Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Transformation in storytelling

I recently reunited with pals – some of whom I haven’t seen in 20 years – from my newspapering days. It was a lovely lazy afternoon ripe with memories, personalities, shared hardships, witnessing how lives have been shaped and recast but, mostly, women connecting.

With some people you immediately take up where you left off, getting deep quickly; probably because you have previously. With others, it requires some time to skim off the years, the insecurity, the bravado, the shyness, the reticence. But when you all arrive in that place, the experience is so rich. Everyone has a story to tell. Usually a tale of adversity that has made that woman grow stronger, braver and more loving.

All in the group personally know the value of stories and storytelling. That was our craft. And yet it had been years since we had told stories together. There is a bonding in that sharing that requires trust, willingness and listening.

Tweets, Facebook walls and texts are not sufficient to create real community. They may suffice as in-between filler for face-to-face meetings. E-mails are a better source of connecting, but nothing, in my mind, takes the place of a look-into-your-eyes kind of conversation.

Safe community is in rare supply today. Genuine listening and feeling heard more so. That’s why we have to create spaces to do this for each other. So much artificial and fleeting stimulation in our world does not feed our souls in the manner a satisfying live conversation can.

We must tell our stories because it reinforces who we really are. It, truly, lets our souls speak. Otherwise, they are so stifled and stuffed down that they can become lost and seep out in other, less healthy, ways

We must listen to these stories as validation for and of each other. In doing so, we nurture, encourage and affirm our True Selves or, as Quakers believe, that of God in everyone.

Listening to stories does not have to be limited to established friends. Maybe it’s the bedraggled mother in the checkout, the moping pizza delivery boy or dazed elderly man. Often, all it takes is some expression of care couched in a simple comment such as: “Wow, you look like you’ve had a rough day,” “Late night?” “Can I help?” Don’t do it, however, if you’re not prepared to listen.

True listening, emanating from the heart, is in rare supply simply because we have such little experience of using it as either listener or listenee.

I learned what I call the golden rule of listening from a wise Quaker. “The burden of translation is on the listener,” she told me over ten years ago at a spiritual-nurture retreat. To me that means listening between, behind and around the words. Substituting words that may be uncomfortable with those that suit you. Listening, essentially, from the heart.

It’s something that happens invisibly and unknowingly for the storyteller. But it can literally change the life of the listener. Try it yourself and find out. There’s nothing to lose by listening to another soul.

Sharing and listening to our stories is transforming.

• Am I more of a teller or listener?
• What happens when I shift to the other?
• What have I experienced when I have felt really listened to?
• How can I hone my listening skills?
• What can I do to create a safer community for such deep sharing?

It’s as if
my entire
is an ear

another heart

my eyes
to seek
the soul

a gift
to have
the holder
of this

gets a
turn to

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