once you’ve done this essential bit of self-exploration, any premise you come up with is likely to be more personal and original.

John Truby. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.

In ACT, the values assessment process serves a variety of assessment and intervention purposes. First, the client may become aware of long suppressed values. This process is motivational in the sense that the client may find major discrepancies between valued versus current behaviors. Second, the process of values assessment can help highlight a place in the client’s life in which everything is absolutely perfect and pristine.

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.