Earlier this month, I was honored to participate in Naropa University’s Compassionate Approaches to Aging and Dying Conference (to learn more about this event and be informed of similar ones in the future, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/compassionate-approaches-to-aging-and-dying-transforming-the-paradigm-of-care-tickets-30228980695#). I gathered with others — end of life workers, caregivers, scholars, and spiritual practitioners — who in various ways devote their lives to death and dying. So much wisdom was shared that weekend; and the vast majority of it arose in the form of storytelling. Indeed, each question raised during every question and answer session I attended contained a story in some form. Those sharing may have thought they were providing contexts for their inquiries, and the tales they told did offer frameworks for their queries.
But they delivered so much more.
We often rush through the process of telling our stories, considering them the preamble to the “real stuff”, as at the conference. Other times, we hurry to “fill one another in” on the occurrences of our lives, not realizing that the telling and the hearing is just as important as the content. I am blessed to companion others in my Spiritual Direction practice; and frequently a person I am supporting says something to me like, “I know I’m going on too long” or “I want to finish this story part so we can get to the work”. But so often the gifting and receiving of our story is the work, not only in Spiritual Direction but in life.
I think that we sometimes get confused about the purpose of stories. We may treat them as entertainment, leading us to believe that we must amuse or at least interest one another. Stories can certainly do that; and I suppose that entertainment is sometimes the sole purpose of storytelling.
. . . but not often.
Sharing stories is integral to our personal and collective growth and to our bonding with one another. We tell stories to:
- Create order from chaos
- Understand events and people
- Connect with one another
- Be witnessed in our joy and pain, our triumphs and challenges
- Ensure that we may someday be remembered
I received a LinkedIn message from a stranger recently. “You seem to be in love with words,” I read. The conversation that ensued is its own hilarious story – one I love sharing with others and will likely write about here someday. True, I love words. I love the way they convey meaning, and I love the ways they confuse and confound meaning. I love the way we use and misuse them. I love their sound, their rhythm.
But, much more importantly, I love their use in stories. It is, you see, the stories, with which I am in love rather than the words.
Stories have provided order, inspiration, and hope in my life. Occasionally, stories have even saved my life. My writing mentor, Mirabai Starr has taught me that when we tell our truth, we save the world. (for information on Mirabai’s writing, teaching, and retreats, please visit her website http://mirabaistarr.com/)
And as the end of our life draws near, most of us tell stories to tell our truth and to save the world. Unfortunately, we may not have many people present who are able to witness our stories with love and compassion.
At The Way of Conscious Death, we are committed to changing that.
We will be exploring stories deeply in 2018. We will provide education about how to share stories (with ourselves and those close to us) in our journeys with loss, illness, and grief; and we will learn how to witness another person’s story. We will share personal stories as well as stories from the collective (different communities, cultures, and societies – past and present). We will honor our grief through storytelling and story witnessing. There will be stories told with written word, others spoken on videos and podcasts. And we would like you to join us, to listen in, witness, connect, remember. Please also consider sharing your stories with us. Contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story to share.