Breaking free from the Meta-Narratives of our time: An Integral Coaching Perspective (Part 1)

1 year ago
Life & Fulfilment

As human beings, we are constantly living in a dynamic web of deeply-held beliefs — or meta-narratives — that shape our perceptions, paradigms, and actions. Meta-narratives act as overarching stories — or storylines — that provide frameworks for meaning and order to our existence, and keep the culture going as it is: how to find “our place in society,” how to strive for fulfillment, how to act on expectations, and so forth. The problem is that these meta-narratives highlight and reinforce limited views of ourselves, and claim to provide “universal truths” in the midst of uncertainty. Moreover, they act as origins and justifiers of our current way of being. Many, if not all of us, are influenced to a certain degree by these meta-narratives, each taking different shapes and forms of expression across cultures. As the case may be, they can have a profound impact on our personal and professional lives, often leading to unfulfilling and unsustainable ways of living. They make it more difficult to deepen our self-knowledge, they steer our attention elsewhere, and, ultimately, they disown essential parts of ourselves in favor of others.

Meta-narratives have significant power because they order, structure, and explain our experiences. They are also both negatively and positively reinforced: negatively reinforced by shaming and shunting, and positively reinforced through praise. Many of our big decisions (such as making significant career changes, whom to marry, moving to another country, etc.) are influenced on them, as doing so allows for status and recognition of a certain kind. Even if the meta-narratives have some validity in certain contexts, they are magnified and dominating, thus preventing us from connecting to the ever-evolving, dynamic truth of our present moment.

To let go of meta-narratives, we need to open ourselves to uncertainty, let go of fixed concepts, and be willing to tune in to what’s true now. This is both simpler and more complex than it sounds. As David R. Loy writes in The World is Made of Stories (2010): “A profusion of stories is liberating yet uncomfortable because we want to tuck ourselves securely into the True story, the one that reveals the way things really are and what’s really important.”

Recognizing and understanding the elements of meta-narratives — and their pervasive power — can help us as coaches to better meet our clients, and also deepen our work as well as our own personal growth. We are all in this together.

In the following articles, I will outline three significant cultural meta-narratives and explore how they can be used as a framework to see our clients — and ourselves — in a new light. They also help to better identify the web of our cultural constructs that we all live in — and how they can inhibit our growth and development.

Photo by Silviu Zidaru on Unsplash