Learning from our Favorite Fantasy Stories
Originally Published in The Startup
My favorite stories have, especially of late, really helped me to chill the hell out, leaving me with reminders for perspective, gratitude, and presence.
I’ve found common lessons in many of my favorite stories that are worth noting, and thats what you’ll find in this piece.
I love reading.
Fiction, non-fiction, self-help, poetry…you name it.
An uncontested favorite of mine, however, tends to be stories with some degree of fantasy. Coming of age books featuring heroes, creatures and strange beings that push my imaginative limits.
I get easily and happily lost in the relate-able journeys that these characters progress through.
Such fantasy worlds offer a welcome respite to the troubles that I face in day-to-day life (which are far from unique).
For example: I’m a very well practiced, perhaps even professional, worrier. I’ve come to cling to feelings of control over life where I feel like I can dictate things like safety, financial security, and the health of my loved ones.
When reality inevitably (and continuously) slaps me in the face, its often been these same fictional stories that remind me to lighten the hell up.
What follows are these helpful reminders from our favorite stories:
Someone is Always Worse Off Than You
This is (hopefully) not news to you.
There will always be someone with “more” than we have, and there will always be someone with less.
So when I’ve worked myself into a state over something as trivial as “not being a millionaire by age 23”, I need only think of all the sh*t that Harry Potter had to go through before he was even 15 laugh to realize that my problems aren’t so bad.
The simple fact that I don’t have to fight an evil, noseless Voldemort affords me a degree of gratitude around what I do have, and reminds me that what I’m dealing with is self-inflicted: crazy mental stories that I’m letting myself believe.
My Favorite Characters Are Generally Quite Mindful
The issues, quests, and missions that face many of our favorite fictional figures often create scenarios in which they are entirely present with what they’re doing, focused only on the issues at hand.
Virtually all of my problems dissipate in the moments that I’m present (whether it be in meditation, music, sports, or the “mundane”). Reading these stories helps me to remember what happens when I show up in the moment:
Everything has a way of making sense because I’m not so desperately trying to make sense of everything.
Instead of trying to tackle problems that don’t even exist yet, I can just do my best to be 100% in whatever it is that I’m doing.
The main character in my current fictional wonderland is a giant lizard-man. He’s always on the run, hunted for this that and the other reason.
There was a moment in the book that struck me: he was offered a brief respite from the torments of his past where he could live simply.
He had little gold to his name, no idea or prospects with regards to work or work experience, and not the slightest clue as to where his life might be going from that moment. Much like me (you know, minus the wings, scales, fighting abilities…etc.).
We were both in a similar situation with vastly different perspectives.
Mine: hyper-focused on everything that I’m lacking. Embodying the “I am not”, concerned and worried about the future.
Finding worry in not knowing what the future holds.
His: basking in the wonder that his freedom afforded him. Living in a consciousness of abundance. Finding gratitude in the little moments, the simplicity and paradoxical complexity of life. And? You probably guessed it:
Finding joy in not knowing what the future holds.
See the difference?
Simple, but still rather profound.
I’m Reminded of the Illusion that is Time
Minutes can seem like hours, months like seconds, and years often pass before we know whats hit us.
Because so much time often elapses in stories, and I grow and connect with the characters in such wonderful ways, I’m often granted a lot of perspective at how quickly things can change in a moment: we can realize whats important to us, whats not, and how its all so illusory anyways.
A year really isn’t a long time. But when you’re in it, it can feel like a hell of a waste, a major success, or any flavor in between.
My goals and desires can be planned and co-ordinated til my hearts content, but nothing will ever work out the way that we may expect.
Time is something I cling to, in many ways, as another means of seeking control.
In those moments where I’m worrying about something like a career path, focusing on “will everything be okay?”, these stories remind me that I have a hell of a lot of time to figure things out, and that I could also die in any moment.
And as Time Passes…Desires Change
In early grade school, I thought that when I grew up I wanted to be the guy that hangs off the back of a garbage truck. What can I say? It looked fun…
A few years later, I thought I wanted to be a firefighter.
Probably only a few weeks after that, my aspirations shifted again towards simply wanting to be rich.
Today, I have no idea what I want to do, and tend to focus instead on how I want to be.
Whether its a career, a gift, or a relationship, our desires change a lot.
Stories remind me of this, and give me some comfort in knowing that everyone is much the same.
Finally, Everyone Is Human
…that is unless, of course, you’re a giant lizard-man (you can find that book here if you’re interested…its really quite something).
My favorite part about many of these books I read is this: no matter how badass someone may be, no matter how handsome, beautiful, revered or accomplished a hero or heroine is, they always have the doubts, fears, worries, and insecurities that everyone else does.
The same is true for the baddest of bad guys and the loyalist of sidekicks.
Their own self-perceptions are far different from others’ views of them, just as is the case in our lives.
All these and more are things that I learn from my favorite stories, and the joy and insight they bring me will continue to be something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
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