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Re-awakening the art of story-telling

I have a large silver ring of a Pueblo Indian Story Teller. The ring is quite detailed, the Story Teller is a woman, her mouth open mid-story, Seated on her ample lap are many many children. I get a sense of eager anticipation from the children as they eagerly soak up the story. It is a lot to get out of a silver ring, but it is all there.

We don’t really tell stories anymore. I mean, sure, there are lots of books – lots to read, and my parents did read to me as a child. The most memorable was every Christmas Eve when my father would read “Twas the night before Christmas” out of this big old book of stories. That evokes similar feelings for me that I imagine those children might have felt sitting on the Story Teller’s knee. But this is the only real example of story telling that I recall from my early life.

I imagine that in our technological world of today, the instances of story telling in our society are fewer and fewer. The stories that are told don’t have the same weight as say the stories of the Pueblo Indian Story Teller. Her stories taught the children morality, taught lessons on appropriate behavior and cultural norms of generations. Her stories also told their history, where they came from and where they were going as a people. So that their past impacted and was a vital part of their present. Each person hearing the stories learned and became inextricably linked culturally to the people and events in the stories they heard. It was a means of bringing unity, as well as providing information, to the people.

We are so fragmented as a people in American society today. There is no connected sense of belonging to a culture, to a people that are like yourself. Not in the way I described above. We are individual and separate and each to his own. We may, within families, have our stories, our traditions. But as we become more individual those too are lost. In a way, there is good in this, as we are becoming more connected to the global culture of people. America is a melting pot, a grand place where cultures from every corner of the world mix and blend and co-exist to form this conglomerate. Yet we still don’t have that connection, the connection that comes from shared stories.

There are a few places where this connection through stories still exists. One of them is 12 step programs. I recently read a book called “The Spirituatliy of Imperfection: Storytelling and the search for meaning”. It talks about the spirituality of shared imperfection through the telling of stories that occurs in AA (and likewise in other 12 step programs, e.g. Al-anon). It is through the telling of stories of hardship and pain, shame and doubt, joy and strength, experience and hope -stories of recovery – that we connect with each other and find a shared spirituality that accepts us all as okay, as imperfect and we learn and grow from our shared imperfections. These very imperfections are what enhances, not only our connection, but our spirituality, our connectedness, so that we are better, stronger as a result. It is not just through our flaws that we grow strong, but in shared imperfections – a sharing that occurs through the telling of our “stories”.

I can attest to the power of these stories. It breaks us out of that individualism that we Americans so admire, and connects us to others who have been where we have been. We no longer feel so strange and alone. We are connected to others through shared stories and this becomes our strength, a collective strength that is much more powerful and beautiful than any individual strength. Then, buoyed and so strengthened, we can go out and lead our individual lives, and that connectedness, that sense of belonging, comes with us and improves our day to day world.

I have experienced the power of story-telling in another format, which I have previously written about here, and that is the Story Spiral. A few weeks ago, I held the second Story Spiral in my home. I am out of time to write about it, but will pick up on this thought at a later time.


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