Biography: Reading the Language of Our Lives
"Biography Work”, the process of looking in an objective way at our lives, and at underlying laws of development, helps us to know who we are, and why we are here. Every person’s story is important. Jose Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher and humanist wrote: “Biography is a system in which the contradictions of a human life are united.” Everyone’s story is important and this is truer today than in the past, when the collective stories of family, tribe, nation and religion carried more weight than that of the individual.
The word biography comes from the Greek:
Bios, referring to human life, today extends into modern usage, and also refers to the living organism. Science tells us that our cells are reborn every seven years. So by inference we know our lives can be seen as a number of things at once: life continuously in the becoming, and at the same time, life as a process of dying to what has been and being born to the future. Giving birth to a new Self.
Graph, referring to what is plotted or traced on a graph; also what is written. Looking at the chronology of events of a life reveals larger patterns and meanings at work. We open the door to themes and archetypes more subtle and complex than anything we might have imagined.
And at the centre is the “I”, our individual essence, the constant, that which allows us to move forward without fear of losing ourselves. This essential and constant self is the part of ourselves that calls our humanity, in the deepest sense of the word, to life.
“Biography Work” teaches us to read the language of our lives, to reveal the ongoing and repeating themes that have always been there, and to make them visible. We digest and come to a deeper comprehension of ourselves and the larger picture of which we are a part. We come to know that although development is obvious in our young years, it does not stop, but continues in subtle and rich complexity as we mature.
Our biography contains a spiritual heredity that is as important as our physical DNA. In meeting the events of our lives, our soul life is a factor in how we relate to our experiences. The assimilation of these experiences is nourishment for the spiritual Self. This work helps us to see that even the difficult events and tensions within our lives have played a part in our becoming. Who would I be without these parts of myself? Can I find the hidden gifts? “Biography work” is a process of integrating, of making whole and healing.
So there is a multiplicity of components in “Biography Work” – self and other, past and future, the plotting of a life, your life.
In the complex times in which we have been born, many of us are searching for a redefinition of identity, one imbued with meaning from within and also linked to the destinies of those around us. The history of cultural change, as we know it in the West, has seen us move from a collective to individualized and separate selves. The personal has never been more important than the times in which we find ourselves. And yet we struggle with the question of whether the elusive quest we are on is as fulfilling, and as meaningful as it ought to be. How do our connections with others, with the Other, fulfill both ourselves as well as humanity’s larger destiny? What do we learn by telling our stories, and by listening to the stories of others? As we travel together on this shared road, we find that we have more in common than our differences. Yet we also learn about the differences that make each of us unique individuals. By both knowing ourselves and opening in sensitivity to others, we develop a new empathy, which allows us to move into social interaction and community in fresh and innovative ways.
“Biography Work” also works to reveal a deeper understanding of our personal destiny by moving toward the future, while giving glimpses of what the future may be bringing toward us. Our insights generate a creative response to the events coming to meet us on our life’s journey. And so our existence can become a living and vibrant work of art, the greatest creative endeavour that we can undertake.
-- by Patricia Michael