Center for Creative Inquiry



The narrative unfolding of the self's story amounts to an ongoing agreement the self makes with itself for the purpose of witnessing its own identity and affirming its ownership over experience.

—Tarthang Tulku, Love of Knowledge (Ch. 25)

Consider carefully what happens when you pick up a good book. You open the cover with anticipation, focus on the page, begin to pick out actual words, now a whole sentence. Within a moment or two, (perhaps you could measure this timing in terms of how many words into the story), an amazing thing happens: suspension of disbelief.

Suspension of disbelief has the most marvelous effects: we begin to see things – images, half-formed and indistinct, it is true, but images nonetheless; we begin to feel things – feelings and emotions that were not present a moment ago. Our hearts may even pound now at the frightening parts; sitting alone in a room with a book on our laps, we may burst out laughing. The story has us within its spell. It has created a world and we have stepped into that world, willing to believe in it, overlooking the obvious signs of its unreality.

As soon as we feel some emotional energy surface, we give it a label—confusion, anxiety, guilt, blame, anger. Then there is a moment when we are not completely sure, so we act out the emotion. We step onto the stage and play the part ...
—Tarthang Tulku, Ways of Work

Our stories about ourselves seem to have the same degree of reality as a decently written novel. Surely, we say, there is more reality, more authenticity to our stories than that. But the magic of storytelling is exactly the same. 

Like a child at play, mind takes its games seriously while also knowing underneath they are “just pretend.” The human mind performs this magic freely, naturally. It “gives reality” to something by “taking it” for real. Once taken as real, the story becomes real, is realized. It is not that mind becomes convinced that something is real; instead, mind forgets that it knows something is not real. 

But what sorcerer’s apprentices we are, listening to our narratives about ourselves, entranced by the words and images. When our inner storyteller begins to speak, we forget that we are simply talking to ourselves. The sound of the mantra “I” suspends our disbelief, and we wizards fall helplessly into our own stories.

This piece was originally published in Gesar, Vol. X, No 2 (1990). It appeared along with other TSK student submissions featured in that issue. The author is unknown.

Image credit: Ignacio Ercole