From a shamanic perspective, stories have incredible power. They can paint the picture of an era, give you courage, keep history alive, help to prepare you for a life event, teach you about a skill, and so much more. You can learn how to take your intentional use of language to heal, soothe, and enfold a child or support a person to leave the world as they are dying.
I am a fortunate woman, as my entire childhood was filled with stories. I was the firstborn and entered the world at a time when many of my elders were still living. Not only did I have two sets of grandparents, but their siblings were also a part of my life. I was blessed to spend many hours with my great grandmother, who had several living siblings, as well. More importantly, all of these elders were storytellers.
From the people on my mother’s side of the family, I heard stories of Norway and tales of making a new life in America. My grandmother grew up on a farm while my grandfather took to the sea as a young man. I learned many diverse stories, from tales of the little people on the farm to how pitch was gathered in the hold of a ship in South America to be brought back to Norway for shipbuilding. My grandfather, who learned carpentry aboard such a codfish boat, also shared hair-raising stories of building the wooden footings for what became New York’s Throgg’s Neck Bridge.
On my paternal side, I heard wonderfully colorful stories of Old New York and family tales from generations long gone. I heard of ministers, strong women, racehorse owners, fisher-folk and much more. From the old ones’ stories, I learned much about the challenges and triumphs of their lives as well as those of our ancestors. No matter how difficult my family elders’ existence may have been, their stories weredeliciously vibrant and were generally well seasoned with humor and laughter.
For orallybased tribal cultures, storytelling was a way to preserve the accumulated wisdom of history and transmit all that to succeeding generations. Stories included the tales which explained the cosmos, mythic stories of their ancestors, how their people came to be, how to hunt with respect, proper behavior, and much more. Imagine an encyclopedia of knowledge shared one story at a time! Children in an oral culture would absorb the collective wisdom through the elders’ tales in a way that wasn’t very different to my own childhood.
When the written word became paramount, oral traditions began to die out. This is unfortunate, as it contributes to the unraveling of traditional cultures. As ethnic and tribal groups lose their stories, they lose the glue that holds them together, and what was once an intact culture starts to die. Among more isolated tribal cultures, this dismantling of culture was delayed until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but itwas no less chilling. This certainly occurred in Europe. When the Brothers Grimm began to write down the old stories, the tales had already begun to decompose from the lack of being told. When people no longer have cultural supports, they lose an important rudder for finding their way through the world. Then, as cultures die, people themselves can become lost, falling into spiritual illness, depression, anxiety, drug addiction and alcoholism.
Stories can also be a tool for healing a person, a physical place or one’s own spirit. By changing the stories that we tell ourselves, we can help to transform the pains of our pasts and pave the path for new ways of thinking about who we are. In so doing, we also change the way we behave towards ourselves and also toward others. Working with story can support us to deeply believe in our own power.
A great way to begin to work with stories in a shamanic way is to tell a story about who you are. Either speak the story into a recording device or write it down. Include where you were born, how and where you were raised and how you’ve come to be who you are as an adult. Make sure to include the highs and the lows.
After you’ve done that, it is time to start the story again. This time, begin with the phrase, “Once upon a time, there was a precious child…” How would you tell that same story now? Tell it as though you were about to entrance a small child with a story! Don’t alter any of the events that created who you are, simply change the way that you speak about them. Take the ordinary facts of the events of your life, change the tone or perspective and tell them in such a way that they are transformed into a heroine or hero’s journey! This is not to simply romanticize the facts of your story or lie, but to see all the parts of your life’s journey in the larger context of your becoming. Continue to ask yourself how past events contributed to who you are now.
Completing your new story will take some practice and diligence to achieve. To change your old, tired story you will need to reframe those parts where you are most stuck in old wounds, blame, shame, self-pity, anger or helplessness! Working through this will take some time and must be done in an atmosphere of loving attentiveness. Remind yourself along the way that the prize will be to finally close the chapter on the unhealed aspects of your life that are sapping your strength and power. If some parts of your old story stubbornly refuse to be shifted, get some support to help with the healing. Remember, you weren’t wounded in a vacuum. People participated in your hurts and pains. For that reason, it is important to seek the companionship and guidance of healing people to support your metamorphosis!
While you are engaged in this work, also take the time to reread the fables and fairy tales of your childhood. Observe how many of them were fraught with danger, sadness, loss and peril. The child was orphaned, she was poor, she was hurt and then notice how the change unfolded. Often times, a story’s hero or heroine doesn’t understand what is happening until the story is over! Look at how simple events changed the course of their journeys. Also make note of how the heroes or heroines were changed by their life experiences in the story. In most cases, the stories remind us that heroines and heroes are made by the experiences that they live through. If a “fairy godmother” element is involved in the tale you’re reading, look at how you could rewrite that aspect of the story to have the central character become the one who makes the transformation possible! Use your creative mind and heart to turn the problem over until a solution reveals itself!
Remember that as you retell your story in a new way, you are actually reprograming your subconscious. This is the part of us that is always listening. By paying attention to how we process and interpret our sensory experiences, our subconscious gets programmed with the beliefs that we hold about ourselves and our world. Why this is important is because this aspect of our mind is what is working with our feelings to create our reality. As we change the information this aspect of ourselves receives, we are teaching it new ways to program our present reality as well as our future selves.
If you are feeling that you aren’t creative enough or don’t have the energy to do this, take some shamanic journeys or do some meditations to get inspired. I think about inspiration as the action of being inspirited. Extreme and altered states can provide a kind of spaciousness to our consciousness that allows us to “dream bigger.” Indeed, when teaching my students about the shamanic state of consciousness, I do not talk about altering ordinary consciousness, rather I suggest that the shamanic state of consciousness is an expanded state of awareness or perception which produces an altered experience of reality.
While we journey, physical and emotional changes occur in our bodies. Spirit can support us to feel more imaginative, enlivened and enriched. From that feeling of fullness, we have the energy and creativity to move any project forward. Learning stories and how to share them is also a part of a shaman’s journey. While there are very few spiritual storytellers who are living, there are legions of them in the spirit world. Storytellers of every tradition and time period are available to those who can walk between the worlds.
Journey to your teacher or power animal to have them take you to a storytelling teacher. Ask that teacher questions such as, “How do I let go of the parts of my old story that hold me back?” Another good one to ask is, “What are the stories the spirits share about me?” Finally a great journey to do is to ask the storytelling teacher, “What is the story I need to be telling about my life now?”
Each of these journeys can help you to reframe the experiences of your past and will change the texture and color of your personal story. By working with the spirit of a master storytelling teacher you can learn how to refine and refresh the storyline to steer the “plot’ of your life in a new direction. As you continue refining your personal story you will begin to more deeply believe in and feel your own intrinsic power.
All of the best storytellers spend a lot of time refining, polishing and crafting their stories until they are mesmerizing to the listener. That is precisely the effect you are reaching toward. Keep refining and telling your story until your true story unfolds. Make your story so beautiful that you subconscious completely releases all of its old limitations! In so doing, you’ll be contributing to having a far more wondrous, amazing and powerful present. And your wondrous present is what contributes to your happily ever after.
© 2013 Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In joint practice with Allie Knowlton as Spirit Passages, her web site is http://www.spiritpassages.com.