What does it mean to read your life like a fairy tale? We can point to the Hero's Journey, or the Heroine's Journey, but how do we listen to the story our own lives are telling and determine what part of the arc we are at?
The complication that makes this work so worthwhile, is that the story can be said to begin at so many places in our lives. We can read the arc of every relationship, of every job or career move, of every change of place, as its own distinct story. Each strand of story is woven, braided with other strands to create the multicolored, shimmering, living rope of your life.
Let's take a familiar example of Little Red Riding Hood. We can say that the adventure begins with the girl setting out into the woods with her basket. but perhaps it really begins with the red hood itself. We can read this story, and say, "oh, this is like when I went off to college, and I met that guy in the quad..." That assumes that we are the heroine of the story, that we are the central character. And it's not wrong. The scene of Red's encounter with the wolf in the forest is the turning point of the story, the moment of decision. You have thought of a moment in your own life that felt that big, and seemed to push your life down a path you hadn't wanted.
Once we identify this piece of story, this potent scene that stands out so sharply against the rest of the narrative, we are ready to begin working with our own story. It's important to identify the work to be done here. Do you feel shame over the encounter? Maybe you are wanting to understand what happened next. Perhaps the emotion that arises with the story is one of rage, and perhaps it's a gentle, happy wonder -- "Look what would have been different if I hadn't met him! I would be someone else."
We can look for echoes of that moment -- where did it happen again? And again? And where is it happening RIGHT NOW? Where are you giving the time of day to someone or something you know to be destructive? Where are you taking a risk to move beyond prescriptions?
It's important to create these scenes as vividly as possible -- recreate that moment in your mind. Feel what you felt. Smell what you smelled. Hear the music. See if there are details that you thought you had forgotten. Can you shift the view? Can you see the story through the wolf's eyes? Through the hood's eyes (if hoods had eyes...)? Are you, in your life, in one of those other roles today?
This is just the beginning.
If something comes up that feels too big, let it go, or take it to a professional. I'm not a counselor, social worker, psychologist, or pastor. I'm just a fellow traveler.
You story is waiting, and yet, it is running even now. You are in this story. Let's take a look around together.
This summer, I got to go to the National Storytelling Network's summer conference for the first time. It was amazing to be surrounded by storytellers from around the country, and some from other countries, who were exceedingly welcoming, supportive, and kind.
The day before the official conference opened, I took part in the Healing Story Alliance's pre-conference workshop, led by Lani Peterson. Lani does deep, world-changing work in Boston with people who have experienced homelessness or incarceration, and with other community members, facilitating their understanding of one another through storytelling.
There was a lot A LOT of stuff that I took away from that workshop. I'm not a trained psychologist, so much of it went over my head, but there was a part of the morning when we talked about helping people to tell their stories in order to re-construct their sense of self, helping them to "thicken" their stories. We go from the old normal -> through an experience of liminality and "undoing" our story -> to arrive at a new normal, where we are intentional in our responses. We then can return to the beginning of the story and help others.
This is the hero's journey, folks. We get to take that fairytale, mythic path every single day.
But it goes deeper.
We get to take that path every single moment of the day. In the pause between stimulus and response, where we make a conscious choice, we are responding to the call to adventure. That moment is sometimes briefer than the blink of an eye.
In every breath, in every response to our children, in every time we choose to speak up against hatred, and in every moment that we respond out of choice and not out of habit, we are heroes. We can have a thousand epic journeys in every day.
Those tiny, miniscule stories are woven together into the novel of our lives, the huge bildungsroman that tells of our journey from innocence to knowing, and then, we hope, into wisdom.
There is so much more to pull out of those few short hours, and I hope to bring you examples and insights over the next few weeks.
If you missed last night's facebook live, I have the video for you right here! Enjoy!
Thank you for reading. For commenting. For clicking. For listening.
Thank you for supporting me and my work.
Thank you for living in this world. For working and playing and cooking and tending and stitching. For building and tinkering.
Thank you for feeding people. For teaching them. For opening your doors and hearts and hands.
Thank you for all you do and are.
I know, I know. It's the holidays. You are, maybe, frantically checking your bank balance daily to make sure that you can cover all the food, feasting, gifts, events, clothing... Or maybe you're super organized and have it all in hand, carefully budgeted.
I want to encourage you to give yourself this gift. A gift of a new way of seeing your life story, and your path into the new year.
Mother Holle and Baba Yaga are well known in their home countries. They are powerful expressions of the wild feminine. Both have been pointed out as expressions of pre-Christian goddesses hidden in tales for children. Mother Holle rewards the good and punishes the bad. Baba Yaga, in her chicken-legged hut, provides information, wisdom, and initiation, but only to those who follow her rules and don't get themselves eaten in the process.
What will you get out of this work? A stronger sense of your own power to understand and choose your life story, artistic and writing invitations to take you deeper into the stories, and a potent technique for shifting your viewpoint when you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or lost in the woods.
We will be exploring two stories together over the course of four weeks. Want to know a little more about the kind of work we'll be doing? Check out this post: A Taste of Story-Reading.
Maybe you feel a little lost or fearful, or maybe you are downright terrified. Maybe you are searching for a new start, or a new way forward. Maybe you feel lost in the woods. Or maybe you feel like you are finally coming into your own.
I'd love to support you through story. My Story/Readings are an opportunity to explore your life story through the lens of fairy tales. Together, we venture down these ancient paths to find the wisdom you seek. From high, far-off cliffs and from humble cottages in the woods, we find a new perspective and new possibilities.
I've lowered the price on my story/reading sessions and simplified the offerings. It would be an honor to work with you.
Want to try it? Click here!
Questions? Comment below and I'll answer!
They have their own stories and struggles.
no one wants to hear how tired you are, how late you were up,
how the baby wouldn't sleep,
how work was hard, or just long.
No one really wants to hear about your aching feet, or head, or heart.
Unless you are willing to punch through the tired, the ache, into the source, into the deep
Pull back the tight-wound layers of it all, the election,
the dishes, the words bitten back, the ones you regret,
and take a moment to tell me
what the moon looks like tonight.
tell me about your anger, or your sorrow, or your need for something
you can't quite name.
It's so much more than tired.
No one wants to hear
they want too much to see, to touch, to hold.
to hold you up.
to hold your hand.
to hold on when you are so ready to let go.
I'm tired of battle metaphors. I want a metaphor of building.
less tearing, less fighting, less struggle.
No one wants to hear how tired you are.
I want a soft pillow, and a gentle hand, and strengthening sleep, not just for me.
for you, and for them, and for the person who made you angriest.
Goodnight. Tomorrow, the sun will rise,
and we will go on building.
originally published 11/5/2014
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.