The Healing Art of Storytelling



Posted 9 May 2000. Last Updated Sept, 2014.


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Stories and the Healing Journey


And as the last rays faded over the distant mountains the elder began again to tell more of the story to the children - of the journey of the young ones.


'And remember we left our journeyers paddling upstream and they had realised that they did not have to fight the current and so we rejoin them as they now face once more the mighty current against them and feeling themselves different now, energised by the energy of the mighty river and the swift swirling of the waters that they have learned to read and they let it flow them backwards to the quieter side where their paddling is now making more progress and what was once a draining struggle has now become energising fun as they are going with the flow each time to gentler ways for going up into the high country returning to the homelands of their ancestors to re-visit and re-member the old ways and as one they are back there now in the joyous spontaneous flow of the moment re-connecting and re-living the old ways.........'


Back in ninety two I used to get up each morning before sun-up to listen to Old Man tell the stories to the young boys who had been exiled from remote communities because they 'didn't have a cooperative bone in their bodies' and were 'troublemakers' and so they have been sent to live for a six weeks with Old Man and I will tell a little of the storytelling ways of Old Man.


In the early frost (synchronising healing context, time, and place) the youths huddle together to keep warm (a living metaphor of cooperative cohesion). In contrast, there's no time for stories at 2PM as they urge their horse to try to keep up with Old Man and his horse at full gallop. So in the predawn gloom eyes are peering from under blankets to watch Old Man's hilarious antics as the scrumptious smells of Norma's cooking are wafting by (healing placemaking). And the early morning stories he makes up on the spot embody the 'unfinished stuff' of the previous day. Old Man's stories both embody the boys' problematic behaviours, ideas and feelings, and contain the seeds of their resolving. Each story involves the shift from the problematic to the functional. Additionally, Old Man's stories embody the seeds of possible alternative behaviours towards individual and group wellbeing and have the listeners entering into possible future ideal worlds of their making - as Old Man uses all manner of metaphors to stand for the boys and aspects of their life together - the two boys who fought over the new saddle hear, along with the other boy's, the story of two eagles fighting over a rabbit - where a third eagle gets the rabbit and then in healing mediation shares the rabbit with them in a joyous fun filled feast. Old Man would subtly mark these two boys out by gesture and glance as he told the story. Another boy who felt shame after falling from his horse hears the story of the animal who felt shame and then took action to regain composure and integrity, and again that boy is subtly marked out and hardly notices as he shifts himself into a posture embodying the feeling of power (unconsciously mirroring Old Man's accompanying shifts in body posture). Moments later another story is picking up the theme of a limiting belief and within the unfolding story the belief is challenged and replaced by a more functional belief and a different three boys involved are subtly marked out.


Old man often half tells a story and then switches to another story. He may finish this second one then return to finish the first story. Sometimes he may half tell a number of stories and then go back and finish them one by one (multiple embedded metaphor/stories). Sentences in the stories are joined by 'joining words' like 'and' and 'so that' or 'and the next thing that happened was', and this pattern has the effect of maintaining the flow and the telling may become very enchanting. The metaphors match all the significant elements in the context, as in the 'two boys and the saddle' becoming 'two eagles and the rabbit'. Old man picks up two nearby pieces of stick and waves in the air to represent the diving eagles. All manner of nearby items are used as metaphors. An angry feeling becomes a 'big stick'.


You may want to identify the references to behaviours, ideas and feelings in the story fragment at the start of this article and throughout this paper. It is seasoned with patterns. Perhaps you can use words like 'perhaps' to act as softeners when introducing suggestions. Perhaps you can also notice the use of suggestions, metaphors and joining words (perhaps you can X). And while (a reference to time, setting up a presupposition*) reflecting on this, perhaps noticing also the subtle shifts in reference to the past, present and future. Look for inference, and presupposition and the patterns for setting up possible futures and for the exploring of possibilities for flexibility and choice, and perhaps you can find that you can do all this (use of content free generalisation) easily when (*) you use this in your healing ways as all are connected to all.

Further material on these patterns may be found on the internet at  Healing Ways Encyclopœdia


Exploring the Healing Storytelling Art


One way to practice your healing storytelling art with others is to pick a partner and sit facing each other close enough to have your knees touching. Have other partners on either side of you so you are in two long lines all up close against each other, and all facing your respective partner. One partner in each pair will start the story and after 30 seconds to a minute say, 'and', and then 'throw' the story to your own partner opposite you to continue. Your partner makes up the next short segment, says 'and' and then passes the story back to you again. The story unfolds by passing the storytelling backwards and forwards between the same two partners.

Before everyone starts they are told that the story that is to unfold between each pair is to be about a journey. Two or more entities (people and/or other creatures) who a very fond of each other go their separate ways and on their respective journeys many things happen that stretches their resourcefulness and makes them increase in wisdom. The journey involves many behaviours and ideas and generates many feelings and then circumstances happen such that they find each other again and share their wisdoms and increased appreciation of each other.


Once underway, everyone is bathed in a 'sonic bath' of storytelling. Inevitably, there is the sound of humour - giggles and laughter - from other storytellers. Your focus on your partner has you engrossed, though occasionally a theme from a next door story may enter your consciousness and so an aspect of their story may become embedded in your story.


Once in setting up such a group, one couple introduced a bright orange glowing ball into their story. After a time this glowing ball had found its way down the lines through about twenty pairs. Inevitably all involved end up with fascinating stories and amazement at their spontaneous creativeness. They can then move to sharing their experiences and learning in pairs and in the group.


Further material on Storytelling healing ways may be found at the site: Healing Ways of Old Man - Geoff Guest.




Other links:


Healing Ways Encyclopœdia

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