Saturday, February 16, 2013

Story Medicine: How Metaphor Heals

If you're interested in transformational or therapeutic storytelling, this recent personal experience may serve as a template for how it can work.

For a long time, I've been asking for a Me in my life--someone who works at the depth and with the creativity I do--a healing story practitioner. 

She's arrived. Turns out that she's been here for a while, observing me, and decided it was the right moment to step forth and offer me a transformational partnership.

The other night, across the thousands of miles that separate her home from mine, I described what was going on in my life. She, with her own creative intuition, saw the colliding and conflicting demands that felt crushing to me--none of them self-created but all of them mine to resolve--as a group of whirling dervishes: out of control, without their form, bumping into and falling all over each other, creating havoc. Their dance was toxic; it needed to be stopped, and they needed to be sent to their rooms to quiet down. 

In my "real" life, she said, there needed to be compartmentalization of the issues and inner boundaries established to untangle the emotional chaos that was threatening my health and well-being.  

The Curative Power of Playfulness
Storymaker that I am, I glided into this delicious scenario as all-loving Rumi. I quietly stopped the whirling and asked each dervish to go to his own room to seek the Beloved. "The moment you accept what troubles you've been given, the door will open," wrote Rumi hundreds of years ago. 

My Rumi suggested they ask this question: "What is struggling to be born in this place?" Then he advised them to listen deeply.

One by one, Rumi worked with each dervish to untangle the inner knots that were creating a ripple effect of chaos in the community, and to regain his proper form.

Eventually, the dance resumed with peace and discipline, and the presence of the Beloved radiated in the golden light of the circle.

Before Rumi left, he reminded the dancers to "meet whatever comes at the door laughing, for it has been sent as a Guide from Beyond."

Play is Serious Business!

I slowly quieted down and regained my center as I shared my improvisational story with my partner, who was right there with me, witnessing and affirming the transformation. 

What happened here? She helped me change the story by listening as my healing imagination gave me the medicine I needed. More: she let my own my inner resilience work. My self-perception in that moment changed from that of a victim jeopardized by life's tangles into a ruler of my life who saw an opportunity to remake a situation, imagine something new, create a different story. 

And the effect, according to new neuroscience? A rewiring in the brain, detoxification and settling down of the central nervous system, an awakening of the right brain, and a resumed flow of life force. 

In my experience, nothing matches the rejuvenating, restoring power of the imagination applied to life. Meta-phor: To go beyond. "The imagination has powers of resurrection that science cannot match," wrote the author Ingrid Bengis. Through metaphor, I reframed and re-authored a situation. I played.

The following day, I woke up with the mad whirling, but was able to recreate the dervishes in my morning meditation, and to laugh. As a result, I sat quietly and then did my own practice so essential to my well-being: Qigong. I began to feel again the flow of my bright spirit.

This past week I was able to move through two grueling, left-brained consulting assignments at a large international agency; able to work on the most difficult chapter of my Write of Passage book, "The Valley of the Shadow," in which the hero finally overcomes the forces that block forward movement; and able to make several critical calls that involved a very difficult situation with a family member. 

I did all this with the poise, confidence, and deliberateness of a Ruler. Yes, I'm tired. But I'm also serene. I stepped up to the plate, did my best, and then I slept soundly.

Thank you, Rumi!

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 


All rights reserved, except for Rumi poem and real Rumi quote, 2013, Juliet Bruce, Ph.D.