Friday, March 16, 2018

Reclaiming our essential stories

We live by stories. Our first and best teachers, in our lives and in the evolution of our kind, instruct and inspire by telling stories. Story is our shortest route to the meaning of things, and our easiest way to remember and carry the meaning we discover.  A good story lives inside and outside time, and gives us keys to a world of truth beyond the world of fact.
     Consciously or unconsciously, our lives are directed by stories. If we are not aware that we are living a story, it's likely we are stuck inside a narrow and constricted one, a story bound tight around us by other people's definitions and expectations. When we reach, consciously, for a bigger life story, we put ourselves in touch with tremendous sources of healing, creativity and courage. 
     How do we find the bigger story in our lives? The answer is easier than we might think. The First People of my native Australia say that the big stories are hunting the right people to tell them.. All we need do is put ourselves in places where we can be found.
    J.M.G. Clézio dedicated his Nobel prize for literature  to a storyteller of the rainforest of Darien, a woman who roamed from house to house spinning magic words in return for a meal or a drink. In his acceptance speech, Le Clézio painted a vivid word-picture of Elvira: “I quickly realized that she was a great artist, in the best sense of the term. The timbre of her voice, the rhythm of her hands tapping against her chest, against her heavy necklaces of silver coins, and above all the air of possession which illuminated her face and her gaze, a sort of measured, rhythmic trance, exerted a power over all those who were present. To the simple framework of her myths...she added her own story, her life of wandering, her loves, the betrayals and suffering, the intense joy of carnal love, the sting of jealousy, her fear of growing old, of dying. She was poetry in action, ancient theatre, and the most contemporary of novels all at the same time.”
   Is it too late to hope that we can bring back storytelling in our modern urban consumer society? I think not. As we practice telling our dreams and the stories of our life experiences simply and vividly we become bards and griots and storytellers without labor. The first step in the Lightning Dreamwork game requires us to encourage whoever is ready to tell a dream (or, for that matter, any life experience) to tell it simply and clearly, without background or analysis or interruption or reading from notes. We give undivided attention for the duration of the telling, and require the teller not to miss the opportunity to claim her audience.

“The world can’t end,” writes Michael Meade in The World Behind the World, “unless it runs out of stories. For this world is made of stories, each tale a part of an eternal drama being told from beginning to end over and over again. As long as all the stories don’t come to an end the world will continue.” 
   Scheherezade tells stories so she may live through another night, and tells them so well she turns a monstrous tyrant into a decent human being.
   In Healing Fictions, James Hillman explains how effective therapy is an exercise in storytelling. “Psychoanalysis is a work of imaginative tellings in the realm of poesis, which means simply “making”, and which I take to mean the making of imagination into words. Our work more specifically belongs to the rhetoric of poesis, by which I mean the persuasive power of imagining in words, an artfulness in in speaking and hearing, writing and reading.” 
    True shamans have known this for millennia.The shamans who interest me are one who heal bodies and souls, and our experience of the world, by telling better stories about them
   The Irish storyteller beautifully evoked by Ruth Sawyer in The Way of the Storyteller  tells stories so “each may find something for which his soul had cried out.” Or “to keep the heart warm in a country far from home.”
   You must know your story and tell your story and have your story received. This is a central teaching of the Sefer Yetzirah, a seminal text of Kabbalah.
    Learn to do that, and you can survive the worst nightmares of history, and bring heart and healing to others.

Text adapted from Active Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.

Art: "Grandfather Tells a Story" by Albert Anker (1884)

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