Stories can illuminate our path through the forest of life and help us through difficult moments in our process. Nowadays it is easier for stories to find the people who need to hear them because of social networks like The Healing Story Alliance (HSA). The HSA is centred in the USA and is an international network of storytellers, and other professionals, dedicated to exploring, promoting and applying stories for healing purposes. I visualize the HSA as a giant, friendly spider, spinning silken story threads to be weaved into nourishing stories to help people overcome difficult situations in the adventure of life, such as; bullying at school, recovery from additions, depression, serious illnesses such as cancer, or simply to accompany us at the end of our hero’s journey in the transition from this world to the next.
There are other spiders spinning their generous, healing story threads in Europe. Symposiums dedicated to the healing power of stories are held each year in the North of Europe. These have been based mainly in the Scandinavian countries and Scotland. In 2014 it will take place in Finland.
The Federation for European Storytelling (FEST) is also open to the healing power of storytelling. At their annual conference in 2013 there were rich discussions around the use of stories in health and social work settings and many initiatives were mentioned, including the following:
- How listening to stories can improve the well being of premature babies in incubators and their mothers.
- Storytelling as a tool to help alleviate the pain and suffering of immigrants and refugees and help them integrate into society. In one project, stories from an immigrant’s country were translated into the language of the new country to be told orally. In another project, the story of the immigrant’s personal journey from his country of origin to the host country was transformed into a type of folk tale.
- Tellers Without Borders, a non profit organization, works with stories in areas of conflict, like the Gaza strip, to promote healing within and across communities.
Story threads work on many levels as they weave themselves into our individual processes.
We may identify with the characters in a story and journey with them on their quests. As they visit different communities and cultures we gain a better social understanding which can help to heal and build bridges across communities and perhaps help harmonize our own internalcharacters as well. As the characters in the story overcome the difficulties and emotional dilemmas in their paths we may feel, consciously or unconsciously, that we are not alone and that even the most difficult problems have solutions. It also offers us the opportunity to talk about taboo subjects such as death.
Stories help us develop emotionally as they give us insight into what characters may be thinking and feeling and how that influences them. We can reflect on their decisions and the consequences of their behaviour. This is especially significant for children because their natural language is symbolic and they relate to the world of imagination, image and metaphor. Stories help children identify and connect with emotions and when stories are used well, they can become a healthy part of the emotional digestive system of a child. But, all too often childhood emotions are not properly explored and digested and this may lead to complications later on in life.
As an art therapist I have met people trapped in the stories of their past and have also come across many stories that are trapped inside people, wanting to be freed and heard. I have had the opportunity to accompany some groups of women, to help ‘free’ some of these stories. In my project ‘Weaving Stories’, we enter into an inner space through visualization exercises. The participants are invited to travel to the past to visit the landscape of some related personal story and are encouraged to center on one of scenes and experience it with all the senses. Afterwards, there is a space to share their experience and to express it on cloth. (The intention in this work is not to evoke particularly traumatic experiences).
While the women sew their story images a small community is formed where they exchange skills, knowledge and stories spontaneously, freeing yet more life stories that yearn to be heard. The stories pass through intercultural and intergenerational barriers generating a sensation of union, connection and belonging. The women unite all their works of art together in a big patchwork which then becomes the base to create a new collective story from the threads of past stories.
I weaved the concept of “life storying” into the threads of “Weaving Stories”. I was inspired by my desire to story my dad’s life as he reached the end of his life story. He told me stories from the different chapters of his life; his infancy, the evacuation during the second world war and the many other stories which had been trapped inside him for many, many years without being heard. I wanted to accompany these life stories with images, and as there were few photos to be found of his early years I weaved them into cloth. The end result was a patchwork representing 12 chapters from the story of his life.
While I was weaving the stories of his life I felt I was healing something in our relationship and something much bigger as well, in our family line. The patchwork was a surprise gift for his 80th birthday and he was able to enjoy it for several months, before he finally left us.
It moves me to remember my dad in his last days, wrapped in the cloak of his hero’s journey; with its tests, allies, enemies, guides and the treasures that made his life story so unique. I hope the process of weaving his story quilt helps to illuminate his path in the forest of what lies beyond life…but this is another story yet to be woven.
Jennifer Ramsay is Professional Storyteller and Art Therapist.
- Healing Storytelling Alliance (HSA) http://healingstory.org
- Tree of Life Healing Storytelling Symposium 2014 - (http://albasuomifinland.net/).
- The Federation for European Storytelling (FEST) http://www.fest-network.eu/
- Tellers Without Borders: http://www.erzaehler-ohne-grenzen.de/gb/tellers_without_borders.html
- Weaving stories: http://www.thestorygirl.com/xc/cnt/tsg/weaving_stories_jan2010_en.pdf
- A patchwork story: http://www.thestorygirl.com/xc/cnt/tsg/casita_de_mis_recurdos_march2010.pdf