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Mindful Narration.

For several years I had a blog in which I would write about daily events, typically things occurring in my life at work. After doing this for a short period I would often find myself narrating in my head throughout the day in preparation for the caffeine-fueled writing I would engage in upon my arrival home. I would write in first person, sometimes second person, often interchangeably. I never consciously noticed how I shifted in point of view or tense in the midst of writing, only in retrospect, though I did notice that it seemed to correspond to how absorbed I was in the events I that I was writing about at the time.

Lately I have been exploring mindfulness and taking up a daily meditation routine. It seems fairly clear that the way we talk to ourselves dictates our internal and external experience. Our lives are in a deep sense narratives we tell ourselves. Our personalities are but roles we play in the narrative we have entranced ourselves into believing we are living. So the question is: how can I be a better narrator? How can I take control of my story?

English class flashback:

A narrator is the voice through which a story is conveyed. It is characterized by point of view and tense. By tense we merely mean when we are in the narrative: is it the past, present, future? Or perhaps past perfect, present perfect? Point of view, on the other hand, is a bit more complex.

Our use of point of view refers to the pronouns we use. First person uses pronouns such as I, me, mine, myself, we us, our. It is spoken as if the narrator were telling the reader his or her own story. It forces the reader into identification with the thoughts, feelings, and personal perspective of the narrator. It often feels as though the narrator is reporting details of the narrative he is a participant in, and is in some sense central to, to the reader.

Second person makes use of pronouns such as you, your, yourself. It is spoken as if the narrator were telling the reader the reader’s own story, and this is felt as even more oppressive. The narrator is essentially projecting on the reader and forcing him to embody the projection.

Third person uses pronouns such as he and she, his or hers, they or them. It is spoken as if the narrator were telling you someone else’s story. There are four different variations on third person, however, and they each make a good deal of difference: omniscient, objective, subjective and limited.

A third person omniscient narrator is essentially the all-knowing, all-seeing god of the narrative. If a narrator is third person objective, he tells the narrative as if from the outside looking in. He has the omniscience in the style of strict clairvoyance; that is, he can provide limitless sensory data regarding the characters but can provide no direct insight into their thoughts and feelings, only as they are expressed through body language, facial expressions and dialogue. Third person subjective allows the reverse; it is the style of the telepathic. The narrator can go “head-hopping” from character to character, providing insight into their thoughts and feelings but limiting the narrative to the perspectives they jointly provide, telling the story through multiple lenses.

Last but not least, there is third person limited. It is similar to first person in that it provides subjective insight into one, lone character, but it is as if the narrator is hovering above, looking inside and then through the subjective lens of a single character.

When it comes to self-talk, we are ultimately both narrator and reader, and so our point of view and tense reflects how we relate to ourself and the world around us.

The most optimal state of consciousness would appear to be mindfulness. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally”. Given that, how would a mindful narrator narrate to himself? In translation into the shared, cultural language, a mindful narrator would seem to speak in third person limited, present tense. Though it might be implied, emphasis should be placed on the impartial nature of this narrator — observing, aware, and non-judgmental towards the character, the character’s world and interaction with other characters, adhering to a strict code of noninterference.

In the impartial, present tense, third person limited perspective, the nonjudgmental narrator exists outside the narrative, distant from the events and characters therein. Despite this fundamental separation, the information accessible to the narrator is restricted to the present experience of a specific character in the narrative. That character serves as the ego for the detached, witnessing, observing narrator.

Compared to first person, second person and other forms of third person, this form comes across less like a personal or objective report to the reader and more like feedback on a personal experience as it unfolds. In other words, despite the distance, this variation on third person serves as the optimal medium for inspiring empathy and compassion in the reader for the character, creating a deeper sense of intimacy than even the first person perspective could provide.

If writing about my day in a blog or diary stimulates (or merely brings to consciousness) the narrative voice
throughout the day, then perhaps writing in impartial third person limited present tense might be a means of self-programming. It may be a way of cultivating an inner voice conductive to mindfulness.

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5 responses to “Mindful Narration.

  1. Intriguing. I like your approach and logic. It seems this exercise would work. Looking forward to your updates, if you’re going in that direction.

    • binjimin

      Thanky. I’m going to try writing a few journal entries in third person limited, present tense, and see how it works out. I may post them here if they’re not too horrible. Undoubtedly I’ll write about it either way. It seems a worthy experiment!

  2. I like this idea. Aaron is trying this method now while sitting at his computer. He asks, “who is this talking to me in my head?” The voice goes silent…then whispers, “it’s me.” hmmm. I’m not convinced about 3rd person promoting mindfulness mainly because of the fundamental separation I run into. I think I’ll stick with talking to myself in the 1st person for now, which is rooted in fundamental unity. I’ll keep my mind open, though. I would love to see your experience with the 3rd person narrative, maybe that will help me get it. I like the way you are playing around with this idea, there is a lot to learn here. -Aaron

    • binjimin

      It seems to me that writing in first person as you do promotes a sense of oneness with others and would seem to be effective in integrating Shadow parts — which would appear to be your goal. Narrating your experience (as opposed to talking to yourself in terms of inner dialogue) in third person limited, present tense, for the purpose of mindfulness would simply have a different target: to be clear-minded in the present moment and anchored in your true self — seeing the thoughts, emotions, desires, sensations and so on that we typically identify as “self” to be an illusion; to not truly define us at all.

      Then again:

      If achieving self through integrating Jungian Shadow-parts through rewording things in the first person is indeed your goal, than I suppose it may share the same target and may perhaps merely constitute a different avenue.

      In either case, thank you for experimenting with it, as I shall do very soon…

      • binjimin, yes, I see what you mean. After experimenting more with this narration tool I do see how it brings mindfulness to my experience – “clear-minded in the present moment and anchored in your true self” – is exactly how I am when I am able to distinguish between narrating and talking to myself. Thank you for awakening me to this consciousness! – Aaron

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