Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reclaiming the power of story

J.M.G. Clézio dedicated his Nobel prize for literature, first and last, 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."

What a wonderful evocation of the power of story, and the maker and teller of stories! Is it too late to hope that we can bring back storytelling in our modern urban headphonelands?

I think not. Our children hunger for stories, to hear them and to share them.

And 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 I invented 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 other night, on the popular overnight radio show Coast to Coast AM, George Noory asked me to demonstrate the Lightning Dreamwork process. I asked him to tell me a story from any part of his life. George thought for a moment and came up with a tale of how he felt so time-pressured that one night he consumed a lavish meal in a fancy restaurant in ten minutes flat, and found himself reddening with embarrassment as the others at the table stared at his empty plate. We proceeded to discuss the moral in the tale, which could make any of us think about where in our lives we are not allowing time to relax and let things flow (and let the stomach gently receive the gifts of the table). I found myself so engrossed in George's telling - and so seized by the theme - that I had to take off my wristwatch in the midst of the show, to give myself the sense of physical release from the entrapment of clock time.

Something else to know about a story told well: it has the power to mobilize, to energize and to heal. Seek out issue number 2 of a newish scholarly magazine, The Journal of Shamanic Practice, and you'll find my personal account (in an article titled "Time for the Shark God") of what it meant to make up and transfer a big story - of a shark and a Hawaiian shark god - to a man who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Where do we find the stories that need to be told? The child inside each of us knows exactly where to find them, because he or she has never lost the magic of making things up. Our night dreams are factories of stories. Australian Aborigines say that the big stories are hunting the right tellers. All we need do is let ourselves be found, and then allow those big stories to speak through us and for us.


Unknown said...

"factories of stories" !! YES!! (I see this on the cover of a children's book on dreaming...

Robert Moss said...

What a very good idea!