”There are times when people need stories more than they need nourishment, because the stories feed something deeper than the needs of the body.”
Charles DeLint, The Onion Girl
The power of a story. Huge. We can nearly touch the magnificence that is the universe when the gift of a word meets with the creativity of the imagination. There is a reason this art has existed for millennia and was integral to each and every culture.
Music and Poetry are also a healing art and another form of storytelling but perhaps less accessible to the average person than is the telling of a tale. We can all tell a story. When we create a picture with our imaginations, and then share that picture through our words, we are creating a special place, a land that exists outside of ourselves and the recipient into which we both enter in a sacred act of healing.
It was during my Waldorf years that I discovered this healing art. In the parent/toddler classes we parents were encouraged to tell stories to our young children. No books, just a story out of our imaginations. At first this seemed a daunting task. ”How could I tell a story worthy of anyone’s attention!? How could I compete with those beautifully illustrated storybooks?” I seriously doubted my abilities, but my desire to fulfill my role as a good “Waldorf parent” was enough incentive, albeit not a very healthy one, to giveit a try. I started out retelling the stories I’d heard the teachers tell the children. Even this was difficult at first as I hurdled my fears of not getting it right. Eventually I began to look at the world through different eyes. Through storyteller eyes, gently searching the daily activities for that delightful animal, place, person or event that would magically become the gateway to a story for that evening. Gradually I discovered that even my own spontaneous simple stories would hold my son more enchanted than the well crafted, well-practiced ones. (Dare I admit, what a boost to my esteem that was? – to look into my sons face and see him transported!?)
The secret is this, our imaginations are richer than anything anyone can put onto paper, or in paint, or on a screen. Our imaginations are part of the otherworld, and our human skills of visual expression cannot match it. But in the telling of a story, the imagination works in it’s fullest abilities and what we convey through speech, opens a doorway to the child (or other recipient’s) imagination and voila! a world beyond worlds exists. You hold hands and walk through the door and you are both in it.
I have rarely told a story to a adult, so my perspective on this is from that of a parent and teacher, but storytelling is a way we can heal each other as well. When I was in my training to be a Waldorf teacher assistant, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a workshop with Nancy Mellon (http://www.amazon.com/Storytelling-Children-Nancy-Mellon/dp/1903458080) a gifted present-day storyteller and healer. We were paired up with another student and for the entire day we created stories for each other. I have never experienced anything like it.
So, how do we use stories for healing? There are many ways, but just the existence of your story, that safe and cozy place you create, is a place of healing. It is the time out of time where magic happens. With the creation of this space you walk through the gate hand in hand and your listener has you and you hold them. 100%. This healing goes both ways! During the day we are busy, busy, and despite our attempts to be in the present, the needs of planning and negotiating life on Earth often detach us from that state of “being present.” When you begin to look at the world through storyteller eyes you are poised and ready to drink in those poignant moments when they are handed to you. Then, after all that busyness, you return with your beloveds to that very moment through your story. Voila, togetherness has happened, heartbeats resume a steady rhythm, breath deepens, anxiety fades away.
Many times, especially with the young children, as they are growing and experiencing new things they will feel uncomfortable inside and this discomfort manifests itself as a tummy ache or a sort throat, or even a fever during extreme growth. At times this discomfort is akin to standing on a precipice, with that terrifying awareness of the big big world out there. Sometimes, during the leap of growth, that discomfort is like a free-fall–You are aware of a sudden disorientation within. Everything is unfamiliar. “Where will I end up?” “What is happening?” Stories can be created to give some familiar territory, some bearings within their growth. I recall many an evening when my young son had a bellyache at bedtime. A simple retelling of the challenging event of the day, brightened and softened with the light of resolution was able to bring relief.
Very young children learn by absorption. They drink up the world though their very skin and eyes. They drink up you and all of your gestures, and movements. They drink up your speech patterns and the musicality of your voice. This is the imitation we hear about and observe in our youngest children! They cannot help it, just as they cannot help breathing. This is why, at midlife, we can look back and notice all the many gestures, and speech habits we have that are identical to our own Mothers! We were absorbing her very being during our younger years, drinking in all of her beauty, for in the eyes of a young child all is beautiful about Mother. When we create a world for our children to step into, they absorb it.
In Waldorf philosophy, it is believed that under the age of 7, children do not learn through thought and the process of reason and thinking. I wrestled with understanding this for a long time. So here is how I have observed this to be true. Children do think. However, the connection between their thinking, and the part of them that knows (the soul part) is not connected yet. Their knowing is their knowing, and their thinking is their thinking, but the thinking cannot speak to the knowing. We experience this as adults. We can hear a thing, know it to be true in our heads, yet until we have brought what our eyes have read or our ears heard down into our solar area of intuition, we do not yet feel this truth as part of our very beings. With children, stories bypass this thinking/reasoning step, and go right to their soul space of growth and knowing. When we tell a child a thing we end up just giving them something that will be batting around in their thinking/reasoning head and get stuck up there. When we give them a story, we give them a place to take the learning deep into their very souls.
I will continue this subject in later articles where we’ll look at some storytelling ideas, a few themes, and a few gems of inspiration from other storytellers.
Until then, may the gift of the Bards grace your heart and may your words have wings.