The Power of Unfinished Stories


“The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens (‘wise man’). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.”

― Terry Pratchett, The Globe

We’re here for our unfinished stories. I’ve written a few, lived many, and retold dozens of them as a history guide. We inhale stories from the news, family, and friends. We watch them on screens. We hallucinate them when we read books.

Some stories we live over and over, finding ourselves cycling in a pattern we don’t know how to break. The movie Groundhog Day remains a long-time favorite of mine for several reasons, not least because Bill Murray’s character submits to the time loop and decides to give it meaning. He finds all the tweaks he can make to the day and masters it, finally. Many have pointed out that the movie pays homage to the idea of rebirth. I don’t agree entirely, as Phil Connors (Murray’s character) retains the memory of every iteration of the fated day. 

Many of us don’t recall our past lives. Many don’t even agree we may have them.

But if one does, then maybe we can find clues in the stories that we find ourselves drawn to. The ones that repeatedly “hook” us may well hold themes that we feel compelled to live, and possibly finish. 

The Buried Backstory

In the beginning of 2019, I indulged in my most secret and shameful of guilty pleasures: Fanfiction. (Get your pearls! Clutch them now!) I didn’t just read the stuff, I’ve written some of the OTP hetfic variety, for fandoms and sites and under pseudonyms I shall conceal till my dying day.

In any case, I didn’t get to post the fic when my laptop died later the same year, after a perfect storm of no-Internet, hard-drive backup issues, and unwisely saving all that year’s text documents to SSD. I never recovered the serial I was working on. 

But to sum it up, I created an OC (“original character” for n00bs out there) to pop up and give a certain fandom’s single male character esoteric lessons on relationships, sex, and kundalini. Because it was all as fictional as it could get, I didn’t have to offer sources, citations, or even prior research. The stuff actually made sense even when some of the information was new to me―if it was channeling, it was both fun and illuminating. The writing flowed effortlessly until my Psychology courses started, and then I got busy writing assignments.

Then the half-finished story started happening. I had real encounters that enacted, without planning, the scenarios I had written, with myself experiencing or explaining the same things that my OC covered. These actualisations surprised me, but there were disappointments too, as the co-actors of these experiences came and went. 

By the end of July, I was both amused and tired. In a fit of petulance, coming out of dengue fever, I made demands of the Universe in my journal. And Universe obliged. Amid the episodes and epiphanies that followed, I thought often about the power of writers and artists. About the stories they feel compelled to create. About the catharsis that creating offers, and that is offered again to readers as they laugh and cry for the same stories and characters.

These were not new thoughts, but the experience of living my own writing was new for me: I was the OC. It suddenly made the act of creating story very powerful, profound, and scary. 

I thought back to the different types of stories in which I had found refuge in my life. Many were stories that I no longer resonate with, and I think there are enough for a list:

  • Stories of outcasts, unappreciated geniuses, and assholes
  • Female characters who were “special” only by internalising misogyny
  • Female characters who were “special” because the other female characters were caricatures
  • Female characters stoically tolerating abuse from elders or in-laws. (Lived it, done.)

When I was growing up, the stories I knew with female characters―fictional and real ones overheard from adult conversations―mostly carried themselves as accessories for men and treated other women as competition. To outgrow these stories is a blessing. In the last few years, the Netflix She-Ra reboot is one example of how far storytelling for young girls has come, celebrating agency, diversity, healthy boundaries, and collaboration. It’s amazing.

watercolors by Janet Chui

Entities, Story Fragments, and Past Lives

Between 2009 to 2019, my night-time dreams got psychic and supernatural. The “woo” side of life got so intrusive that I put it all on a separate blog so I could talk about ghosts, astral travel, clairvoyance, dreamwalking, and esoterica without self-censorship, because I thought my interests were confusing enough already.

At one point, I got dreams once a month of situations with different entities. Nothing like horror movie ghosts with the suspense and cat-and-mouse games; these beings were always upfront but clearly not human (or alive), and they were usually angry, needy, or wily. In many of these dreams, both of us seemed to know that I was lucid-dreaming or in the astral, and if I became afraid, then the game was “over”. 

Not all these entities wanted my fear; some just wanted to communicate. I’d receive their stories, and in return, they wanted peace. It was work not unlike the sharing of stories I’d done on WWII history tours. The point of the retellings was always to educate and to avoid the repetition of certain mistakes.

Many of these night-time adventures happened even before I started attending classes on mediumship, energy-healing, channeling, and metaphysics. The day-time classes complemented the night ones. Luckily for me, all my teachers were huge on conveying the responsibilities and ethics of working with spiritual tools.

One controversial New Age practice is the perceiving and removal of entity attachments. It’s not unusual for new-agers to tell one another, or the plebians/muggles “oh you’re so negative/dark/drained because you’ve got an entity attached to you”. I dislike this because I’ve seen too many healers make their “patient” more dependent and fearful with such pronouncements. 

Instead, whether I may be hearing about past lives, “entities” or patterns in which people find themselves stuck, I prefer to see these influences as unfinished stories. 

One of my teachers in fact taught that entity removal was always incomplete until you also healed the attached entity. Part of the work of healing the entity was learning its story. Her methods of getting the story were painstaking. I tend towards more intuitive and chaotic methods, relying instead on tuning into emotional and sympathetic resonance when I’m working.

Whatever pain, wound, or story bubbles up when I am connecting to another, that is the hurt to be healed in both the “entity” and the “patient”―sometimes myself. It is the story fragment with no happy ending. It is the piece of soul that was lost. It is the unfinished story that seeks resolution. 

The gift or wound (often it’s both) asks either to be taken up by another, or laid to rest.

Energy healing has always been about more than “just energy” for me. It’s why I personally dislike the label of “healer”―I prefer to deal with information. All energy carries it. Humans make sense of it with symbols and story. I try to find the story that makes sense and that works to close an emotional or spiritual wound. 

So storytelling has the power to heal. In Counseling Psychology, I’ve found this method near everywhere; in narrative therapy, Gestalt therapy, psychodrama, and cognitive reframing, to name a few. There are so many ways for stories to facilitate healing and integration.

The Dark Side of Story

Gaslighting

I learned about gaslighting by hard experience. It was with a group of enablers around an overt narcissist, to be referred from this point as Ona. In preparation for my first meeting with Ona, I was coached to always agree and thank her for everything. What I learned was that she needed truckloads of fawning. We got on well if I was doing it as loudly, publicly, and often as possible. Later, among close family, it was not uncommon for Ona to “misremember” earlier events and say that I did not thank her at all (even when I did so consciously and repeatedly). Anyone who contradicted her version of events earned her ire.

It was an epiphany to read the definition of “gaslighting” years later. Gaslighting is the overriding and rewriting another person’s view of events, especially to downplay the other person’s sanity/objectivity and make oneself the hero. It’s a common behavior of narcissists to buffer their ego and protect themselves from discomfort. It’s also become common for narcissists to accuse others of gaslighting before they are accused themselves.

Victims of narcissistic abuse sometimes find it hard to come out because they’re second guessing themselves all the time. They worry that they’re the gaslighters or narcissists. 

Gaslighting, gossip, and slander exist for me as the abusive side of storytelling. 

The victimhood story

We resonate with certain stories over our lifetime, sometimes to our detriment. As mentioned, I used to resonate with stories of outcast/unappreciated geniuses, and I can see this now as both a phase of self-centeredness and result of early experiences. 

One story that can harm, when relied upon for too long, is the victimhood story―it’s a seductive one that removes the responsibility for our own choices when we stay in (or choose to stay in) deleterious situations. 

It says:

  • I’m cursed or being punished
  • I’m hated/ignored because I am different
  • Nothing is within my control
  • I’m here just to suffer or pay back karma
  • I’m here at other people’s mercy or for their gratification

All these are false beliefs that can be fed by stories, whether they’re created by self or others. They can further be strengthened by stories we consume. 

Victim stories need to be handled carefully, especially with rape, trauma, and child abuse survivors―PTSD is real and includes lasting self-harming beliefs, patterns and behaviors “wired” into the physical body. To add, the severe imbalance of political and financial power in the world perpetuates the bullying of minorities, the poor, and disenfranchised, and I believe these stories need to be heard.

So I make a distinction between the imagined victimhood of a narcissist or someone feeling low, and those stories of people who experienced childhood abuse and/or live on the down side of systemic inequality. “Stop telling the victim story” is unhelpful advice for disadvantaged groups and trauma survivors, especially those whose abuse included gaslighting, enmeshment, silencing, or neglect.

It’s my hope that “love and light” proponents can be more sensitive to this. 

The obsession with past lives

I get it. I went through this phase too. I paid people to tell me what lives I had lived before. I did these with three different people, each using their own methods. Being curious about our past lives seems to be an unavoidable part of exploring spirituality.

Some people call such services fraudulent, but I believe that these services have their place. In each of my sessions, I received stories that resonated strongly even as I retained my skepticism. The stories described struggles that I was already having. Being told “my” story by someone else, whether they were reading my energy or Akashic records (all the same to me), the effect was affirming and cathartic, especially if the reader was skilled enough to provide a means of closing the story―using imagination, or ritual words to release the lingering effects.

I gradually recognised that these stories had common features that engaged my emotions, especially the enduring ones that just wanted acknowledgment:

It’s painful to feel like one is different and unsafe because of that.
It’s painful to feel like one isn’t seen or appreciated for who they are.
It’s painful to not receive recognition of one’s abilities.
It’s painful to doubt oneself.
It’s painful to feel wronged.

I suspect that a person can find whatever they want or need to find in a past-life reading. But it’s the work of resolution after that really counts, not the self-massaging and aggrandizing details of whichever monarch you once were. If we’re too obsessed with the past, we may miss out on understanding what we really need now

(And before I piss everyone off and forget my own abilities, I should mention: Evolutionary Astrology is great for past-life detective work and figuring out what we need to finish in this one.)

ink drawing

(An old ink drawing done in my last days as an undergraduate.)

The voiding of story (or, the story of no-story)

Another phase I went through was with Tibetan Buddhism. With the concept of dependent arising (that our stories are basically products of ego and sensory input), I tried in Vipassana meditation to toss out all the stories I’d lived. I found it didn’t work for for me (and won’t for everyone): pain and story resumed upon re-engaging with real life. 

Jeff Brown is an author who has pointed out that denial of material experience can be part of spiritual bypassing. I find it hard to disagree. Whatever we get in meditation, it needs to be applicable to living this life. Mindfulnesss did help to add to my awareness about what stories I was creating.

The Power of Endings

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

John Lennon / Fernando Sabino

Writers consciously have stories not yet written, or waiting to be finished. The rest of us do too, and will create, consume, enact or re-enact the stories that engage us―consciously or unconsciously.

I believe we carry these stories―both lived and unlived, past and potential―within us, some of them literally in our bodies and DNA. Our emotional reactions to certain stories, and how deeply or how long these emotional hooks stick in us, can tell us which ones we have yet to heal and resolve.

If I could add my tiny nuance to the Law of Attraction, it’s this: It’s not just our energy that determines who and what we attract into our lives, it’s that our energy attracts co-actors and scenes that a deep part of us desires to play through. Whether this part wishes to heal or hurt ourselves may well be decided by our self-love and self-worth.

Linear time, and the short and long cycles that astrologers study, facilitate this growth process in ways that put me in awe. Planetary transits and anniversaries remembered and felt by our cells seem to open doors of opportunity for understanding, healing, and releasing. 

We choose which doors to move through.

(The above is an excerpt from a work-in-progress. Please make sure you’re signed up for the mailing list for news.)

Title graphic: Michelangelo’s sketch for the Libyan Sibyl in the Sistine Chapel

About Janet

Janet is the artist and creator behind the Self-Love Oracle. Drawing fantastical subjects since childhood and holding a B.A. in Journalism, she's worked in tourism and publishing, and is currently studying Counseling Psychology. After her experiences with motherhood, divorce, Tibetan Buddhism, healing, and the supernatural, she pushes others to heal through self-exploration and self-expression. She can be booked for her readings here.

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