Monday, November 6, 2017


Photo by Larry Pence
Are you struggling with something that doesn't seem to give way despite your best efforts?

The dynamic metaphor we call a story galvanizes powerful internal energies needed to change our realities -- for ourselves and our world. That's why we tell stories; that's why we listen.

Here's some encouragement from the Story Zone for you.

Three-fourths of the way through a good story, the protagonist, who has long been oppressed by the forces of darkness, suddenly gains the upper hand through a transformational insight or surge of power. Call it the Grail moment—when the truth hidden deep within the crisis is revealed. In a revolutionary action, the protagonist seizes the sword and kills the enemy. With that, the world changes.

What has happened is that our protagonist's relationship to the problem changed.

The moment of highest tension and ultimate constriction becomes the one of complete unknotting. The most excruciating pain opens to joy, and joy expands to freedom.

It is here, in the most awful place, that the protagonist has claimed the inner quality needed for breakthrough. Now they can truly claim the identity of Hero -- the one who changed the story.

The plot changes from quest to return, as our hero slowly finds the way back to their waiting land or cuts a swath to a new home that is ready to receive the priceless gift they bring.

Imagine yourself into the above scenario.

What is your challenge?
What or who stands between you and the solution?
What qualities have helped you overcome challenges in the past?
How can you put them to use now?
What will you do when you've solved the problem?

For story-based help in dealing with your personal or group challenges, write me at julietbrucephd at

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Eminem put out a fantastic and bombastic video directed at the President this week, who challenged his Secretary of State to an I.Q. duel while fires raged in California, Puerto Rico fell into more desperate straits, Florida and Texas were still reeling in shock, the House passed an abortion ban, the true cruelty behind the revised Dreamers' Act came to light, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and two Air Force jets few over North Korean air space as a show of American force yesterday, according to the BBC.

E's video is amazing and I'm glad to see it out there. But the rage he can express creatively can also burn us up -- me anyway. What's happening -- all of it -- can make us so hysterical, and physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick, that we may lash out at each other instead of effectively resisting. So how to stay healthy for the long haul ahead to restore sanity to America?

Through humor, not denying anything, just re-energizing ourselves through a comic lens. I'm not talking about humor directed at the frauds in power-- that's being taken care of by the comic geniuses at Late Night and SNL. I'm thinking of light-hearted humor directed at our own psyches, where a new idea, a better way of saying something, or a transformational insight might be lurking in the wings. Look inside and I bet you'll find a hilarious, and yes, contentious cast of characters that is trying to pull a new production together. In my life, so many are trying to get out that sometimes it seems like they've become stuck in the doorway.

What if all of this is a dream, as the Bard and the Buddha say? What if this life you're living is an improvisational puppet show in a public square? Who are your stock characters? What's the plot that you see unfolding? What do all these crazies yearn for?

I've begun to develop a new story workshop, based on the Renaissance commedia dell'arte, which I plan to present at my closed Story Cauldron group in a few weeks. It will be a beta test to see if we really can come up with fresh ideas or new hope through comic re-imaginings of crisis situations.
Photo: Take the First Left

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Divided Brain, Broken World: How the War in Our Heads is Destroying Our Planet

There's a great deal of interest now in neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to grow and change) and particularly in restoring the processes and values of the right brain to every area of life.

The evidence of decline is everywhere and growing:
~ A recent Washington Post article told of a creative, highly motivating young teacher who was fired because the tests scores of her mostly inner city students were too low;
~ Gifted and creative students stifled and channeled into unfulfilling professional careers instead of the ones for which they were meant;
~ Growing addiction to virtual reality at the cost of intimate relationships;
~ Increased incidence of depression and bipolar disorder;
~ Increasing materialism accompanied by inner emptiness;
~ Environmental and geopolitical destruction;
~ Loss of opportunities to engage in dialogue with people and groups who disagree on issues, reflected in paralyzing divisiveness and partisanship at all levels of government, economic, and community life;
~ Media narratives that rely on glib sound bites, highlight conflict, and ignore ambiguity, resulting in intensified demonization of the different "others," and a pervasive paranoia;
~ Most alarmingly, endless and now renewed threat of war.

This is the reality we humans have created for ourselves and all other living beings on this planet. And it's a pure reflection of the wildly controlling, and out-of-control, left brain, according to British psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (McGilchrist gives a 10-minute summation of his thesis, with illustrations, at TED Talks.)

The right and left sides of the brain tell vastly different stories about reality. Each has its own values and priorities, its own logic and language. Although the left hemisphere is commonly thought of as the seat of language and rationality and the right as the center of creativity, in fact both are essential to creativity and each has its own logic. The difference is not in what they do, but in how they do it, according to McGilchrist. Most simply, the left brain gives narrow, intense focus while the right enables a global awareness of context and patterns.

McGilchrist describes balanced functioning of the brain in a chicken pecking for seeds in a patch of pebbles: its left brain is focused on finding the seeds among the stones; while its right brain is focused on other possibilities and predators. The left brain defines its territory; its right brain is ready to move to another.

As different as they are, the two hemispheres are meant to collaborate. Without the right brain, life is a dry husk of an existence, barren and joyless, strangled in structures that have no intrinsic meaning. Without the organizing power of the left hemisphere, the right brain is a dream state without end, disorganized absorption of sensory data, the nightmare of schizophrenia.

Throughout human history, in small tribal communities, through the arts and ritual, and living in nature, the two hemispheres of the brain were in dialogue. However, with the growth of science, industry, urbanization, and technology over the last three hundred years, the controlling left brain began to take over, marginalizing and devaluing the parts of life that rose out of the non-competitive right brain.

The result, as McGilchrist describes it, is a world reflecting the story the left brain wants to tell -- not the whole story of existence. This leaves us caught in an agonizing paradox: we search for happiness and find emptiness; yearn for freedom yet are trapped within a web of regulations, hierarchies, and material expectations; we strive for creativity but are stifled by judgment; long for intimacy, connectedness, and warmth but are addicted to technology.

The good news: the brain is not formed early in life, but is “plastic," able to adjust, modify, and regenerate for most of human life. It’s the core of our resilience in fact -– a trait needed more than ever in these unstable times. We can learn how to change and regenerate the brain, and as a result the world.

But what are we really talking about when we talk about the divided brain? I'm going to be very left-brained and offer you a grossly oversimplified map and narrative tour of the brain.

1. The left hemisphere tells a story of control and power. It's the part of the brain responsible for the structures and thought processes of basic survival and civilized society. Think bourgeois village, tract housing development, cubicled offices -- the standard built environments through which we move, the verbal and written languages we use to communicate, the focus we bring to work and love. It's the part of the brain we use when we're engaged in analytic and logical thinking, concentrate on precise details, create plans, articulate feelings and thoughts verbally in meaningful sequence, measure the results of our efforts. The left brain moves from the parts to the whole, arranging the pieces in a logical order, and drawing conclusions from the process.

The left brain has been successful in establishing its dominance because it shuts out what it doesn't know and its ability to simplify and categorize lends itself to framing public debates and media narratives. Next time a sound bite captures your attention, it's someone else's left brain communicating with yours.

The strength is the problem: left brain awareness is a closed system reflecting only itself, like a hall of mirrors, and cuts off all routes of escape, such as those found in ritual, art, spirituality, and nature. The result is a world that is increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, and meaningless - a world on the path to ruin.

2. The right hemisphere encompasses everything else -- nature in all its magnificence and chaos, the unconscious, the senses, imagination, and intuition. it's also connected to compassion. The right brain is the gateway to the limbic region of the brain, which holds our ability to attach to others. It's the realm of context and meaning. Right brain consciousness rises from the well of Oneness, the ground of existence, what many experience as God. It's by means of the right brain that we create metaphor, find meaning in experience, and gain access to our interior life. Through right brain consciousness, we feel our experience and understand it within a greater reality. The right brain also holds the ability to rejuvenate and heal. In fact, Dr. Dan Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, says that healing is the restoration of the right brain.

The strength of the right brain -- its visual and metaphorical genius, its ability to see patterns and ambiguity -- is also its weakness in the face of left brain dominance. It speaks the language of metaphor rather than the language of debate; it works more slowly than the left and its awareness is both more global and more diffuse, making its contributions seemingly less effective in the fast-moving public arena.

3. At the bottom of a deep indentation separating the two hemispheres is a small sheath of fibers called the corpus callosum. The function of this organ is ambiguous: it both divides and connects the two sides of the brain. The corpus callosum transfers motor, sensory, and cognitive information between the brain hemispheres and is involved in several functions of the body, including eye movement and maintaining a balance between attention and arousal. With evolutionary changes, this organ has become larger and more dense; it seems to be functioning increasingly as a separator and less as a transmitter of information.

4. At the front tip of both hemispheres is the prefrontal cortex (in blue), the newest part of the brain, and the one area of the brain that distinguishes humans from other animals. Very simply, the function of the prefrontal cortex is to step back, inhibit impulses from the limbic regions of the brain to which it is attached, evaluate, and make choices. McGhilchrist describes two basic abilities residing in the prefrontal cortex: first, to manipulate the outer world and second, to sense the inner reality of another. It's the neural "decider": shall we act only in our own perceived self-interest (nudged on by the voice of the left brain) or shall we act from a foundation of compassion and the good of all (the urgings from the right)?

The prefrontal cortex gives human beings the capacity to be witness to our own experience, as well as to imagine a different and better reality. In other words, this is the story brain, which takes information coming in from all parts of the brain and creates a coherent narrative that drives action. In this epoch of left-brain domination, the prevailing narratives being spun by the world frontal cortex are separatist, fear-based, and filled with trauma -- past, present, and future. With a restored ability to "see whole," the concrete realism of left brain story could be integrated with the greater vision of the right.

The brain has gone through massive evolutionary change at different times throughout human history -- always related to how humans told their story. In recorded history, the left hemisphere began to take over when people made the leap from being oral creatures to becoming literate ones, when someone took a stick and made the first crude markings on stone. The left brain continued to strengthen with the advent of the printing press, with the Enlightenment, with the increased use of science to define experience, and finally with the growth of technology. We're at another evolutionary leap with the global connectivity offered by the internet. And we see everywhere the beginnings of a pendulum swing back to left and right hemisphere balance.

The question is, will it happen in time?


In upcoming blogs, I’ll look at the structure, characters, and settings of story as a metaphorical journey toward integration of the two hemispheres, and why we need to become storytellers as well as listeners before it's too late to tell a new story.

By Juliet Bruce, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


On my own path to my passionate purpose, I discovered that every failure, every setback, and every depression was actually a call to step forth into an adventurous life that I had not yet imagined. Something in a story -- a character, event, landscape, even an image -- would touch me where I was most wounded and helped to bring it forth to rebirth. And in my imagination, what I call the Story Zone, the brave protagonist's path forward became my own.

I have lived story and know that every broken place in us can be exposed and attended to. I know intimately that through listening to meaningful stories and poems, writing improvisationally from them as a launch pad to whatever truth we hold in our hearts, and sharing our writing in non-judgmental community, we can turn our suffering into a salve for others who yearn for warmth and understanding. That in itself changes us from feeling victimized to becoming empowered.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dragon Mind

Dragons have been hanging around me for years -- usually hidden in the shadows. Recently though, they've emerged full force. I take that as a good omen for myself, for my country. II wonder if it's because they feel our yearnings for them and the wisdom they bring.The fury will naturally evolve into creative power. There's a link to Hexagram I - the Creative -- translated by Richard Wilhelm in this post.

"Water Dragon," Deviant Art
Have you seen those Chinese prints that show a dragon bursting forth from a tsunami-like wave? This image represents the Taoist belief that chaos is the wellspring of creative power, good fortune, and prosperity.

To learn more about the Creative, Hexagram I, click on

What a perfect image for these times!

The wave can be understood as the implosion of all the old, violent, and corrupt structures that have created such dark times and the dragon as an image of the inscrutable new reality that is bursting to break through in our country, across the globe, and in the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

We each have a role to play in the restoration -- to live with integrity, passion, and purpose; to hold faith in a more perfect vision; and to do our part to create families and communities built upon caring and compassion.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

FEELING ANXIOUS? Where does your personal story intersect with the world story? This is your place of power.

Although it feels like things are spiraling out of control, we're not powerless to use the chaos for our own purposes.

Friday, June 23  
(THIS WORKSHOP IS FULL. If you're still interested, e-mail me and I might schedule another.)
8 pm eastern

Space is limited. Register at
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. When we find that point of intersection, we can step inside and make healing changes in ourselves. As we heal and make ourselves whole, 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 used this principle of intersection between self and world to bring an infinitesimal but real bit of healing to the world. I'm beginning to think of how to bring healing story practice to Trump's unraveling.

It was a beautiful sign to me this morning, the day of Comey's testimony and what I believe is the beginning of the end of the Trump Administration, that the background music on Morning Joe this morning is Paul Simon singing, "These are the days of miracles and wonder..." 


Monday, June 7, 2010

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

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. 

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.

 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.

Here is a healing story exercise for yourself and the Gulf: What stands out for you about this event? What aspect of it do you most resonate with -- the loss of home for its animals, the poisoning of the water and the beaches, the careless disregard of BP? The resonating element in the event might be triggering unconscious pain from a deep internal wound that hasn't fully healed. In writing a story, poem, or free-write about that aspect of the story, you are also writing about a wounded part of yourself.

This exercise 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.

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?

So bringing our story practice back to the present, what most stands out for you about the whole situation of Trump in the White House? What most angers you, makes you sad, resonates in particular with some part of yourself. For me, it's the crushing oppression of stupid white men -- yes, that's an old wound in me that I'll probably be attending to for the rest of my life.

Pull out three or four words that immediately rise to consciousness. 

Choose one word that has the most energy. 

Set the timer on your phone and give yourself 7 minutes to free-write from that word. 

Read your piece to a trusted friend who is wise enough not to judge discovery writing. Or, if you like it enough, read it to your video camera and post it to a small FB group. It must be witnessed and felt by someone to have its full power.  

It's out there now in the world's energy -- a tiny healing flow, a flapping of a wing. 


Monday, May 8, 2017

How to Blossom Where You're Planted -- POSTPONED UNTIL FALL

A unique webinar to guide you safely into the deep layers of your life where your conscious destiny can take root.

Susi Wolf and I are are story people: we write stories, tell stories, gather stories, read stories in the energies we encounter, elicit the stories of others, and share their stories in deep story sanctuaries. Always listening for the new story that wants to emerge in our small healing communities, we're looking forward to offering them to you in this very special online workshop on 6/22.

Monday, February 20, 2017

How to Change a Toxic Cultural Narrative, One Community at a Time

There's light at the end of the tunnel.
Here is a powerful communal storytelling process adapted from Michael White’s Maps of Narrative Practice.[1]  It is based on storytelling work observed in the 1970s by cultural anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff with a community of elderly Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles.
            Many of these people had migrated to the United States from the shtetls of Europe at the beginning of the twentieth 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. They did this through telling and retelling, performing and re-performing 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.
            In the 1980s and 1990s, Australian family therapists White and his colleague David Epson, who had been using narratives with families, began to experiment with Myerhoff’s definitional ceremonies. In White’s and Epson’s practice, the therapist maintained his/her central role and elicited the stories through interviewing the clients and their selected 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 storytellers 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.

1.      Tell a story, recite a poem, or use the fairy tale exercise to write a story. This builds a safe container and creates a focusing 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 and viscerally respond to fairy tales and classic myths.
2.      Invite a collective response to it. Each member gets to say what sensory images, phrases, or dramatic moments stand out for them. This is the creative question. Not why. Rather, what resonates. Anyone can share. No one has to.
3.      Invite private writing time. Each person finds their own private “studio” space, and when they’re settled, ask each to write down five words that come immediately to mind. Invite them to choose the word that most captures their imagination, and make that the first word of an improvisational piece of writing. Give them five to fifteen minutes for this exercise, deciding at the outset how much time you’ll have and affirming 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 tell what they heard in the reading, without interpreting, analyzing, giving advice, or judging in any way. Ask the listeners to reflect back only what they heard and felt—their direct emotional experience of the piece that’s just been read. This is the critical and catalytic part of the process.
6.      Listeners, focus your feedback on the following areas without being rigid or judgmental:
·         Images, rhythms, shifts in tone that stand out and the felt sense, atmosphere, or mood you get from the piece of writing you just heard;
·         What matters to the storyteller or the character they’ve written about;
·         Go further. What areas or memories in the listeners’ personal life that they may have forgotten are lit up by hearing this. (This last step is not necessary but heightens the catalytic process in merging storyteller and witness stories, and moves everyone upward and outward into a larger story.) 
7.      Invite the reader/storyteller to retell the retelling. Reader gets the last word: Ask what stands out for them in what they’ve heard from the group.
8.      Finally, translate the metaphorical expression of art into concrete reality by asking the teller questions: “What does this look like in your life?  What is life asking of you now?
      The importance of this last step cannot be overestimated. It’s the bridge out of metaphor back to “real” life. It grounds the creative experience in concrete action, while at the same time helping participants come forth from the vulnerable place within that may have been opened in this process.
 To book a constituents' workshop or professional training, please write me at

[1] Michael White, Maps of Narrative Practice, p. 165.