Storytelling

Stories have power. They are embedded with instructions on how to navigate a life. Stories are medicine; they transform, they heal. Martin Buber tells a story about his grandfather, who was lame. Once he asked his grandfather to tell a story about his teacher, and his grandfather related how his teacher used to hop and dance while he prayed. His grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he began to hop and dance to show how the master had done it. From that hour he was cured of his lameness. That’s how to tell a story.

Storycircles and Practice Sharing

Stories shared from our personal experience can draw out the wisdom of those gathered to listen. Interrelating themes, content, and meaning of these stories can be investigated, allowing this collective knowledge to be used in practical ways towards common goals.

As an example, an interdisciplinary classroom at Naropa University that included students and faculty began the semester with a contemplative exercise designed to chart participants’ personal histories. Newsprint was taped on the walls and separated by decade. Faculty members then filled in their “lineage”: the people they had studied with and the teachers of those people, and the places, events, books, and so on that influenced them in their creative journey. The students did a similar exercise while their teachers were working. Each faculty member then gave a narrative of his or her personal story.

Providing a space for sharing of the practices associated with particular religions, spiritual, or ethnic heritages can be a wonderful opportunity for building intimacy and a sense of community within diverse groups. This can also be a place of great sensitivity; individuals may not feel comfortable sharing their practices or engaging in the practices of others. If there is a general level of interest and openness in a group, try an exploration. If there is resistance, the resistance itself can be a good thing to carefully explore. You may want to ask an individual or a couple of people to lead the group in an activity or create an interfaith ceremony or celebration, in which a number of traditions are shared. Experiment with the options, and allow plenty of space for feedback and reflection from the group.