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 Peoples 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. Le Clézio dedicated his Nobel Prize for Literature to Elvira, a storyteller of the rainforest of Darién in Central America, 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 headphonelands? I think not. 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 my Lightning Dreamwork game (explained in my books The Three “Only” Things and Active Dreaming), requires us to encourage each other to tell the stories we need to tell 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.
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 pressed for time 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 ourselves to relax and let things flow (and let the stomach gently receive the gifts of the table). I found myself seized by the theme, and so engrossed in George’s telling that I had to take off my wristwatch in the midst of the show to give myself a sense of physical release from the entrapment of clock time.
When I meet strangers on planes and they ask me what I do, I often say, “I am a storyteller and it is my pleasure to help other people find their bigger and braver stories, and live those stories and tell them really well.” We want to step free from the little stories, from the weight of personal history and from the shrink-wrap of stories foisted on us by others and laden with their cynicism, disappointment and defeat. We want to let the big story find us, as in the Aboriginal conception. It’s not so hard. Since the big stories are hunting the tellers, all we need do is put ourselves in a place where we can be found, as we do when we attend to our dreams, and the voices of the Speaking Land around us.
Adapted from Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.