S is for Storytelling.
Stories are powerful.
Sometimes I feel that really, we are all just made up of memories, of pictures, that trigger emotions and feeling. That touch us or make us mad, cry with relief, tremble in fear, or be filled by the warmth of goodness. We live our whole lives, whether devouring stories on social media, or via Netflix, reading books, graphic novels, listening to the radio. Each song is a story. Each piece of dance is one too. Every picture hung in a gallery, every photograph ever taken. These all tell us a story.
Stories place us in different times, geographical locations, and situations. Some that we yearn for, some that we never consciously would. We get to become this character, like a living dream, and live vicariously through their revelations, mistakes, love stories, challenges, and happy endings. We all like a happy ending after all. It makes us feel safe.
And stories are as old as time. In fact, the story of time, of creation, is just that: a story. Like the Bible. Like the scriptures and pages that so many people turn to daily, feverishly, reverently, to devour each word in the hope that some of the ink, the script, the force, might rub off on them and infuse their day with God. As if we can breathe in words. And the word was God. It has been written.
When does story become myth? Legend? Truth even? I am fascinated by urban legends, usually spoken of in whispered tones around a night-back-dropped fire, crackling sparking and flinting shadows. The first stories were told orally, around fires, sitting in circle, attention given to the storyteller. The keeper of wonders and magic.
There are always three stories to be told.
And the story itself.
Noah Baumbach, the American filmmaker, says that: “Everything is true, and nothing is true,” and once again the wheels of paradox turn. How we see the world. How we have experienced, survived, fought, sauntered, lived, laughed, loved our way to this point will colour and texture the story canvas of our remembering. Of our minds.
What story are we telling? Over and over like the pantomime queen. Lamenting its folly whilst the audience keeps on shouting, “It’s behind you!” And yet we don’t listen.
In the words of Brené Brown: “If we do not turn towards our painful story, it owns us.”
Every crisis is a storytelling crisis. And when we realise this, we have a moment to pause. To reflect. To remember that we are each the storytellers of our lives. We get to choose. And with each choice we step deeper and wider into our own power. We take ownership and in doing so, we reclaim authority over our own lives and how we respond to the lunacy of its never-ending surprise of events. In this way, we become authors.
Sometimes we sit in circle and tell our stories.
Sometimes we whisper them to our lovers at night.
Sometimes we cry them out to therapists, to friends, to the trees, the sky, the oceans, or like Shirley Valentine, to walls. They are living creatures, and because of this, they need to breathe. Need to be breathed. They are alive and need to move and change shape. They have a pulse and need the space that telling gives them to stretch out their limbs and be seen and heard.
When we don’t give them their freedom, they imprison us. Keep our voice behind invisible bars. Hold our power and the force of us hostage. Silence may be golden, but it can also destroy us. It will feed upon our insides and destroy our sense of self and well-being. It will eat us alive often with guilt or shame or fear. What we keep pressed down becomes oppression, repression, and depression, robbing us of our joy and right to be on this earth.
Stories warn us and keep us wise.
Stories enchant us and keep us plugged into the holy magic when life gets too serious.
Fairy and folk tales were passed down most often by word of mouth. Oral tales. Very much a part of living in community and sharing wisdom that requires of us a certain humility and respect toward life. They also show us the power of love and magic and the seemingly impossible. They help to keep these threads alive in us, soul threads, that modern life and the woes of the mind seek to render unimportant or un-valuable. They remind us of how there is something invisible to the ordinary human mind and heart, with its myriad of petty woes and selfish eyes.
And at the same time, they offer a cushion of wisdom to the one who is awake and innocent enough to really listen. They bind us in our shared humanity, for as unique as we tend to presume, we, or our own personal tales, are, when shared, we can only nod our head in agreement and a blessed relief that we are not alone. This is vital, and this bond of humanity creates the potential for greater empathy and love. They hold a tremendous amount of power, and just like many stories since the beginning of time may be read and heard for entertainment, or swallowed down as medicine for one’s soul.
Stories remind us that we are not alone, and give us strength when we are lost.
Yet they can keep us locked too.
Telling the same story over and over again keeps us rigid and fixed when we are far from that. We are constantly in motion. Telling the continuous flow of a story will be different in each moment. We are different every moment passing. We are older. Our mood has shifted. The fire in one heartbeat telling may be all roar in one breath and purring in the next. To hold the story on shape is to freeze us in place like a game of statues. That’s not the point of telling stories. That’s not the point at all.
There’s a crossover between the body’s felt wisdom—the language of movement and writing and dance. Of voice, expression, and where we do not speak out and thus become depressed, oppressed, repressed (you get my drift!). Of desire. Of longing. Of the depths of who we are and the willing/unwilling, daily, moment by moment, faltering tightrope balance of both, feeling everything fully. Why? Because it’s dangerous to feel! It’s dangerous because then there we are, painting the world, writing our life, dancing all of the whorls and footprints, an ever changing, ever moving, twister of tantric teasing!
“By naming things, we give birth to both devils and gods.” ~ Pádraig Ó Tuama
We need to empty ourselves often. Empty the sleeves of stories. Empty the memories of our muscles. Empty our bones of their bearing, of our breath. We are walking archives and unless we have a way to connect to, listen to, and express these stories, then we carry them, tinging everything with their hue.
To live life in true alignment takes courage, and it takes our willingness to lay down our swords and battle equipment, to lay down our arms, to shake out the words, letters, sentences, paragraphs, epitaphs, and tomes we house in the library of us, and allow our arms to hang, our hands to be emptied, open, available, and a direct and clear link from our heart to life. From within to without, and back again. Our veins and arteries receptive to be filled by spirit well. Our heart the boom box. Our throat the microphone. And our mouths and fingers the sound-wave vessels of another language. Souled language.
Real truth telling, when expressed in story, cuts us deep. It’s like a butter knife, all sharp and burning-flamed, that cuts through the cold block of our heart. Melts it. Changes its shape. Slices through the protection and defense and that arrogant sense of knowing that we carry through our day as human doings.
For it is not the story itself, the shape form of the sentences, nor the words carefully used. What is first visible to us in form, in voice, in the literal and linear language is simply, as Anthony Bourdain posits, the vehicle for something deeper. Some meaning behind, below, beneath the words themselves. Some kind of feeling initiated through the story itself.
To create altered states. To bring us closer together. To bind us in communion. To give us meaning and make sense of the nonsensical.
You, my love, are woven together with words, language, poetry, beauty, truth, the eloquence of the heart, and the blunt simplicity of the soul. Those hidden deep in your body, whispered by time and life, and those that are the magic-cadabra-ing into becoming. Into manifestation.
You are all the wisdom. It is written, encoded, scribed, on to every cell within you. Sometimes you just need some playful assistance to find it again. You are the translator of this knowing that lies curled in the pit of your belly and itches in the spaces between.
So know that you are poetry in motion. That each cell of you bears infinite stories. That your body, breath, heart hold more tales and words and expression than all the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the beach. That you are a living book of beauty, wildness, gentle sweet moments, presence, wisdom, and art.
Yep. Yes. Aha. You are.
We are all the artists of our lives. But we gotta feel it first. We gotta feel life. Feel it and meet it and stay awhile to eat cake with it and drink sherry with it (or tea!). It’s all here. It all starts here.