I have a confession. I read my horoscope (Pisces) every day in The Washington Post because (must I really spell this out?) the ones in the Post are completely accurate!
I also read the horoscopes of former flames to see if they’re suffering.
Capricorn: “You will want to move on today but persistent thoughts of a certain someone make it impossible.” Yes!
Also in the confession category: my best friend mispronounces my name. She’s called me “Lora” for 15 years and I’ve never corrected her. Now I can’t. But it’s worse for my writer friend Brian Doyle who has been referred to as Drain Boyle, Brain Doyle and Brian Dooley.
Besides answering to the wrong name, I listen to books on tape and report that I’ve read them. And I think keeping a secret means you only tell one other person. Okay, two.
But back to horoscopes. Do I believe this stuff? Of course not? But I do know that words are the power tools that change experience into feeling. Because it’s not what happens to us as much as what we tell ourselves about what happens to us that creates our mood and determines our futures. That’s powerful stuff. And it’s all just story.
Remember I told you I’m a student of neuroscience?
Well, did you know that when you hear the words, “I have a story to tell you, ”your brain sends out a flood of endorphins in the belief that intriguing information is on the way?
Research shows our brain believes what it hears, even when the words contradict the facts. For instance, we are affected by false flattery, even when we know it is false! (By the way, you look terrific today.)
The placebo effect makes people get better on the power of belief alone (cool), but recent discoveries show health improves even when patients know they’re getting the sugar pill! (Cooler.)
Don’t believe me about the influence of words?
I have found your horoscope.
You are filled with joy when a burden is lifted today. A financial windfall is coming your way. Exciting news arrives before noon.
I know what you’re thinking. She just made this up! And yet…
We are affected by the story we tell and not just about ourselves but about others. Sure, the guy who cut you off in traffic could be a jerk. But the story you can write in response as you merge onto Route 50 is this.
His mistake was unintentional. He’s as embarrassed as you are annoyed. He’s late to pick up a frightened 4-year-old. He’s distracted by his lab results. He would give his life for his children, just as you would for yours.
Feel the difference? You are the author of all that you feel, and it so often is a judgment when it could be a gift.
It’s not just an emotional sleight of hand. The primal brain is ego-centric and sees all action as inner-directed. When you criticize, you feel criticized. When you forgive, you feel forgiven. When you offer understanding, you feel understood.
I have a story to tell you…
You are exquisitely compassionate, infinitely kind. In your heart of hearts, there is only goodwill– for yourself and for others. Love prevails. Goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life.
That’s a story that could heal the world. Share the news.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.