Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Releasing Light in Dark Times Through Storytelling

"I saw an angel in the stone and I carved until I set him free."

No one since Michelangelo has more aptly or succinctly told the story of creative process. In one sentence, the sculptor describes its stages: encounter with raw material, receptive attention to the point of love, trusting that inner presence through the not-knowing-for-sure time, illumination, patient and committed toil, and finally manifestation in the concrete world.

So too with life. Whether we are trying to nourish the inherent strengths of a troubled young person, find deeper love in a conflicted relationship, rebuild our life after loss, create common ground between adversaries, or express ourselves in a fresh way, there is no system, structure, or formula more powerful than creative process.

In his book Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process, Dr. Lewis Mehl-Medrona shares a Pasqua Yaqui native American tale from the southwest about an old man who owned light, but kept it hidden in a box within a box deeply buried inside his house. He was afraid that if it was released, he would discover that his daughter, who lived with him, was ugly. Writes Mehl-Madrona, "You've probably seen the same thing I have, where people are so afraid of what could happen that they hide their gifts and capabilities from themselves and each other." (p. 59)

Through a messy series of mishaps instigated by the trickster Raven, the light is eventually freed from the box, only to be dropped by Raven in his escape, shattering into millions of tiny fragments. The pieces of light hit the ground and bounce back into the sky, where they appear as the moon and stars. Raven gathers together the remaining fragments, shapes them into a ball, and carries the throbbing orb high into the sky. It shines every day as the sun, making life possible on earth.

Once the world becomes visible, the old man sees that his daughter is beautiful. There had been no reason to hide the light in the first place.

Are we not in many ways like that old man? So afraid of finding out we're not good enough that we hide who we are in boxes within boxes? Yet what the world needs more than anything in these traumatic times is for us to be exactly who we are: imperfect, vulnerable, but fully alive and radiating our life force -- the luminous heart at the center of all living things.

One way to do that is to carve away the masks and walls we erect to protect our inner selves from pain, which we learn to do very early in chldhood. To shape the fragments of images, echoes, and moments into our story -- the deep soul story that carries our passion and our purpose for being here. To release Soul into our yearning world.

Working in the metaphors of story, we relearn what we have always intuitively known: that the processes of growth, healing, and transformation mean asking not "How can I fix or change this problem?" but rather "What wants to emerge right here and now from these circumstances and from this person that I am?"

Like rocks obstructing the flow of water, obstacles in our own lives slow us down, ask us to pay close attention, look for the meaning of experience in our interior world, and ask ourselves, "How can I set the angel free?"

Find the Story of Now

Thinking now as artist, storyteller, and sculptor, ask yourself in the third person:

1. What time is it in your life, in the life of your family, your community, the world? Find a metaphor to describe your intuitive sense of time.

2. What's the external environment? And what's the mood? Landscapes and built environments mirror something important about the people who live and work there. The overall atmosphere reflects the deeper emotional context.

3. Who's there? What do they yearn for more than anything? What do they resist with all their might? What private stories do they carry that may be colliding when they interact?

4. What's a healing story plot line you can carve out of these fragments? Remember, healing story has a basic structure of crisis, struggle, unexpected and marvelous help, and transformation.

5. Now write this story line fast -- in 10 or 15 minutes. Get it down on paper. Make it real. The writer is the voice of your internal Storyteller, the voice that reframes, changes, shapes, sculpts, listens, and tells the story. This is the voice that externalizes inner conflicts, moves you out of isolation into community, and releases your light and warmth, which are so desperately needed in these times.

6. Now -- very important -- share your story with trusted others.

Start right here, right now, to open a channel for life force to flow into the world. Set the angel free.


Maya Angelou: "There's no greater agony than carrying around an untold story inside yourself."

I maintain a private practice in New York City and a long distance one by phone with clients in other cities. The journaling, storymaking, and visual arts exercises I offer along with my creative approach are extremely effective in helping you heal from:

~ unhealthy stress;
~ anxiety and depression;
~ unhappiness in a relationship;
~ separation and divorce;
~ deeply rooted financial issues (beyond money itself);
~ impact of childhood trauma;
~ loss and grief;
~ general dissatisfaction with life;
~ unfulfilled creative potential; and
~ career and life transitions.

Working in right-brain expressive modalities helps you make quantum yet grounded leaps forward to the life you want more than anything to be yours. You go deep and you go fast -- and given the creative and incremental structures of poetry and story -- within a safe emotional container.

When you fully tell the story hidden in whatever is blocking you, the block dissolves. Creative, passionate life energy flows freely. "This feels light," said one client, "even though we're dealing with some dark stuff. Big and light. I don't want this to end."

by Juliet Bruce. All rights reserved.

If you would like to schedule a free half hour phone consultation or receive a free storymaking tool, please write me at julietbrucephd@gmail.com.