Tag Archives: story-telling

Down the Rabbit-Hole

I belong to an on-line google group that discusses spirituality. It is an extension of a group that meets up periodically for retreats and serves to maintain communications when we’ve returned from the retreat back into our everyday lives.

Recently, one of our members went on a rant: she was frustrated with the community, with the lack of tangible progress, feeling unsupported and lost on her path. I got it. At times, I’ve felt a similar longing and despair.

It got me to asking the question of why we pursue this thing called spirituality and what we hope to get out of it.

I think what started me on my own spiritual quest was a deep unshakable feeling that something was missing. I’d accomplished a lot externally but felt empty inside and unknown to myself. Nothing in the modern world could fill that void. In a way, it’s fair to say I didn’t know what I was longing for, but something about the spiritual texts I came across at the time gave me hope. Also, I had a paralyzing fear of death that…was like…a…wall…to…living?

When I use the word spiritual, I am not only referring to elevated disembodied beings, but to an essential human part of ourselves. It is the non-physical part of us that is associated with light. So, for example, thought can be spiritual or not, but love is and all its subsidiaries: forgiveness, compassion, kindness, truth, etc.

Being spiritual, opening to spirit, doesn’t necessarily give you an immediate answer to the problems of your life. For most of us, the initial opening is more like a can of worms. The light of the opening can illuminate all of the ways we have not loved and then we have to take a long hard look at our crap. Malidoma Some likens the spiritual path to the fall of Alice down the rabbit-hole. The landings are usually hard.

I’ve been falling for some time now. Gradually, your eyes adjust. The real trick is adjusting your spiritual vision during the fwifs and fwams of ordinary life and to eventually maintain a sort of dual vision, for without the dual vision of the mundane and spiritual, you are only seeing half the picture.

The spiritual aspect allows you to see what happens in physical life from a much broader perspective. In my travels, I’ve met people who have extraordinary gifts. They can actually see beings, guides, kontomble and the like. They can travel to other dimensions. They can converse with the dead. You may or may not possess those kinds of gifts, but even without them, one can cultivate spiritual vision by paying attention to how one feels. When you have a bad feeling, you find a moment to stop. Hold onto the feeling and follow the thread to its source. The thread will most likely take you to something you don’t want to look at about yourself, but the moment you see the jealousy, self-hatred, fear, is the moment the door to compassion and then forgiveness can open.

I think we can all do this sort of detective work with ourselves but a lot of us are a little rusty. It’s like a muscle that’s softened with disuse. Plus, we’re afraid to stop, to put our frickin’ phones down.

One of the ways we can strengthen this muscle is through story-telling. Story-telling helps us to practice the art of perspective which is essential to developing the dance between the mundane vision (what appears to be happening) with the spiritual vision (what’s really happening). To tell a story, one must rise above the story itself. There are no bad stories. Just unpracticed story-tellers.

I did a divination for someone recently. I could see that he’d had some kind of early childhood trauma. He was unable to speak about it or to cry. In being unable to tell the story, he was still beneath it, burdened by it, and the water he was unable to release through tears was causing toxicity. I suggested he begin by writing or speaking his story, to let the flow of words assist the flow of water so that he could begin the cleansing process.

And if healing is a process, grieving is a practice. We in modern culture are all looking for a way to cure (end) the hurt, but some things can’t be cured forever. It just needs to be cleaned out periodically. Over time, the hurt comes up less and less, but will still come up until maybe it doesn’t have to any more, but by that time we will have accumulated another hurt. And the practice is that when it comes up, we clean it out with tears, with our story. Most of us don’t need a drug. We need a practice. Without the practice, we are not really living.

The other day a friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIuWY5PInFs. In it a woman is courageously and honestly talking about her ballet career before she is about to give her last performance. I was a mess. I hadn’t grieved my own retirement in a long while. But this time was different. I didn’t get stuck in my head. I didn’t feel regret or the need to question my choices. It was almost like I was grieving for someone else, like watching a movie. I could see a much larger picture. The confusion and fear were replaced by compassion.

And then I ate lunch.


The Big Story of Us

I saw something last night that lassooed my wobbly faith in humanity.

It was one of those had-to-be-there moments that are hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Under the direction of Tim Miller, a group of people from a variety of backgrounds, meaning that they were not all trained performers, told their personal stories through words and movement. It sounds so simple and it was.

No car crashes. No surround sound. No Brangelina. No blood. No seduction.

Just some stories told by ordinary folks.

A day later, I was still thinking about the show. When art hits you that way, it’s downright healing, at least for my tired soul. And it got me to thinking about the importance of stories themselves, how they connect us to something: our imagination, our feelings, beauty, spirit, how they teach us about life and help us to find our place in the abyss. Good stories, that is.

I just sat there on the floor of the Harvard black box theater beaming in awe of each person’s specialness. Each story was a unique gem that made me see the storyteller in the light of its sparkle. To see the specialness of someone is a gift of compassion. I wanted to be able to see everyone in the world with those eyes. Maybe I can’t know everyone’s individual story, but I can certainly try to remember that they have one in the first place and feel into them from there.

I also got to thinking about how the nature of stories, which is interconnectedness, helps us to grow in compassion. We humans get a little stuck around compassion. Maybe  you’ve noticed. I don’t know if our sense of compassion is getting better in this age of technology, but tend to think that when there is only you and one other person walking towards each other on the same street and that other person fails to acknowledge you, inches away, because they are on their cell phone, that our sense of compassion is suffering.

It’s not that we’re mean. It’s that we’re distracted. But that in itself, one’s level of distraction, is in some way a measure of compassion. It is a lack of compassion that distracts you from what or whom you are with. It takes a dose of compassion, presence and awareness to say hi, to smile, to at least look  someone in the eye. Maybe wink at a sista once in awhile.

Anyway, I digress…compassion…oh yeah. Another thing about that show is that it helped me to understand something about us all being special and ordinary at the same time. I think accepting our ordinariness is another thing we humans struggle with, especially in this time of reality-tv-insta-fame.

Our commercial, modern world really has us by the throats around this issue. We are constantly taunted that we should be faster, thinner, smarter, richer, and more famous in order to be better than the person next to us. We really have to examine the extent to which competition motivates our actions. None of the stuff we acquire through our competitive, fearful grasping actually makes  us better, so we are given more products, thinner models, faster phones, more channels, to keep us reaching.

I think the nature of story-telling’s interconnectedness helps us to heal ourselves from competitive, fearful grasping (CFG) by helping us to understand the paradox of the special and the ordinary. What I mean is that stories, if looked at from above, form a sort of web. One story connects with another, with another, with another. They connect through shared time, history, people, places, things and experiences.

When a story is told, there are usually main characters, but when looked at from above, you may see that an ant that played a small role in one story plays the central role in another. Up close, sometimes we are the star. Other times not. But from above, we are both simultaneously. What’s important is not that one is a star, but that one simply plays one’s role.

Even the ones among us who play big roles in many stories will one day be forgotten. What’s important is that the story keeps moving, keeps getting told. It’s the story, the Big Story of Us, that through its telling, gets into us, and stays alive, also through us.


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