Tuesday, November 20, 2012

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

Now is 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 an easy 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 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.

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 -- crisis, struggle, and transformation:

  1. Something happens that causes a problem for a person or a group.
  2. They struggle to find a solution.
  3. They experience a transformation and have a realization.
Try it. Pick a situation or event from the past or that is happening in the present. Put it through this very simple story process:

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

  1. the problem or crisis;
  2. your struggle to resolve it - the obstacles you faced, what you did, the outcome or continuing dilemma (this puts the attention on you rather than the problem) ;
  3. how you changed and what you learned (or how you could change and what the experience might teach you).
You have here the bones of a personal 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, what has shaped you, and where you're going. The point is, and I hope you see from this quick exercise, that you have a story. Story gives structure and meaning to difficult experience. Your story imagination is instinctive, dynamic, and full of unseen possibilities.


Coming in 2013: my book


For people faced with rebuilding life after traumatic experience, healers, writers and other artists, clinicians, coaches, and anyone interested in applying the power of the narrative imagination to their life.

When someone undertakes a great work -- whether it is 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.

The hero's journey -- that 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 book on therapeutic writing will help you to apply the inspiring hero's/heroine's journey paradigm to any difficult life passage.

Working in a metaphorical, right-brain developmental model such as the archetypal hero's journey provides safe access to places in the unconscious that lie beyond the limits of rational exploration, memory, and ordinary language. In the "Once upon a time" realm of myth, crisis or challenge opens a path to the grail that all people seek: peace of heart and mind and full release of the life force into your life.


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 solopreneurs, companies, and organizations that want to develop a powerful professional narrative. To explore working with me in person, by phone or by Skype, write:
julietbrucephd@gmail.com to schedule a free phone consultation -- no strings attached.

Client Comments:

"Life changing. Affirming, took 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."

"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."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Laid Bare

New York City, 10.29.12
Of all the devastating images of wrecked, flooded, and burned out lives from Hurricane Sandy that hit the East Coat last week, this one of a building with its front wall ripped off has been the most awful to me. What happened to the people who lived here? Were they in these rooms when the walls fell away? Where are they now?

I was one of the lucky ones who never even lost power, much less my home. Even so, I've been feeling a deep sense of vulnerability -- sadness for the suffering of my neighbors, and a deep anxiety about the hard truth: We work so hard to create homes for ourselves; we do all the right things. And in a moment – be it a historic storm, a diagnosis, or a betrayal revealed -- Home is stripped away. We are face to face with the raw truth of life that everything we hold onto for dear life is impermanent and will leave us. There’s no going back to Monday afternoon before the storm.

Whatever form it takes, the aftermath of disaster can be for many people a kind of falling out of the flow of human life. After the immediate shock, we can be paralyzed by feelings of helplessness, loss of meaningful language, the ability to connect with other people, and hope in the future. It can feel like this terrible experience is the whole story – or worse, the end of the story. And it is, in a way, the end of the life we have been living. In some ways, the aftermath of disaster can be a spiritual death. 

But what have I learned in all these years of living? That beneath the fear and grief is the ground of something new. If we can sit with fear, breathe through it, allow it to dissolve like the frail walls we build to protect and separate ourselves from one another and from the unknown, we can find safety in the awareness that we are still here. We are alive. Amazingly, a deep, quiet, inward joy emerges. Life flows again. Ultimately we learn that the only safety is to live in the question, What wants to emerge now? 

Misfortune -- where story begins

In my own life and in all my years of helping others, I always go back to story. Why? Because it is in fact a scaffold for transforming disaster into a field of growth. In story, misfortune -- the inciting event -- propels a character out of their ordinary world into a quest for healing, greater well-being, understanding, whatever it is they need. Along the way, they change, becoming wiser, better, or more courageous; they find dimensions in themselves they never knew they had. In a really good story, they become a hero to themselves and to others. They change the story. 

Human beings used to live with and respect nature. They learned from the patterns of dying and rebirth inherent in seasons how to let go and die and how to resurrect life. They listened to birds and learned to sing a new world into being. This truth is the foundation for every ancient people’s creation stories. And it can be our truth in these times of change.

There’s a native American tale called “Incanchu’s Drum,” about a great volcanic eruption that destroys the whole world. The only survivors are two birds flying over the land that is covered in ash, unable to find their home. Circling and circling, they become exhausted and are on the verge of giving up… until Creator appears and says, “Fly until your middle feathers point down, and follow them. There is your home.” 

Landing in a field of ash, the birds are in despair; there is no water, no food, no trees. The only thing left is a big block of charred ruin. One of the birds, called Ichanchu, leans against it and falls asleep. When he awakens, not knowing what else to do, he begins to beat it like a drum. 

Eventually a song emerges from the primal rhythm, and after a time of singing, a small sapling begins to appear from the ashes. This is the tree of healing and life. From this tree arise other trees, and soon a forest. The animals come back, followed by the people. Life is reborn. The only sign of the world’s destruction is a thin layer of ash on everything.

This is why I keep going back to the old stories. They give us images of rebirth to hold on to in times of death, and they provide roadmaps for creating something meaningful from disaster.

 Finding the real certainties when the false ones are ripped away

  1. The First Certainty: Your breath. Become aware of your breathing – in and out. The breath, the beating heart, is the Beginning.
  2. The Second Certainty: Your body. Become aware of your body. Are you in pain? Where? Are you afraid or sad? Where do you feel it – in your stomach, shoulders, back, neck, or head? Breathe through these sensations.
  3. The Third Certainty: External crisis may trigger an internal one. Become aware of the inner stories that are triggered by the outer circumstances. Usually they are stories of fear or despair. “This is the end,” The Doors sang in the '60s, when everything familiar was falling apart. Compassionately allow these dark stories to exist. In fact, give them expression: draw them, write, drum, or dance them.
  4. The Fourth Certainty: Self-expression is the channel that allows life to flow again. Follow the words and shapes that appear on the page or in your imagination, the rhythms and movements as they change. They will. It never fails. 
  5. The Fifth Certainty: Joining with others is the beginning of community, and community is the grid for a new world. Share your story and listen to theirs.
  6. The Sixth Certainty: Forming a vision gives power. Find a pole star, a dream, a beacon, something to aim for, both individually and collectively. Give whatever you can to help each other realize this vision. 
My imagination, optimism, and deep faith are what I have to give you. Slowly, we can build a new world together -- without walls.