The Power of Story - Part 1
“Stories are a communal currency of humanity”
- Tahir Shah
Stories are hugely influential throughout our lives.
We tap into stories in many ways; a trip to the cinema or theatre, watching real life stories or fictional drama on the television, reading a book, listening to song lyrics or poetry and even catching up with and listening to the stories of friends and family.
Most of us have a favourite book, film or TV series.
Most of us can remember certain treasured stories we were told as children.
Stories are medicine.
In a large body of work beginning with ‘Women who run with Wolves’ first published in 1992, Jungian analyst Dr Clarissia Pinkola Estes reveals part of her dharma or ‘life purpose’ to be that of distilling the medicine from indigenous folk tales collected from all cultures of the world so that we, the collective, can access its wisdom.
This is a skill that is both accessible and beneficial to all of us.
There is a psychotherapeutic approach, known as ‘Gestalt Therapy ' which can be used to assist a client to process any complex situation where emotion is clouding their interpretation of various events.
When we practise ‘Gestalt Therapy,’ we encourage the subject to play the part of every person in that situation. This allows them to step away from the overwhelming emotion and to process events from the vantage point of all participants. It allows them to establish where they need to work within the Self and which aspects of the situation are external and not within their control.
It is widely understood that the unconscious mind understands situations with a renewed perspective when presented with relevant metaphors. We know this from the study of Jungian Psychology and Dream Analysis, and we see a wealth of evidence of it throughout the ages of mankind through both art and literature.
Gestalt is also used as ‘Dream Therapy.’ It teaches that everything in the person’s dream represents an aspect of that person’s psyche. This includes the hero, the villain, any other participants and also any other relevant characters or even inanimate objects. When we work with our clients’ dreams in this way, we facilitate the interaction between each of these parts of Self so that the processing is consciously witnessed. Once dream patterns become conscious, there is understanding and choice, and where there is choice, there is the potential to break repeating cycles.
Let us now consider the concept of the ‘Universal Law of Reflection’ which is outlined in our book How to Rise: A Complete Resilience Manual
The ‘Universal Law of Reflection’ states that ‘whatever we see in the world outside of ourselves is an absolute reflection of that which is within ourselves. The Universe makes available to us an infinite amount of material. The reason that we notice what we notice is that we unconsciously choose to see that which reflects something about the Self. By this, we mean something which is relevant to our survival.
How then can we use stories as medicine?
When we apply the concept of ‘Reflection’ to appreciating a story, we can see that we are, in fact, identifying with every character and aspect of it in the same way. We are seeing an aspect of Self in every part of the tale.
We are processing.
This type of processing is very similar to the processing that we see when we analyse our dreams, only in this case, the story is handed to us. By the very fact that its purpose is to take us on a journey of adventure, intrigue, action, horror, romance, mystery, or humour - it has medicine for us.
Consider this also - the stories that speak to us the most are the stories that have the most relevant and important lessons to teach us personally - again because of the ‘Universal Law of Reflection.’ This is why the love of certain stories is deeply personal to each of us.
Think of one of your very favourite stories.
This might be a childhood story book or fairy-tale, a film, a poem or a song lyric.
Understand that this tale speaks to you because it is medicine.
Sit with it.
Along with the tale itself there may be connections to a time of family, friendship or comfort that contribute to the reasons for your love of it.
These are also gifts.
Begin to recall every aspect of the story.
Which character do you identify with the most?
Which character do you like the most? (this is reflecting parts of the Self that meet your approval)
Which character do you dislike the most? (this is reflecting parts of the Self that do not meet your approval - see our article on Shadow Work - Love Your Shadow (resilientpractice.co.uk)
Explore each character, their plight, struggles and motives.
Ask yourself “ where does this character appear in my psyche?”
“Where in my life am I like that?”
Ask “What would I do if I were this character?”
Explore the story.
What about it did you enjoy?
The overall message?
What about this story appeals to you?
What emotions does it evoke?
Where do you feel them in your body?
Where else in your life have you felt like this?
Sit with it
Remember that stories which evoke emotion of any kind, pleasant or unpleasant, are signposting you to parts of the psyche that can be healed. In a forthcoming article, we will explore how, when we use stories as medicine, we can give ourselves permission to rewrite the ending, alter the plot or bestow the characters with the tools that they need to survive. These are some of the gifts that we take from ‘story.’
For more insights into self-mastery see How to Rise: A Complete Resilience Manual
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