Narcissus, “Reality TV, and the Power of a Compelling Narrative in the Year 2020 – NY JCF Roundtable Event

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Unstorying as a Tool to Creating Closer, Happier, and more Healthy School Community

IMG_5194In a school environment, a place where the education of the child is paramount, it is the attitudes and self-​awareness of​ the teachers, administration, and parents that can often alter the atmosphere immeasurably, and allow real learning to take place. Learning does not consist solely of academic subjects, the arts, technical skills, and sports, but encompasses skills and ideas that can change an entire experience of a life down to its very core. Any school whose mission endeavors to be a “community of kindness” has its heart in the right place, but since a school community ​is made up of human beings, and human beings are complicated, sometimes minds can get stuck in stories of unkindness toward each other, without even being aware of the disconnection.

Building a healthy social-emotional school community involves several components: Identifying dysfunctional patterns, fostering strong interpersonal dynamics, clear communication skills and strategies, a conflict resolution plan, honesty, a focus on compassion and empathy, and a willingness to create a stronger school community for students, parents, faculty, and administration. By understanding the patterns of how and why we interact, with an emphasis on empathy and the stories we believe about ourselves, and each other, an authentic community of kindness can be realized.

Unstorying is a process in which a person, or a group, can first see these stories as constructed, and then, if willing, choose to see alternate stories, or eventually, be comfortable with no story at all; to endeavor to understand how and why the mind constructs these stories in the first place, and the vice-like grip it has on what we believe to be truth. The mind’s narrative is created through an initial experience, consisting of incoming sensory experiences, which in turn are interpreted through past thoughts and experiences – judgments, wounds, lessons learned – and then filtered through reactive thoughts, which consists of more interpretation, and then retold in a manner that best expresses the point you are trying to make to effect a response in the “other” on the listening end. If enough thoughts gel together closely enough, they create a construct – a matrix of identifications that form into the concept of a person and their personality, personal history, and interpersonal relationships. The thoughts create the reality, and the reality becomes the narrative that you live by. People see the world vastly differently from one another. And while the physical world may, for the most part, be seen to be the same, each person’s interpretations and derived meanings of objects and experiences vary greatly. This is where the concept of projection comes in. According to Anais Nin, “We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.”[1] The particular wounds we carry in our own personal storylines inform the outward interpretation of the world around us, and these interpretive images consist of archetypal symbols and metaphors. Our identity, both internally and externally is guided by these images, and those same images projected outwards become our interpretations of others. According to C.G. Jung, “The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it, there is now only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”[2] In other words, we experience others through this lens of our own story, whether we are aware of it or not. This circuit of reflections has no end, as our interactions with each other are experienced through this illusory view of the world, and therefore are indelibly linked to each other’s interpretive view of reality.[3]

10632705_10152201280396572_6700355269911426280_nUnstorying contains​ these very simple, but very challenging ideas: When a reactive response occurs, and a judgment is made about someone or something, look to see whether it is absolutely true. Look to see why we might see it that way, and if what we are seeing is an interpretive assessment or an objective assessment. There are actually, surprisingly, very few objective assessments, much fewer than most of us would wish to imagine. If my opinion of myself or of another, or a situation, is a reactive judgment, then how do I know I am seeing them, or me, clearly? The second integral component is compassion. This compassion is not “niceness.” It emanates out of knowing that everyone is only operating out of his or her own stories, for the most part, completely unaware of this.

​So how does this apply to a school community? Often, one group at a school will have an expectation of another group, such as parents towards teachers or administrators, or teachers towards administrators or parents, and so forth.​ When something occurs at a school, often there is an immediate reaction to how something “should have been done” or that someone “did something wrong.” This is often when an expectation of an action or behavior does not meet the expected  response. Considering that our children are not only an important part of us, but we are tied in to them emotionally as well, everything becomes much more personal. When it feels that someone is not hearing us or that they are acting unfair, we react to that underlying story.

Many times, all it takes is a moment to ask why someone did something a certain way or made a particular decision. If one could step outside their judgment story, they might find that the decision made, or action taken, made sense and was a good call after all. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, they jump to a story about why that person did that and assign malevolent or ignorant motivations when the truth may be much more innocent and benevolent. Ultimately, it once again boils down to stories.

What we believe about each other in our school community​, or how we react to each other and others​ to us, affects the students’ school experience. What if everyone just assumed that we were all in this together? What if there were no us vs. them? That would be the epitome of a healthy school community. This is fairly common in any community, and that goes doubly so for educational communities.

​What is important to ask ourselves is are we willing to step outside of our stories about each other and focus instead on what is most important – the education and well-being of our students and children.​ By being willing to look at how we carry around our stories of people and situations, we can more clearly and authentically interact with each other, and this, in turn, allows for more compassion and empathy in the school environment between all parties involved. So the next time a situation arises that brings about a strong emotional reaction, try to see what is the underlying story. Are you feeling like you bare not getting what you need, that you are not being heard, or that someone doesn’t care? If so, it may be that the current situation only appears that way because of the initial emotional reaction. Take the time to really find out, without the emotional charge, what has occurred, and then respond rather than react to whatever arises. This ability to respond clearly and productively can make the difference between a good decision and a poor decision, as well as perpetuate a constructed story of what you “thought” happened, rather than what was actually occurring. This process creates an authentic interaction, one in which compassion, empathy, and respect play a role. What a wonderful way to model healthy behavior and relationships with our children. What a wonderful way to interact in our daily lives. This is what enables a community of kindness to flourish, and in whatever community you may find yourself. Unstorying is not the absence of all story; it is the awareness that there is a story guiding how we are interpreting our world around us, and the willingness to have the vigilance to clearly see the stories we are living.

For more information, please contact Dr. Miller at millernk@yahoo.com


[1] This quote has been attributed to Anais Nin, Seduction of the Minotaur, 124, although it has also been attributed to the Talmud.

[2] C.G. Jung, “The Shadow,” CW 9ii, para 17.

[3] Miller, Nicole. “Life is But a Story: A Depth Psychological, Religious, Philosophical, and Pop Cultural Perspective on Reality.” Not Ever Absent: Storytelling in Arts, Culture, and Identity Formation. Inter-disciplinary Press. 2013.


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Feeling Whole, Feeling Peace

Nicole Kavner Miller, PhD

What would it feel like to feel complete within yourself? Is there something that has been holding you back? A fear? An old wound?

What if…you were able to dive into that fear, down into the belly of that whale, and then re-emerge again safe, whole, and healed?

Think it’s not possible?
Think that nothing ever changes?
Well, then it’s your thoughts that are the real problem…

In the silence between the thoughts, anything becomes possible. Take the chance…Try sitting in silence for 5 minutes today and see what happens.

If thoughts intrude, don’t be discouraged! That’s what brains do. They create thoughts. Good news! You’re human! Simply acknowledge that your brain has a thought and return your attention to the silence in between.

Even if you are only able to do this for seconds at a time, it is still a few seconds of peace. Peace from thoughts of…

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To live authentically…

Authentic life photo

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New Drawing Book Just Published

The very talented Bruce Waldman has just written a book called Drawing for Everyone. A brilliant and respected illustrator, and yes, my wonderful cousin! 🙂

Bruce Waldman

Cover for my new book, Drawing for Everyone by Bruce Waldman. Cover for my new book, Drawing for Everyone by Bruce Waldman.

I wrote and illustrated this 160-page, how-to-draw book for Peter Pauper Press (pictured above). Drawing for Everyone is not only a step by step learning guide, but it also has tons of my best artwork printed in full color.

It took almost a year to complete, and was the most difficult undertaking that I had ever had in my professional career. Peter Pauper Press did a fabulous job designing and printing the book, and I must admit that I am quite proud of it.

Click on the images below to see the cover and two double-spreads from inside the book. It is already available to order on the internet, and will be out in the book stores in mid-July. I know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing that one dreams about doing and think can never happen. I…

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Last month, I felt a pull to visit my grandparents’ graves. Not one to believe that the soul/spirit remains in one static place after death, nevertheless, I found myself driving, alone, to sit and pay my respects to them on what would be their wedding anniversary. It reminded me of this blog piece I’d written for another website last year. For those who haven’t seen it…it follows here…

grandma-and-nikkiMy grandmother was always the one who seemed to know what to do. She was always the logical one. She loved me endlessly, unconditionally, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t tell me that I was wrong if she disagreed with me. I lived in her home from four years old to eleven years old and considered her my second mother, and spent my childhood listening to my grandparents and their friends having big raucous parties filled with serious discussion and heated political debate, challenging games of scrabble, Cab Calloway songs, and lots of love.

In February of 1994, one month after the Northridge Earthquake shook me to my core, my grandmother was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. She didn’t smoke, and no one could tell her why this had happened to her. She had battled asthma all her life and had recently overcome a bad fall and injury to her hip, and a bout of Lyme Disease. She was always pretty resilient.

But Cancer was different.

By October of that year, I had moved to New York to be closer to her. The months I spent with her before her death were moving and horrible, loving and transformational. We talked about beliefs and life after death. I believed in it, she did not. Though despite this, she was not afraid.

She passed away on Valentine’s Day 1995, one year after her diagnosis. A day devoted to love was forever indelibly linked to a beloved grandmother’s death. This was the first time that I had ever lost someone I was close to. I can remember her funeral. Sitting in the memorial service, the rain was pouring down, streaming down the windows as if the world was crying for her. I was still in disbelief that she was gone.

Later that day, back at the house, the family gathered for food and reminiscing. But mostly, there was chatter. Lots of chatter. The chatter of people who were connected by blood, but hadn’t seen each other in years. I felt confused. How could these people who loved her be chattering about their own lives right now? What was all this meaningless chatter. I couldn’t take it. I was overwhelmed with grief. I ran upstairs to a bedroom and crawled beneath the collected coats and scarves amassed on the bed. Curled up and silent, I wished for the release of sleep.

For the next three nights in a row, I dreamed of my grandmother. In each dream, it was the same. We were sitting in her kitchen, as I spent many, many years of my childhood and adult life doing. She told me to look after my grandfather. After the third night, she was gone. That is…until one night, a couple of years later, when I was going to bed and I said a small prayer. I told my grandmother that I missed her and that I loved her and I heard, as clear as day, a voice that sounded like it was heard over a transistor radio, “I love you too.” I started for a moment and asked the voice if she had spoken to anyone else. My mother, a cousin… but there was no answer.

I then asked, “Are you happy? Are you OK?” In the next moment, I felt glowing warmth over my entire body, as if I were lying on a beach in the warm summer sun. In that moment, I knew she was okay. I felt relieved. I felt love.

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Without the Sky, there can be no Fireworks

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Understanding Nonduality Via The Superman Concept of Reality

Just wanted to share this wonderful mythic example of nonduality with my blogsters!

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Welcome to Spring!

PersephoneA time for rebirth, creating oneself anew, and the beginnings of the creative force of spring!

The Greek story of Demeter and Persephone celebrates the springtime. Persephone, who had been spirited away beneath the earth by her uncle, (they did that in those days…) Hades, to become the Queen of the Dead, returns in the s11232155_demeter-ve-persephone-kore-mtolojk-hkayeler---xfisiltixpring to reunite with her mother, Demeter, the Goddess of Fertility and Harvest. This return to the light and the world of the living, mirrors the return of longer and (hopefully) warmer days. That which had been dead is now reborn, along with tulips, daffodils, and Cadbury chocolate eggs!

What will you do now that you are entering this time of renewal and emergence into the sun? Is it time to write that book you’ve always had burning inside you? Is it time to learn more about who you really are? Or, is it just time to sit on your deck, porch, or lanai and let the sun gently caress your face, enjoying the sound of the birds chirping and lawnmowers beginning their springtime rituals…

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You Are Perfect Just As You Are!

The words below from the film Hugo speak to the importance and interconnectedness of everyone and everything…You exist exactly as you should and your life will unfold perfectly. (That doesn’t mean you will get everything you want, but the story of your life is always an intricate masterpiece of sheer perfection!)

00000074 “I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.”

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