May 27

Changing your story

change the story - weatherwax

A little while back I was asked why I see humans as privileged, compared, say, with animals or insects. The context was a debate on whether we have the power to change our circumstances, or whether some of us our powerless to change a bad situation. As a good friend of mine put it – “I looked at the things I was doing that I liked doing, and the things that I was doing that I didn’t like doing. and adjusted my life accordingly”. But can we all live like that? Do we get the choice?

So, the reason I see human beings as privileged – particularly in the context of this dialogue – is that we get to choose the meaning that we associate with events. The meaning we attach to events is what matters – not the events themselves.

A story I love is of a Cambodian imprisoned and tortured during the Pol Pot regime, who said “One night they told me I would be shot at sunrise – so, you see, I was completely free.”How did he figure that one? “Things could not be worse,” he explained, “so I was free to take any opportunity that came.” And he did – during a commotion that night he ran for the fence, since he had nothing to lose.. and ran to freedom.

Viktor Frankl spent time in the most atrocious of conditions in a Nazi concentration camp in World War II. In amongst the death, the despair, the filth and the hopelessness, he wrote “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He went on to write “Man’s Search for Meaning” – a book which, wonderfully, was earlier published under the German title “Trotzdem Ja Zum Leben Sagen” or “Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life”.

That’s a huge shift of meaning from hopeless to hopeful. I have had to do it on many many occasions in my life – to shift myself from being a victim of circumstances (or, to be honest, the results of my own stupidity!) to having options. And I think we always do have options, particularly on how we choose to react to what’s around us. We may say we’re stuck – we may believe we’re stuck – it may even seem to those around us that we’re stuck – and yet I think we really do have the ability to decide to behave differently – whether that’s in our attitude, or in our behaviour. 

As Granny Weatherwax observed in Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series “There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story – change the world.”

We can use story and meaning to create our world the way we want it – one way to build a concrete path to your dreams is to write a movie script of your perfect day, building in all the detail, the sounds, the sights, the aromas, the sensations, the feelings. creating so much more of a powerful energy than simply “I want my own successful business” or “I want to get married”. What will that really feel like.?

We can use story and meaning to change the way we look at a situation – something which is disempowering in one story can suddenly become incredibly powerful in another. How many times do we have to hear the story of the cabin boy who became captain, of the pageboy who became king, of the scullerymaid who marries the prince, to know that what people decry as ‘fairy stories’ actually contain some of the most enduring truths about our world and the way it works.

And we can use story and meaning to change our lives. I have a story which I have never shared with anyone that describes my life so far, and the way I see it unfolding in the future, in empowering, powerful metaphors and images, full of richness and archetypal heroes. I have chosen to attach new meaning to the events of the past and to my current reality, that allows me to create a future full of possibility and energy. The beauty of doing this is that it hasn’t tied my story down to a specific way that it must unfold, simply because it’s full of metaphor rather than specifics.

We can continue to replay the old story of despair “well, I’m bankrupt so that means I haven’t got the financial freedom to create the life I want or do the things I want” or we can change it to a story of hope “I’m bankrupt, and that frees me up to have the time to choose what I want to do, and the opportunity to reshape my life just the way I want it”.

We have the power to change the meaning of the events that shape our world. And that means we change how we experience our world. Because even if nothing changes, everything can change. In a heartbeat.


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Apr 11

Are you sure you know what that story REALLY meant?

strength on the mountain

A few days ago I retold the story of the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son) – if you missed it, you can read it HERE – and, honestly, I’d suggest you do before you carry on. Really.

That story has been used by the Christian Church for generations to explain what happens when you go off on your own, when you step out from how things should be. It’s a story of wilfulness, of wasting life on trivia and wanton behaviour – and of a Father’s love, once the son turns round and admits he got it wrong, is welcomed back into the safety of the family again (and puts the older brother’s nose out of joint).

But is it? Is it about ‘going your own way’ and the dangers of immorality? Did the younger son really screw up and make the wrong decision? I’m not so sure. Over the last few months, this story has become very precious to me, for all sorts of reasons. And, honestly, I’m rooting for the younger son. Cause I think he got it right.

Imagine the plight of the younger son, always in his elder brother’s shadow. He knows that the family business will eventually fall to his brother. He knows that his brother will get the larger share of the inheritance – that’s just the way things were in Israel at that time. He knows that the larger blessing of his father will go to his brother. So what can he do?

He decides to go out and make a name for himself on his own. He gets his resources together, going to his father to ask for his portion of the family fortune early (and that in itself was a ballsy move) and sets out for a distant country to make a name for himself. I suspect he planned going back to his family as a wealthy and successful businessman in his own right.

And I’m with him all the way.

Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work out the way he intended. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he fell in with the wrong crowd. Perhaps his struggles to make his business succeed caused him to stretch his resources to breaking point. Perhaps he got distracted from his goal. I don’t know – and it doesn’t matter. Because that’s not the point. This isn’t a story about how you can go wrong and move away from your blessing. It’s a story that shows that all the resources that you need are right at hand. And in that sense, it’s not really a story about a lost son at all.

Our hero finally found himself starving, out on the streets and unable to find a way out. And you’d be surprised how many of my mentors have been in exactly the same place. On the streets. Bankrupt. Out of work. Stuck in failure. Because only when they get to the bottom of their own resources do they realise that there’s another way. Only then are we going to recognise what’s really real.

Our hero eventually (in the bible story, at least) found himself feeding the pigs. That’s about as low as it can get for a good Hebrew boy – feeding the animals that the Hebrews themselves won’t touch. But he’s missed something – something that he only finds when he decides to return to his father.

You see, he thinks that he’s had his chance. He thinks he’s had his shot, and he failed. All he can do is to crawl back as a failure and ask for a servant’s job. But that’s not the way his father sees it at all.

You see, the resources of the father still belong to the son. At any moment he could reach out and take hold of them. At any moment he could step back into a position of power. Guilt, shame, and embarrassment stopped him. But everything he needed was available for asking. This isn’t about the father’s forgiveness – I’m a father, and I will tell you right now it has nothing to do with forgiveness. If one of my sons screws up, forgiveness and restitution isn’t ever a question. It’s guaranteed. Not forgiving, not welcoming him back would simply not be an option for me.. simply because I’d have to stop being a father at that point. In truth, the only lesson he needs to learn is how much I love him.

We’re in the same position, you and I. No matter how badly we’ve screwed up, no matter how badly we might think we’ve got it wrong – no matter how stupid we think we may have been,  and how many bad choices we think we might have made.. all the resources we need are still available to us. We didn’t make ourselves ineligible. Because that’s impossible. We are still unlimited, powerful, incredible beings. We still have infinite creative power. We still have the resources of the universe behind us.

We still, always, have a choice whether to wallow in failure and self pity, to look continually at the disaster that has befallen us..

. or to raise our eyes to the sky, to stand up tall, to recognise our inheritance and the truth of who we are, and return to our rightful place as gifted individuals with a story to tell and a purpose to fulfill.

I’ll choose that every time.

Apr 07

An old, old story . . .


It was a dark and stormy night.

No, that’s not the way it starts.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

No, that’s not going to work.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

No.. don’t think that’s it at all.

Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.

No – that’s not it either. But closer, perhaps.

Once upon a time.

OK, that’s the best I’ve got. Let’s see how it goes. And, you know, the very best stories start ‘once upon a time’ – knowing that ‘once upon a time’ could even be now..

Once upon a time, there was a young man. Keen, impatient, ambitious – yet frustrated by being the second son in the household. Continually trying to make it in the world, he found himself always in the shadow of the older son, to whom would naturally fall the family business and the largest share of his father’s estate.

One day, unable to find another way forward, and determined to make his mark on the world, our hero asked his father for an unprecedented favour – to take his part of the estate so that he could make his way in the world – to have a chance of succeeding, and making it on his own. Although the thought of losing his son saddened his father deeply, he wanted to provide his son with every chance of success, to allow him to be his own master and live by his own rules in the world, and so he agreed, giving his blessing as his youngest child set off into the world, in search of his own destiny and hostage to no other. He travelled to a distant city, determined to make his mark without having to rely on his family connections, without having to look to his father for help – a clean start, an opportunity to find himself and to become the man hew knew he was, deep inside.

Somewhere along the way, however, his business venture failed. Dramatically. Irrevocably. He was unable to create a living for himself, and soon his lavish lifestyle left him drained of funds, down and out, and unable to sustain himself. From a high living, well respected position, he found himself destitute, abandoned, and without friends, without income, and without a family around him. His so-called friends who had fed off him and hung around his parties stopped returning his calls.

To stay alive he took the most menial and despised jobs available to him, just to feed himself. Life, for him, was at the lowest possible ebb. From a position of freedom and of success, from the high-roller lifestyle at the forefront of business, from dinners in high class restaurants and the company of beautiful women – to the depths of despair on the streets, forced to eke out a humble and menial existence.

Often his thoughts would return to his father, and his brother, living a life of comfort and of ease, wealthy and well regarded. Yet he had had his chance, and it had ended in abject failure – he had tried to create his own path, and yet he had been met with bitter failure.

One day, finally, his pride and his despair collided – unable to live like this any longer, he decided that he would ask his father if he could work as a servant in his old home – at least that way he would be able to eat, would have a comfortable place to sleep, and be able to afford clothes on his back once again.

And so, with a heavy heart and a deep, deep sense of failure, he set off looking for a chance to work for his living.

Yet as he approached his old home, his father saw him coming and rushed to greet him. Thrilled to be reunited with his son, he welcomed him back into the family, providing him with new clothes, new shoes, a hot bath, and a warm bed in his old room. So overjoyed was the old man that he restored him to his place in the family as if he had never gone away, and threw a lavish homecoming party for the young man, giving him back his rights as his son, and assuring him beyond all doubt that he was truly welcome, and that he always had a place in his home.

And all, it has to be said, ended happily ever after.

The story, of course, is the story we refer to as the prodigal son, or the lost son, from the Bible in Luke chapter 15. We usually look at it as a story of forgiveness, of love, as a story about a man who turned against his family, a man who wasted his life and yet was received back by a loving father.

And it is all of those things. And yet, it seems to me, that we have become so familiar with the story that we miss some things. And those things, I think, are actually maybe even more important.

But that’s a story for tomorrow.

(to be continued)

Apr 02

Step into a world of magic…..


Perhaps some folk take exception to my occasional use of the word ‘magic’ to describe the otherworldliness of a space where miracles are not only possible, but our birthright, where we are deeply in touch with the Earth, with the Universe, with the animal kingdom and with each other. I haven’t found a better word yet that summons up something beyond our understanding.

And of course, this is the key to the appeal of stories like the Harry Potter series: a sense that, somehow, if we could find our way to it, we are, truly, magical. That unique and mysterious abilities are possible for each and every one of us. That, rather than being at the beck and call of the physical world, that we can in some way transcend it. That we are, at our hearts, truly connected to each other in intuitive and supernatural ways. that we have powers beyond our grasp, and all we need to do is to reach out and take hold of them.

I’m pretty certain that it’s true.

Mar 31

The key to becoming more truly you – is to follow the magic….

night circus

The very best books for me contain hope, and magic, and romance – a sense of the world that lies hidden just sideways to the world in which we live. Books of the possible, that create magical, wonderful worlds that spark our imagination. One such book is “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. In some ways, I wish someone would create the circus that she has – and in other ways I fear it would never match up to the imagination in her book.

Among a host of wonderfully imagined characters is an ordinary boy, Bailey, whose encounter with the circus and with the flame haired twins Widge and Poppet leave him irrevocably changed, forever transformed by the magical and mysterious Circus.

One evening, Bailey creeps into the Circus, where he explores the tents with the twins. As dawn breaks, he finds himself returning to the farm that he hates, unsure of who he is any more – his encounter with the magical world of the Circus leaves him slightly bewildered and unsure whether the boy he is now bears any relation to the one that entered the Circus a few short hours before.

But by the time he reaches home, he is “sure that the Bailey that he is now, is closer to the Bailey he is meant to be than the Bailey he had been the day before”.

Somehow, that seems to sum up the journey through life – to seek to be closer to the truth of Who I Am than I was a day earlier – to find ways of letting go of the things that do not serve me, the things that weigh me down, the things that do not seem to come from Love. and to take hold of things that build me up, that come from a place of Love, the things that feel good, and right.

The Japanese have a principle that threads through their manufacturing industry of kaizen: the art of making continual, simple small improvements. not big breakthroughs (although those come) but simple, easy to do changes to the process that create something better.

It takes the pressure off when I know I don’t have to change overnight. I simply have to resolve to become closer to the man I am meant to be than the man I was the day before. And that feels.. enough.

Mar 19

Take time to step into your magical story


“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions.

When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

Yesterday, we stepped aside and looked at the power of the silence, of taking time out to listen, to rest, to just be at one with the universe.

Today, I’m going to take a look at the power of stories.

When we listen to a good story, we enter a magical, beautiful, wonderful world. A good story will draw us into a different space, a different time, a different perspective on the world. A good story will involve you with the characters, causing us to feel what they feel – we begin to care about them. A good story will share truth with us, unfolding a message. A good story will have echoes back to our own lives, where we see the shadows of our own hopes and dreams, struggles and triumphs shadowed there. As I explain in my series ‘Walking With Heroes’, there is really only one core story – the story of the Hero’s Journey, that deals with our awakening, our struggle, and our triumph.

I think story as told on the movie or TV screen has its place, but the true wonder of story is when it’s told or read. Because then we enter into a contract with the author, to enter her world and create our own beliefs about the characters. When we exercise our imagination, we learn to dream, we learn to create – and we reconnect to magic again – to the beating heart of the universe, to infinite possibility.

Why don’t you take time to reread some of your childhood favourites again. Return to the magic and wonder of those stories, and re-enter a world where anything is possible.

PS – if you’re interested in knowing more about the power of story, you can get a subscription to my series ‘Walking With Heroes’ for free! Just sign up at Simples!

Jan 16

Over the edge . . .

Today, it feels like story time…..

canyon bridgeI have a memory of exploring the desert near the Grand Canyon… it was late evening, and as dusk fell the shadows of the rocks loomed across my path, while the eerie stillness of the gunmetal sky was interrupted by irregular shards of lightning, and the protesting grumbles of thunder rolled across the landscape. In between the intermittent rolling bassline of the clouds’ soundtrack playing in the distance, the plains were still and silent, with only the occasional animal sound punctuating the emptiness.

As I walked, looking to see how far I could get, I came across a chasm slicing across the desert floor as far as the eye could see in either direction. Many metres below, the silver of a running river could be seen dodging from rock to rock, the boulders crested with foam as the water charged through the canyon.

Disappointed and frustrated by this interruption to my hike, I was about to turn back when i noticed a wooden post in the ground on the edge of the canyon. Maintaining a respectful distance from the sheer drop onto the rocks below, I approached the weather beaten post. Leading from the post across the canyon was a rope bridge – two ropes running out across the void with sturdy wooden planks between them, and two more slighter ropes as handholds. Every few metres cross-bracing held the handholds to the main bridge. It seemed solid enough, and the planks seemed worn by the passing feet of hikers and locals before me. And yet I have never been fond of heights, and the growing darkness added a further menace to the scene, the ominous growls from the lightning storm in the distance sounding like angry warnings should a mere mortal attempt to cross.

I had come too far to simply give in and turn back, and surrender has never been my preferred option, so with my heart in my throat I set out across the gap. At first the bridge felt solid under my feet, and yet as I inched forward, it began to sway alarmingly, the planks of wood beneath my feet increasingly swinging from side to side. I had seen the old westerns where one hurried footstep splintered through the planks, sending debris crashing to the canyon floor below, and these images played out in my mind as I attempted to rally my courage and forget my fears. All suggestions of ‘don’t look down’ were gone, my eyes alternately riveted by the river swirling below, threatening to reach up and pull me down, and the promise of the other side of the bridge, so many metres distant.

So many times the promise of a return to safety called to me – going back where I knew I could be safe, a place where the solid rock I had so recently left almost felt tangible under my feet. And yet the promise of a different world the other side of the emptiness still called – the opportunity to discover something new, to find myself in a new place with new explorations and adventures to be had.

It seemed that I made progress handhold by handhold, inching slowly across and keeping my eyes fixed on the end of the bridge, only occasionally being tempted to look down – or to look back. I could always go back to safety….there’s no shame in giving up….what if you find yourself in a dead end….it seemed as if the bridge would never end, as if the gap was stretching and expanding, getting further away…

Yet slowly the wild swaying of the bridge subsided, and almost without realising it I found my feet touching rock once more. I had passed the test and made it to the next step of my journey. My trembling legs would hold me no more as I collapsed onto the nearest boulder, uncorked the small flask I always carried, and steadied my nerves. There would be more exploring in the morning, but for now… I could rest in safety. The sky split open as a bolt of lightning shredded the horizon, and the following thunder reverberated like the applause of a thousand angels.

Perhaps now.. it’s time for a rest.

It’s not so different when we set out to do something new, is it? We don’t really have a map for the journey, because we are pioneering – going somewhere no-one has been before. Even when we are following in the footsteps of others, it’s still going to be different as we carve our own path into the unknown. We can prepare, we can consider the possibilities, we can plan, we can get advice.. and yet there comes a moment when we have to take a step of faith – to step beyond our safety and into the raw chilling unknown.

There’s always the temptation to go back – to run to safety, where those who called us foolish for setting out in the first place are waiting, willing us to fail. The further we go into the unknown, the more our fears cry out to us, and the draughtier and scarier, the more ‘on the edge’ we find ourselves.

Yet if we push past those fears, we find them slowly subsiding. One by one, moment by moment, we find ourselves becoming one with the very things that scared us at first. What we feared becomes a place of safety, until we can catch a breath and gulp down the fresh air of calm tranquillity again.

I cannot prove it, but I suspect that if you’re reading this, then somewhere that resonates with you… that there is an exploration to be made, a risk to be taken, a chasm to be crossed. In our relationships. In our careers. In our personal lives. Our dreams lie just beyond the point we can see – just over the horizon. Listen to the encouragement of those who have dared to pioneer in their own lives… and step beyond where you feel safe. The bridge will take your weight. Your nerves will hold out. Your dreams are real. As John Updike observed:

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”

It doesn’t take much to step into the unknown – but until you do, you will never know the power of what is possible. For you.


Jan 10

Listen to your story

dr who storyStory is incredibly important in our lives. They create a magical world of possibility and of truth, of wisdom and of dreams. We listen to our parents and our teachers tell us stories and thrill to the scenes that open up for us – moments where anything is possible, where our dreams are real, where there are real heroes and knights, fairies and wizards, where we can believe in a talking cat or a fire breathing dragon.

Stories are a way that wisdom is communicated from generation to generation – whether those are the children’s stories that we learn tucked up in bed, or the tales that are woven from cinema and TV screens.

But stories are more than that, too. Stories resonate deep inside us. The success of the Harry Potter books was down to a deep understanding that magic should be real, that we can do amazing things, that even the most ordinary amongst us is capable of something extraordinary – and, of course, there’s no such thing as an ordinary person!

900 years

You’ll have to excuse the Doctor Who quotes, by the way… Doctor Who was a huge part of my world when i was growing up. It seemed that anything was possible, and that here was someone that could control time and space…. and that caught echoes inside me, and I folded that away with the other stories that spoke to me.

For each of us there are stories and mythologies that speak to us, particularly when we’re younger. Stories of magic, stories of heroes, stories of explorers and of kings and rulers, of wizards and wise men. Those stories hold keys to who we are – particularly the stories we loved as children, because when we’re young we haven’t been told what the world must be like – we’re more in touch with our intrinsic purpose, our reason for being here. Think back to those stories, if you will… you will find a true connection to what your heart longs for.

And don’t discount the stories that you hear now you’re all grown up.. those stories still find a way to speak to you deep in the core of your being. For sure, they may be saccharine coated or even hidden in darker tales, but the secrets are still there.

Take some time and consider the stories you’ve loved – you won’t have to think hard – and listen for the message inside. And maybe take a moment to reconnect to the magic that was oh so real when you were younger… because perhaps that magic is more real than you think….and maybe anything is possible.


PS if you’re interested in learning more about the power of myth and story and understanding how heroic archetypes play out in your life even today, then subscribe to my series ‘Pathway to Power’ HERE – you’ll get a subscription to my ‘Walking With Heroes’ program which goes into the power of myth and the Hero’s Journey in an inspiring 3 month series!