Monday, December 6, 2010

In the Deep, Dark Cold of Winter Comes the Warmth of Story!

Now's the time of year to deepen your roots in preparation for a greater blossoming. One way to do that is through discovering your own myth -- your deepest and truest story, the one that holds your passion and purpose in life.

Here's a quick story exercise to help you find your myth. It's taken from Tristine Rainer's book, Your Life as Story: Discovering the "New Autobiography" and Writing Memoir as Literature, (New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1997). I highly recommend this book to people who want to find the story in their life, and I often use it to help my private clients get a big-picture story sense of their life and the shape of our work together. This tale can be drawn, danced, sung, and acted out. But the essence, in my experience, is writing it first. (Please remember that this exercise, almost verbatim, is Ms. Rainer's, and not mine originally.)

"Write a fairy tale about yourself in 3 sentences or short paragraphs, without too much thought, in 10 minutes or less.

In its simplest form, a fairy tale has 3 parts:

-- Something happens that causes a problem for a person or a group.
-- They struggle to find a solution.
-- They experience a transformation and have a realization.

(Example from Tristine Rainer's book, p. 45:
-- Once upon a time there was a little girl whose mother was dragged away kicking and screaming by men in white coats.
-- The little girl began to hate her mother and wish she would never come home.
-- In the end, though, she felt compassion for her mother and loved her as she had always wanted to love a mother.)

Now it's your turn. You can pick something that happened in the past, or that is happening in the present and imagine the change it can bring about:

'Once upon a time, there was a...(little girl, woman, boy, man, family, team, village, etc.)'

-- the problem;
-- your struggle to resolve it;
-- how you changed and what you learned (or how you could change and what the experience might teach you)."

Me again: You have here the bones of a possibly huge story that can be fleshed out over weeks or months. This is at least part of your personal myth and it can help you understand in a deeper way who you are and where you're going. The point is, and I hope you see from this quick exercise, that you have a story. Your story imagination is instinctive, it's dynamic and full of unseen possibilties, and it gives structure and meaning to difficult experience.


Are you interested in this? Please write me at if you would be interested in participating, either in person or online, or if you have questions about any other services I offer.


For healers, writers, other artists, coaches, people in transition, and anyone interested in applying the power of the story imagination to their life.

When someone undertakes a great work -- be it getting well, rebuilding a life after it's been shattered by loss, finding meaning and purpose in life, or starting a creative project -- they step out on a hero's journey that mirrors the first great heroic journey in life: the developmental stages through childhood to adulthood. In story, these stages are thresholds expressed as chapters, scenes, and vignettes. Creative struggle in adulthood can bring to light buried thresholds and parts of the self that need attention and nourishment for one to become whole.

Working in a metaphorical, right-brain developmental model such as the hero's journey provides safe access to these places in the unconscious, at the crossroads of mind and body, that lie beyond the limits of rational exploration through memory and ordinary language -- often without ever talking about them. This is the healing power of art. In the "Once upon a time" realm of myth, crisis or challenge opens a path to the inner grail that all people seek: peace of heart and mind, alignment of intention and action, and full release of the life force into one's present life.

The ancient narrative of resilience and transformation that tells of disaster, quest, victory, and wise return can be found in every great story, transformational experience, and meaningful life. It tells of the universal struggle to navigate and grow through crisis and shows us how to transform personal and collective misfortune into deep and necessary change. Using stories and poetry from the exuberant mosaic of the world's written and oral traditions, this unique writing group will teach you how to apply the inspiring hero's/heroine's journey paradigm to any challenging project, difficult life passage, or simply to enrich life itself.

Comments from previous participants: 

"Life changing. Affirming what I thought, taking me to the next level from where I was to where I want to be in life. I gained many new insights into myself, relationships, and place in the world. Deep inner change at my core. I took on a writing challenge during this group to write a novel in one month, and they each seemed to feed each other. Would I have accepted the challenge if I hadn't been on the hero's journey? Who knows. The depth of change would probably not have been there. My imagination seemed to open up. I became a better writer and person. I started a book on 11/1 and completed it on 11/22 -- 177 pages, 53,480 words! Woohoo!"

"I loved that it was a small group, with a sense of space and time that I loved. I felt seen, heard, understood, and encouraged. The framework of the heroine's journey is very empowering. To see my life as an epic adventure allows for all the catastrophes and losses to be incorporated, to be seen as part of the celebration of life, rather than shameful episodes that need to be covered up as quickly as possible."

"During the course I felt more and more comfortable about my work and sometimes even proud or surprised. Every class was a new thing and I never knew what to expect from myself. It just felt like I could trust my gut, let go of the inner police, and enjoy, create like a kid, play! I was able to remember how to play!"


In my private practice I work with adults coping with past trauma, loss, life transition, and relationship/work issues. My clients also include people who want to explore their creativity or need support for a creative project. In addition, I am now offering my story consulting services to socially-conscious businesses and organizations that want to provide stress reduction and team building programs for their staffs. Write:

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Be a Creative Listener: Ceremonies of Engaged Witness

The deepest emotional need for any human being is to feel valued – to feel seen and heard, and to have their experience acknowledged by others. In other words, to be visible.

Increasingly, in spite of our ever-expanding communications technology, many people (especially those most in need of outer support) feel invisible. This is because fewer and fewer people know how to tell their story, and even fewer people know how to listen. By listening, I mean being fully receptive to what they hear, without interrupting, contradicting, trying to fix, analyze, interpret, diagnose, or judge. In other words, to bear witness.

One of the smartest, most healing and transformational things we can do in our families, healthcare settings, mental health clinics, classrooms, communities, and workplaces is to create story sanctuaries where small groups of people can engage with one another outside their normal roles. Where they free to speak their truth: who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. Where quantum change happens through communal creative process and empathic relationship.

I’m going to briefly share with you a process for teaching people how to be creative and generative listeners. But first, a little background:

In the 1970s, cultural anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff observed a community of elderly Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles. Many of these people had migrated to the US from the shtetls of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and had lost their extended families in the Holocaust; a number had outlived their own children. The result was a sense of isolation from the rest of the community, a sense of invisibility, which manifested in depression, deeper isolation, loneliness, and frail health.

With help from a community organizer, these elderly citizens created a community in which they could recuperate, be re-energized, and regain their sense of existence. The way they did this was to tell and retell, perform and re-perform the stories of their lives. It was in these small story sanctuaries that these old people had the opportunity to become visible on their own terms. Meyerhoff called these experiences definitional ceremonies – the storytellers got to define themselves and be witnessed for it.

In the 1980s and 90s, Australian family therapists Michael White and David Epston, who had been using narratives with families, began to experiment with Myerhoff’s definitional ceremonies. In their practice, the therapist maintained their central role and elicited the stories through interviewing the clients and their outsider witnesses.

In the process described below, the therapist or facilitator steps back from their central role as interpreter and expert. After explaining the process to storyteller and witnesses, the facilitator does not intervene except to gently keep the process on track and focused on the central storyteller’s sharing. I call these storytelling and story listening experiences ceremonies of engaged witness.

Going Further:
Catalyzing Change through the Telling and Retelling of Stories

1. Tell a story, recite, a poem, or use the “Five Elements” storytelling exercise to build a safe container and create a theme for participants in this experience. I often use myths and fairy tales, as they release people from “reality” into connection with their imagination, intuition, and inner lives. Also, these old stories are metaphors for present experience and as such, are not invasive. I’ve never seen it fail. People universally respond to fairy tales and classic hero myths.

2. Invite a collective response to it – Ask the group what sensory images, phrases, or dramatic moments stand out for them. Not why. Just what. Anyone can share. No one has to.

3. Invite private writing time – Ask each person to find their own private “studio” space, then to write down five words that come immediately to mind. Ask them to choose the word that most captures their imagination, and to make that the first word of an improvisational piece of writing. Give them 5-15 minutes for this exercise, telling them at the outset how much time they’ll have, and that everything they need to say will come out in this time. I often play meditative music during this period to create safety and privacy within the group.

4. Invite reading for whoever wants to share with the group. Again, everyone is invited. No one has to.

5. Invite each witness to retell what they heard, without analyzing, interpreting, giving advice, or judging in any way. This is the critical and catalytic part of the process.
Instruct listeners to focus their feedback on four areas without being rigid or judgmental if they fail to address all the feedback questions in the way you want:
-- The values expressed in this writing, drawing, or performance (what matters to the storyteller);
-- Images that stand out for you and the felt sense, atmosphere, or mood you get from their story;
-- Go further with inner resonance. What areas or memories in your personal life that you may have forgotten are lit up by hearing this. (These last two steps are catalytic because they merge storyteller and witness stories, move the storyteller forward into a bigger story, and create a communal story.)
-- Share a personal shift or change in perspective gained as a result. This lets the teller know how valuable their story is to others.

6. Invite the teller to retell the retelling: What do they take away with them from this experience? WHAT POSITIVE STEPS CAN THEY NOW TAKE IN THEIR LIVES?

by Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Write of Passage": a 7-Week Hero's Journey Intensive

Tuesdays, October 5 - November 16
7-9 p.m.
my office

$210 for all 7 sessions.

(This is a small, closed group, and you must commit with payment up front to all 7 sessions. Thanks.)

For New York area writers and other artists, healers, coaches, people dealing with life transitions, those in or aspiring to leadership positions, and anyone who wants to live life as a daring adventure.

I invite you to come on a hero's journey with me.

The ancient hero's journey myth that tells of disaster, quest, victory, and wise return can be found in every great story, transformational experience, and meaningful life.

It's a metaphorical roadmap for the universal struggle to navigate and grow through crisis and shows us how to transform personal or collective misfortune into deep and necessary change.

The orphans, seekers, mentors, warriors, tricksters, tyrants, creators, lovers, magicians, and sages met along the way can found in our own relationships at home, work, and within ourselves. And how often do we find ourselves at metaphorical crossroads, steep mountain passes, turbulent rivers, and seek hidden caves in which to endure life's inevitable dark nights? This unique and beautiful course will give you a fresh perspective from which to more deeply understand the underlying dynamics and possibilities of your life experience.

Using stories and poetry from the exuberant mosaic of the world's oral and written traditions, this writing and storytelling class will teach you how to apply the inspiring, transforming power of this ancient story paradigm to any challenging project, difficult life passage, or simply to life itself.

To sign up for this course, contact me at (Most of my posts from 2009 describe the separate sessions of this course in detail.)


Some comments from past mythic journeys:

"This is the most incredible experience I've ever had! Where is this stuff coming from in me? I'm very excited about this process. I can already feel the shift of energy."

"I'm so fascinated by the archetypes -- the characters who are a part of me. I feel really inspired. It felt so good to hear others' stories and to have other people listen to mine."

"It was a beautiful experience. I had several light bulbs go off in my head about the orphan-seeker characters I'm playing out."

"I got a new frame in which to see my life that has helped me to feel a greater sense of integration and wholeness. Learning about the hero's journey has helped bring dignity and meaning to my own very personal struggles and seeing them in the context of a larger whole gives me a greater sense of connection and purpose. And that greater sense fuels me with inspiration to pursue, persevere and achieve the things that i want to do. I couldn’t have written the third act of my play without this group."

"You create a comfortable and nurturing environment. Each participant felt safe in expressing him or herself, which ultimately impacted the energy of the entire group in profound ways. Your inclusion of literary material provided me with a jumping off point for my creative project."

"I've been an art therapist for many years now and I lead groups for a living. Therefore, I so enjoy being a quieter part of the group, able to sit back and have my own process while experiencing how you present the information, handle challenging and also pleasant situations, and see how you are absolutely present to the process that the group and each individual is undergoing. The interweaving of your skills and the talents/needs of the group members is quite a fine process and a great experience."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Healing Story for the Gulf, its Wildlife, and its People

June 8, 2017. One of the principles of my story practice is that there is a point of intersection between our own lives and the larger one playing out on our planet. As we heal and make whole ourselves, we heal and make whole the energy flowing through our world.

Today, as we enter the deeper waters of the Sea of Chaos in America, I am reminded of this blog post and healing workshop I offered during the Gulf disaster. I'm beginning to think of how to bring healing story practice to Trump's unraveling.

The background music on Morning Joe this morning is Paul Simon singing, "These are the days of miracles and wonder..." 


Ancient healers understood very well the power of words, images, dance, music, and especially the dynamic conflicts and characters in stories to heal and comfort suffering people. They often diagnosed illness by observing what parts of a story most resonated with their patient and then told a special curative story to mobilize the sick person's inherent healing capacities.

Contemporary healers, artists, and creative people can do the same for our planet and all its creatures. Through the metaphors of artistic expression, we can imagine into being a better story than the one that is playing out now. This month, I’m inviting New Yorkers to attend a healing story workshop to call forth the energies of restoration and resilience for the Gulf of Mexico, its wildlife, and people.

What exactly is a healing story, you may ask. Healing stories are metaphors for the universal human struggle to create meaning and growth out of misfortune. They're as old as humanity itself and are often called hero's journeys; they're expressions of our natural resilience -- of hope, transformation, and redemption. In this kind of story, a personal or collective disaster inspires someone to leave their ordinary life and go on a difficult quest for the solution to the problem. After many trials and defeats, overcoming dangerous obstacles and adversaries, they succeed in claiming the healing knowledge, elixir, or object, and bring it back home for the good of all. These times call for heroes.

Adventurous minds, released through imagination, can create innovation, leaps of genius, and inspired solutions. What if millions of people across the country let their imaginations loose to create healing stories for the Gulf? What unimaginable possibilities might arise? Mobilization of millions of citizens for the greatest environmental clean-up in the history of the world? A new and more profound commitment to taking care of our environment? What’s your wildest dream for our land and its waters?


Monday, August 2
Force and Flow Integrated Bodywork
1100 Dean Street, #5
Brooklyn (between Franklin & Bedford Aves.)


Space is very limited and you must register to attend.

We all feel helpless and sickened about what's happening in the Gulf. Once the oil leak is stopped, it will take years, even decades, for the ecology, wildlife, and people of that region to recover. But we're not helpless to create unexpected and amazing change through storytelling. The purpose of this workshop is to activate collective energy for restored health to the waters, wildlife, and people of the Gulf.

In this session, you'll:
- Learn how to write and tell a transformational story;
- Hear a healing story inspired by Salman Rushdie's novel, "Haroun and the Sea of Stories," a highly popular fable written for his son during the fatwa against him, which touches upon similar issues to the Gulf disaster;
- Experience private writing time and communal sharing time (when the transformational magic happens).

This workshop is not about writing a wishful but inauthentic vision of what you'd like to see happen in the Gulf. It's about finding that place in yourself that intersects with that larger story, and writing whatever your soul and spirit send up from that place. That's how real healing happens, both personally and for society.

In Chaos Theory there is a term called the butterfly effect. This means that small actions in one part of a giant system can affect the whole system. So a butterfly flapping its wings in New York over time could create a fresh wind over the Gulf of Mexico.

Many minds moving with the same intention can create miracles. Think back to the grassroots momentum that put President Obama in the White House, against all odds. It began with hundreds of tiny Camp Obamas, where people were asked to tell a better story for our country and for their own lives. The sharing that happened at those storytelling camps galvanized a movement. Together, possibly we can change this awful story too.

Train info:


Comments from Participants on Evaluation Sheets at this Workshop

"Magical and wonderful!"

"Made the tragedy more meaningful to me in a personal concrete way."

"Amazingly creative."

"Facilitation was subtle and anything but heavy-handed. Bravo!"

"Stories you shared were beautiful and inspirational. I felt a strong sense of healing."

"Lots of sharing and feedback, lots of compassion, especially from leader."

"Peaceful and comforting."

"You are such a wonderful storyteller, soft and tender voice with just the right vocal expression. At your dance workshop I learned that the story I shared would be heard and understood. At this one, I learned that it could be expanded to the community in way that would impact each member. It was so powerful to share with each other about our feelings about the gulf! As if we were little drops of water getting together."

"Learning about the hero's journey healing story was beautiful and helped me understand the big picture and the how I can use it in different ways."

"Bathing in collective creative process was like swimming in cool fresh water."

Monday, April 26, 2010

How to Create a Thrilling Life with a Story Imagination

From Hubble space telescope
I'm my own best client.

Some time ago I brought about a miracle in my life -- I mean a real "pot of gold" type of miracle, something that never would I have thought could occur. I'm sure it wouldn't have happened if I had stuck with conventional notions of reality and failed to mobilize through creative metaphor the big, bold, life force energies that make lightning strike and magic happen.

Once you understand that your life is an unfolding story and that you are the storyteller who can shape and play with it on the page, then use that page as you would a roadmap, you gain tremendous power in your life.

In this month's blog, I'm going to share a story process with you to spark your imagination around an issue or situation.

The Alchemical Process for Bringing About Amazing Change

First, embrace your life as it is, right now, right here, knowing that you are exactly where you're supposed to be in your own development.

1. Describe in "real" world terms the situation, crisis, misfortune, wound, or lack. What’s the real world reality facing you? This is a narrative report generated by your rational mind. This step alone will make you more present and attentive to what’s going on around you.

Now, look at your situation from the perspective of story. By that I mean, break it down into the elements of story. These include:

Time, both in terms of when it happens and in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Time gives story its basic structure and makes it a safe container for difficult feelings.

Setting and Mood. Where is this situation taking place? What’s the mood? External environments usually mirror something about the people who live or work there. The overall atmosphere reflects the deeper emotional context.

-- Protagonists in stories are the main characters. They're seeking good things for themselves and their loved ones. You're the protagonist in your story. What do you want?
--Antagonists created the lack or want to keep the status quo and create obstacles. Bad bosses, mean spouses, people who instill doubt, weakness, lie and betray your trust, and create obstacles to your success. Who's or what's standing in your way, and why? Could they be reflecting an inner demon?
--Allies, friends, sponsors, coaches, wise counselors, caring doctors expand you and give you energy. Who are they in your situation?

Plot. Whenever you try to change a situation, you set up a conflict, even if the new one will make you much happier. The forces of the old ways rise up to hold you fast. In story, this struggle creates the dynamic of plot. Describe the conflict, the choices you want to make, the actions and outcome that you desire. These and your adversary’s response create the unfolding plot.

Storyteller. This is the Voice in you that reframes, changes, shapes, and tells the story. Your voice is where your power lies. It externalizes internal conflicts and feelings, makes you and others more aware of what's really going on, and helps you know you're not alone.

2. Next, rewrite your story as a fairy tale. Writing in the third person as omniscient narrator, turn each story element into a metaphor -- a fantastical object, place, or character. Metaphorizing experience translates it into a language of the senses, which captures its essence. It awakens the non-rational, intuitive right brain and guides you to a deeper knowing where you can discover the unconscious dynamics and hidden treasures in a situation.

Metaphors for Time. “Once upon a time,” is an archetypal wake-up call to the right brain, where new connections will be made. What’s your metaphorical time frame and mythic period?

Metaphors for Setting and Mood. Archetypal landscapes and structures capture the meaning of experience to the interior world. These include deserts, oceans, islands, prisons, parlors, stairs, bridges, tunnels, towers, crossroads.

Metaphors for Characters.
-- Hero: The one who steps up to change the story. Often someone who is vulnerable or marginalized in some way. (Change happens first at the edges, where the status quo is most vulnerable, not at the center or in the mainstream, where it’s strong.)
-- Villain: an illness, misfortune, status quo, forces that represent resistance to change; orthodox priests and reactionary and/or violent political forces. His agents can be armies or trolls, demons, and snarling dogs.
-- Mentors, allies, helpers – wise and old men and women, talking birds, omens, gods and goddesses.They represent your intuition, the heralds of your highest and best self.
-- Demons, monsters, trolls, and natural events such as storms set the hero back, but can become important teachers.

Metaphors for Plot. After an arduous journey, struggle to the death, or terrible drought, water flows again. A sleeping princess awakens. An ugly duckling is recognized for the swan she is. Transformational story always has some kind of positive outcome, redemption, or shift of consciousness that gives meaning and hope to the struggle. This doesn’t mean a cure or a perfect solution. It means that the life force has begun to flow in a sterile situation.

3. Improvise. This is the step of serious play. What stands out for you in what you've just written? Pick an image, character, or moment in your story that stands out and make that the title or beginning of a 5-or-10-minute freewriting session. Allow whatever wants to emerge through writing, other artistic media, or brainstorming.

4. Translate this fairy tale version of your life back into ordinary reality. Very important! Come back across the metaphorical bridge: What does this look like in the material world for you? With this new and deeper intuitive understanding, what wants to emerge here? What are these circumstances asking of you?


Story is a spiritual practice. You tell your story not to hang onto it or identify with it, but to release it by embracing it, and to release yourself from a pattern that no longer serves you or others.

Tell the story of a painful life experience and it loses its emotional charge.

Tell the story of a block and it dissolves.

Tell a new story and you begin to change your life from the inside out.

(c) 2010 Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How Can We Help the Children? Giving Troubled Kids a Better Story

This re-post from years ago seems relevant these days. It may be especially so for teachers, counselors, and other community professionals who work with frightened and at-risk young people.

Last week-end an art therapist posted the following message on a creative arts listserv to which I belong:

I am running a group for 6 students in 3rd grade who have behavior problems and aggression. I found that for the first group, the rules were consistently broken, even when reinforced and warnings were given. I spent so much time on just trying to get the students to be quiet when someone else was talking, take turns, ask for materials rather than grab them from another student, sit in their chair, not name call, tease or swear, that there was little time to focus on the artwork. Any advice on things that will work for them?

This was my response:

I co-facilitated a social skills summer camp for special needs kids with many of the problems you described. They ranged in age from 6 to 12 and there were 10 of them.

What I did was to give them a better story than the one they were used to hearing about themselves -- a profoundly negative story that was imprinting itself more deeply every day on their sense of who they were and what life would be like for them. I completely changed the ballgame from a therapeutic or teaching environment into a Native American warrior rite. (Thus going with their aggressive impulses rather than trying to change them.)

To start with, I played non-percussive music -- mostly Carlos Nakai -- to create a relaxed and mysterious space totally outside of their ordinary lives. All the chairs were placed in a circle and they drew on the floor. I had each one draw fire (implicitly allowing safe expression of their anger and aggression through the metaphor of flames) and had them arrange their drawings together to create a campfire in the middle. I named my co-facilitator -- a social worker -- the Village Chief and myself the Medicine Chief. (Amazing how we both rose to those roles!)

I defined the kids as braves who were becoming adult warriors of the tribe. Their mission was to protect the people, not go to war because that wasn't necessary. All activities and social skills teachings were presented within this context of a brave band of warriors and their mentors. I told stories and myths about indigenous people and they responded with pictures and stories about themselves (some revealing through metaphor that they were experiencing violence, chaos, or trauma at home), and they learned the "warrior code" of behavior rather than "social skills" or "rules of conduct." There were no sticks, but there were plenty of colored rubber balls. To talk, you had to ask for and hold a "talking ball." Only it turned out not to be a ball; the kids decided that it was a sacred fossil containing the bones of a dinosaur that were the source of the power of the tribe and its warriors.

What happened with most of the children was that they were so spellbound by the imaginative world they found themselves in and who they were within that world that they forgot to be disruptive. Teaching took place "under the radar."

It wasn't perfect, of course, but we built in an exit point whereby kids who were disruptive could ask for or be "given" a time-out to go out into the hall with one of the co-facilitators to talk or just to sit quietly. No punishment, just calming retreat.

A year or so later, I used basically the same approach in a more subtle, sophisticated way with youths in a diversion from incarceration program and after that, with teens with HIV/AIDS who were living on the streets. Again, it imbued the groups and each member with a dignity and respect from adults and other kids that they rarely if ever had experienced, and they got to perform "up" to that new self-image rather than "down" to the low expectations most adults had for them.

All of us -- especially children and teens (and adults going through difficult times of loss and transition) -- hunger for dignity and self-expression within the structure of respectful community, as well as some kind of "roadmap" or pathway forward to a better sense of self and future. I've found the traditional rite of passage model and myths of all cultures immensely useful in creating these kinds of dynamic and nurturing environments.

by Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.