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The healing power of stories

Healing stories

"I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work with them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom." Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, author, poet, spoken word artist and Jungian psychoanalyst. 

The use of story goes way back in our culture, to a time before we were literate. Story was used as a way of sharing knowledge and information, helping others, and healing. In ancient traditions, one person within the tribe or culture would be allocated the role of storyteller and it would be their job to share stories that would bring the community together to learn and bond.

I find that what is beautiful about our culture, is that now all of us have the chance to take on that role. We can all be storytellers if we wish.

Although the traditional methods of storytelling have changed significantly, we need not look far to see the modern day equivalents: people sharing mini stories about their day through social media, texting, or the numerous news outlets. Look beneath any of the posts you see on Facebook and you can hear those deep stories, warnings or cries for help, adoration or love ringing through: 'help me', 'hear me', 'be careful', 'admire me', 'understand me' or 'love me'. 

Stories hold more power than we give them credit for, they can allow us to understand and relate to another person's experience in ways that simple, factual information does not. Stories provide us with metaphors that we can relate to. 

Illness, depression and trauma unfold as story, and any gifted therapist, doctor or healer will hear a story, and listen deeply to the messages that it holds. They will ask questions, explore the symbolism and metaphor contained within the story, look for wider meaning in the person's life and seek opportunities for wounds to be healed. Becasue whilst stories hold pain, they can also offer the hope of transformation. 

“Everyone is a storyteller; even people who don’t have the ability to use words are storytellers. The question is how do we become more intentional in our storytelling.” Vanessa Jackson, President of Healing Circles 

Stories connect us with one another, and importantly, they connect us with ourselves. We all have stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves, and these can be limiting or liberating, depending upon their nature. 

Our bodies tell the stories of where we have been, the traumas we've experienced through our scars, the children we have (or haven't given birth to), the accidents, scrapes, grazes, laughter and gains. 

We can use words and story to re-enforce where we are in life, or we can use story to transform our reality. By becoming aware of our story, we can make subtle changes that can have a huge impact on how we experience the world. 

Using story creatively for healing in your own life - a short exercise   

Do this exercise in a way that works best for you. Anyone can use writing and storytelling to heal. We don't need to be gifted, or a professional writer. All we need is to set aside a bit of time and be gentle and patient with ourselves. 

Create the right environment. Give yourself some time and space when you won't be disturbed. You may have a favourite place in your house or you may wish to go out into nature. Writing is a form of meditation. When we write, we take the time to sit quietly and focus on our thoughts. Take with you a notebook and a pen or pencil, and leave behind your phone or anything else that may distract you. 

Consider what you want to write about. Perhaps you want to write a letter to a loved one who has passed away, or to someone you're having difficulty with in your life right now. You may wish to express love for someone but don't feel able to say it to them directly. Perhaps you're holding on to a regret, or shame or another negative feeling relating to something that has happened. Other ideas are to write a letter to your younger self, or to literally go freestyle and just set yourself an time limit and write whatever comes into your mind. 

Free yourself and let go. Having an intention is great - just be prepared to fully let go of this and don't work too hard at sticking to it. You may find yourself going off track or writing something completely different than what you set out to do. That is absolutely fine. Allow yourself to 'play', to be less than perfect.

Clear yourself of expectation. Notice the thoughts that come up around the exercise you are about to do. You may be worried about getting it right, of not being able to write anything at all. Notice and acknowledge the feelings without attempting to resist or change anything. Accept that these feelings are a natural part of trying something new. 

Begin to write. As you do, allow yourself to really feel and get into the process. Don't analyse what you are writing, just let it flow. You may find that you have so much energy that the words come through you, as though it is not you writing them at all. Many people who work in the creative arts talk of this process. They also describe how being creative can feel like an angry struggle. This is entirely normal - it's the process of an idea being born and the struggle is part of it. Let it happen, don't fight it and the energy will work itself out through you and the pen. You'll instinctively know when you are finished because the energy for the writing will leave you. 

Remember, no one is watching, and no one is judging. You don't need to show your writing to anyone unless you want to - and you don't even need to read it back yourself. It's yours to keep, or to throw away. That's the beauty, it's entirely up to you. 

Regardless of what emerges on the page as a result of your writing, you will begin to feel more energy in your body as you release emotions and express. This is the energy of life working through you: enjoy it and enjoy the sense of aliveness it brings.

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