For many of us, our modern lives are filled with isolation. Our innate need for companionship is labeled needy; our basic desire for connection turned to an act of shame. Independence is held up as the modern success story; anything less failure. But this is a different space, a safe place, where you can be brave showing yourself.
Part of that safety is the agreement that all personal details will be held in confidence. That is something everyone agrees to before they arrive.
To begin with, we welcome each other to feel at home, to invite all parts of us to be included. It takes a little ceremony of welcoming to
achieve this properly, and the way we do it each time might have something to do with the story I am telling that day!
ACTION: Turn your cell phone off for the time of the gathering. Of course exceptions will be made for any emergency needs.
Our ancestors lived connected deeply with nature. They knew that all life was connected in community, and that the health of one affects the health of all. They knew that the deceased still affect the affairs of the living. They had ways of inviting ancestors and spirits to help with healing. We will invite the elements of fire, water, earth, mineral and nature in to support us.
In the colder months we will light the wood heater. There will be cushions and mattresses on the floor for sitting and lying during our time together, as well as some lounge chairs for those who need them.
“We see that in life it is necessary to grieve those things that no longer serve us and let them go. We experience conflicts, loved ones die or suffer, dreams never manifest, illnesses occur, relationships break up, and there are unexpected natural disasters. It is so important to have ways to release those pains to keep clearing ourselves. Hanging on to old pain just makes it grow until it smothers our creativity, our joy, and our ability to connect with others.”
Sobonfu Somé author of The Spirit of Intimacy
As part of our welcome we will begin with the question, “What brings you here and how are you doing?” This is an important part of our time together. Instead of the usual “How are you?” “Oh I’m fine,” we often encounter in our daily lives, this is an invitation to say what is really going on, what troubles you, who you really are.
We are practicing a different kind of listening. This is not listening for the sake of entertainment. It is not listening to interpret. Or listening to find a moral or message with our minds. This listening is what the old storytellers called listening from the bones.
This is listening with our bodies and a deep attention.
ACTION: Bring something special that represents your soul and spirit to place on the shrine during the time of the gathering.
We will listen with our hearts and souls. We will find enchantment. And we will find everything else that is human as well—our repulsion, our fear, our anger and outrage! We may also find something that pulls the tears from deep within us, or stumble upon the childlike laughter that dwells beside them.
That is why we need to do the Gather stage well; that we may be able to stop for a moment in the busy world and Listen with our feelings.
“Let’s use our stories to encourage listening to one another and hear not just the good news, but also the pain that lies at the back of many people’s stories and histories.”
Karen Armstrong, winner of TED Prize, 2008
This is for people who are active in their journey of healing and insight. This is an opportunity to bring your troubles to a place where you will not be told to ‘think positive’ or that ‘it could be worse’. This is an invitation to a place where you will be welcome with your troubles and your tears.
Myth and fairytales weren’t always relegated to the role of children’s bedtime stories. Myth holds deep within it psychological wisdom, knowledge about the troubles of life.
You are already fully ready and equipped to come to a storytelling in the old style. And you are welcome.
As well as the story, this is also a place to listen to each other. To listen and witness without giving advice, for there is healing in being truly seen.
Stories can bring us healing. Any old myth is a rich storehouse full of treasures and insights. But this is not modern day learning where we need to “get it all.” Instead, we are looking for one detail that affects us.
ACTION: Be willing to share your truth and your feelings; often one of the most important things we can receive is the knowledge that other people have experienced similar things to us. Your sharing is a gift to others.
Perhaps the best way to approach a story being shared in this way, is to come with a question. Framing that question in terms of “What is my next best step regarding . . . ?” Make it an open question instead of bringing a question with a “this-or-that” answer already built in. Myth has the ability at times to present a previously unseen alternative.
We will follow the old tradition that has been called “feeding the story.” After all, the story itself is a big storehouse that can feed us, so in the cycle of life, we give something back to help keep that story alive in living people. The most important thing is how it affects our soul and spirit, not ideas about the story’s meaning.
“Where mythic symbols and important events in a person’s life meet, strong emotions arise and release memories long held in the body. The story comes to life through the listeners who relive their own lives in ways that can be compelling and profound.”
Michael Meade, author of The Water of Life
The moments and details in a story are experienced uniquely by each person. Sharing our response to details can help others see a
different perspective on something they are grappling with and can bring healing. It is a skill to practice, and doing it well holds a secret power to understand things from the perspective of the timeless knowledge held inside myth. It can connect us with something larger than ourselves—our fellow humans and as ancient traditions.
At this point we are not looking for an intellectual discussion, rather to listen to the body wisdom of intuition guiding you to understand how your point relates to your current trouble you brought for healing and insight.
We will break to share a simple meal before continuing with the evening activities.
There was a time when everything our ancestors used was made by hand. Without machines they owned fewer things, and what they did have was unique and held a different energy to mass-produced items we have today.
Each time we gather we will engage our hands in creative work to express something from the story that is meaningful. Engaging our active body is a way to step into the fuller mind that is all of us—body, soul, mind, emotions and spirit. The time of creations is a time to affirm the feeling of coming home that we find in a story.
ACTION: Participate fully in the activity without worrying about being 'good enough'. You already are! This is not about being skilled or talented or 'good' at the activity. It is about participating and allowing what you create to be messy, or disastrous, or beautiful, or whatever it is that your hands need to bring out.
Artisans spend many years perfecting their craft, and likewise, your unique hands have been with you forever shaping and receiving and giving, grasping, holding, letting go. Our hands are like a second kind of mind, and many of us need to let them create more than we usually do. Hands have things to say to us.
“As the hands work, the mind is stilled and a greater listening is engaged as we drop down into the deep rhythm of devotion, where the whole world is in communion.”
Toko-pa Turner, author of Belonging; Remembering Ourselves Home.
Our aim is to slow down—to sample different ways of using our hands—to create and see if those creations awaken any memories carried in our bones. This is a time that might be meditative, fun, engaging, even challenging. Again, it is a safe place for tears, a safe place to be who you actually are, and who you are remembering that you are.
After the time of working through the story, and our creative healing project, it is time to relax. Most of us don’t get enough time to relax, and might not have a space that is safe to let our guard down in. There can be a sweet afterglow—almost as if the intensity of the story work brings an equal ease of feeling that a good day’s soul work has been done. Rest is natural then.
Of course, there will be a formal close to the work time, a sending the helping spirits back to their realms, and sending the story “back to under the ground where it came from.”
And then it is time for tea, talk, gathering in the nighttime for a companionship that can’t come without true sharing of soul.
ACTION: It is a time now to ask for what you need, to take care of each other. It is not too much to lie down, to ask for a blanket, to step outside to look at the stars for a few moments. It is an informal time, a time to begin to integrate the journey of the day.
There is an African saying that most of the time is spent either doing a ritual, talking about the last ritual or planning the next ritual! It is natural to talk about what went on through the day. It is a rich experience to go through the journey of a story this way, using some of the traditional elements that indigenous cultures have used since pre-recorded time.
When you leave though, leave specific stories about specific people in confidence in the room.
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.” Leonardo da Vinci
It is possible to sleep over, please bring bedding and possibly an air or foam mattress if staying. There are a few available, but please make arrangements before you arrive.