If you are anything like me, few things can compare with the experience of being in the presence of a master storyteller. Someone who can spin a tale so well that we get caught up in it’s threads and lose all sense of time and space until the only thing that exists for us is that world and the web that is being woven. We latch on to the details, jumping ahead in our minds to divine the outcome. Then hold our breath as the anticipated outcome is revealed either supporting our prowess of insight and intuition or blowing us away with an I-didn’t-see-that-coming-at-all moment. It’s exhilarating and a great escape.
I greatly value to hearing the stories of my friend’s lives and having them listen to mine. We connect around the glorious and sordid details. We laugh and cry together. There is an emotional intelligence that we develop about the world in our sharing. We build compassion, understanding and a widened perspective of what is possible.
Sometimes our stories are so big we are tempted to pour our life force into them and allow them to take over our identity. We repeat our tale over and over to whomever will listen. We blame what isn’t working on our story. We become so entangled in the web that we believe we can not move beyond it. When our freedom to change perspectives seems out of reach it is possible that we have in effect lost our true sense of self and become our story.
In my work as an expressive arts facilitator I help people take a break from the details of their story, engage their imaginations and make art. In focusing on the art making, whether it is visual art, movement, rhythm, or writing, paradigm shifts can happen. Insights emerge that may offer different perspectives and allow ourselves to cut loose from our “stories.”
The simple act of engaging in the arts is healing. Art making requires that we use different parts of our brain and shake up our habitual thought patterns. It helps us to release tension and move out of stuck or blocked places in our psyche. Making art may not change our story but can provide helpful distance allowing us to connect more deeply with our core truths.
Byron Katie says, “You are what exists before all stories.”
I have an example of how this works. A participant in a group I was running was convalescing from a debilitating disease that left her feeling lethargic weak and not hopeful for her recovery. I offered her a piece of white paper folded in half and asked her to create images of progression from the front page to the inside and then culminating on the back page. She drew diligently for 30 minutes, at first claiming that she didn’t know what to draw and then slowly became immersed in her drawing.
When she finished I asked if she would show the group what she drew and tell a story based on the images. There was a bike riding down a road on the front page. On the inside pages she drew a repeating design that looked like shields side by side preventing anything from getting through. On the back page the bike is riding off into the distance of a beautiful landscape with sun and mountains and a lake.
Her story went like this.
“Well there was this bike,” she said, “and it was riding down the road, and then there was this big mess and the bike could barely get through it.” She turned the page to show the back panel and said, “But then the sun came out and the world was beautiful and the bike rode happily off into the distance.”
We all looked at the images and reflected on the story. I repeated the story to her and after she heard it a big smiled erupted on her face.
“How does that sound to you?” I asked.
She chuckled, raised her eyebrows and said, “That’s very interesting. It sounds pretty good to me.”
The artwork gave this woman renewed hope that she can heal, is healing
The art speaks to us in its own language. It knows things and has stories of its own that often inform ours.