In The strange life of Ivan Osokin written by P. D. Ouspensky, the hero is given a chance to find out the answer to a question many ask: “If a man had his life to live over again, knowing what he knows now, would he make the same mistakes?” The story opens at the Kursk station in Moscow on a bright April day in 1902. Osokin, a young man of 26, is seeing Zinaida and her mother off to the Crimea. Zinaida is piqued with Ivan because he will not go with her, but he is too poor to go and too stiff to tell her the reason. The train leaves; Ivan is left alone; he feels for a moment as if the event had happened before. In the next two months he gets three letters from Zinaida; then she stops writing. Soon he hears that she is going to be married.
Ivan goes to a magician, tells him bitterly of all the chances he has thrown away in his life. If he had only known beforehand the outcome of his actions, he says, he would not be such a failure. The magician laughs and tells him that nothing would be changed. Then, to Ivan’s amazement, he offers to prove it by sending him back twelve years. He may relive his life, and may even remember at every stage—if he wants to—what the consequences will be. Ivan gets to relive his adolescence and school years again. He makes the same choices as before. By the time he again meets Zinaida he has forgotten that he ever met her. The story repeats itself down to the last detail—until, once again, he finds himself visiting the magician. But when he reaches the point of asking the magician to send him back, he suddenly remembers everything.
“But this is simply turning round on a wheel!” says Osokin. “It is a trap!”
The old man smiles.
“My dear friend,” he says, “this trap is called life. . . . You must realize that you yourself can change nothing and that you must seek help. . . . And to live with this realization means to sacrifice something big for it. … A man can be given only what he can use; and he can use only that for which he has sacrificed something. . . . This is the law of human nature.”
Ouspensky attributes what happens to “the force of destiny”. This is exactly what Eric Berne calls “a life script” and storyteller David Austin Sky calls “an unheard story”. Same concept, different time-frame. The wheel is still a wheel. Our life is filled with stories we learned as children from our parents. They play out over and over again during the course of our lives, and we can’t change the story, even when we know how it ends.
Unless, you get a little help from my furry friend.
Meet the rabbit
Last week, I was at a conference called “Hearing the unheard story” by David Austin Sky. He’s amazing. I highly recommend him www.davesky.com. According to David, we tell the story before we hear it. We talk in layers, in metaphors. Most of the time, people hear the told story and fail to hear the unheard one that lies dormant underneath.
See the thing is, well the Thing is never the Thing! We tell stories about our lives in a safe time frame. If our present is painful we go to safe childhood memories to tell our story. And the other way around. But the story is just the same. All our stories have the same theme. We often don’t know what story we’re really telling. Until we know. As an experiment, I started looking at stories I have been telling all long not really knowing why. Here’s a story everyone who knows me has heard at least once.
“When I was a kid my family had a rabbit. I must have been little because I don’t remember much. Maybe 6 or 7. I don’t remember his name. In fact I don’t know if he had a name. But I remember him vividly. He was all white. Soft as silk and white as snow. He was fluffy and beautiful. He had ruby red eyes. My brother must have been 11 or 12. He took care of him. He loved that thing. This was communist Albania. My family was poor. My parents were simple working class folk with no money, struggling to feed their family. It was January 11th. Some holiday. Can’t remember. My parents had invited people for dinner and had decided the rabbit would be the meal. My brother cried and fussed with desperate objection to no avail. He loved that thing. But they killed it anyway. And ate him. My brother was depressed for days. He couldn’t eat anything. He mourned the little rabbit like it was his best friend. And we ate him for dinner. But I didn’t eat any. I didn’t. I didn’t eat any.”
I have no anxiety, sadness or guilt when I tell this story. In fact, I laugh when people, shocked, call my family rabbit killers. I think it’s funny. “It’s life” I say “Plus, I didn’t eat any”. Over the past couple of days I have been playing this story in my head trying to figure out what it means. The truth is my memory of it is hazy at best. I don’t even remember whether I ate it or not. I may very well have. But the point is I’m not going to find the secret in my childhood. That’s a safe time frame, believe it or not. The unheard story that’s being secretly told here is about my life now, as an adult. And it has something to do with my brother’s and I relationship now. In fact, it has something to do with EVERY single significant relationship of my adulthood. “Really? A rabbit???!!”
See the rabbit is not the rabbit. As much as the past ten years of my life have felt somewhat like a rabbit whole. The Thing is not the Thing. The key is in the title. The secret is in the theme. And the theme is the same no matter what the story.
Here it is “When powerless, be cruel”.
What this means for you.
Write down your story. Share it with someone you love. See if they can hear what you’re not saying. See if they can guess your theme. Ask them to title it. And if you’re trapped in the wheel of a story you didn’t chose, you can break out of it with a little bit of help and whole lot of insight.
What story will you tell your children then?