Monday, April 12, 2010

The importance of Story

This morning, super blogger Chris Brogan challenged: What is the importance of story in your life?

I could write a book about this - and I am - which is why I have absolutely no time to respond. It is also why I cannot resist this challenge. So today, here is a bit of that book in response to Chris's question:


You probably learned about metaphor—one thing representing another—in high school English class. I learned it from Mrs. Levy, a slim, hauntingly beautiful divorcee who sometimes cried when she read us poetry.

I learned that the pearl, in John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, represented the way that the layers of time and experience form over us (as a pearl forms inside of an oyster, layer by layer). I learned that, the precious pearl was also a symbol of the price that we pay -in suffering, loss of life and injury to the divers-for our greed.

Who could have guessed that story - the gift I'd cherished since my mother read to me from her battered copy of Winnie The Pooh, contained such delights hidden between the pages? I spent hours re-discovering books I'd read before, and searching new volumes for symbol, metaphor and meaning.

From Mrs. Levy, I also learned about real stories. I learned that Simon and Garfunkel's song, "The Dangling Conversation" was about the disintegration of a marriage; and on the day that Mrs. Levy played it for us, i began to understand that teachers were whole people with lives that sometimes didn't work, that they had relationships that troubled them, and that sometimes, that trouble spilled over into their teaching. What I mean is, while the song was playing, she ran from the room, sobbing.

In college, I took a film class where I learned that rain or near-drowning (any sudden plunge into water) represents transformation. When I studied the tarot, I learned that water symbolized the fluid realms of the unconscious.

Later, in a workshop on the Divine Feminine, I learned that Holy Grail in Arthurian legend, symbolized the sacred container of Christ energy (as does the chalice used to celebrate mass in every Christian church in the world; I learned that said "sacred container" may actually have been a womb (that of Mary Magdalene), and that it just may have "contained" the living child of Jesus the man.

How cool was THAT? I thought - a whole culture, hidden between the cracks of this one.

Life had so many layers - so many meanings. Like the Steinbeck symbol that had first revealed the mystery of symbolic imagery to me, the world seemed a priceless, endlessly layered pearl. Because it wasn't just in books, sacred texts or movies. Everywhere I looked, these symbols of myth and fairy tale were woven into our lives—the same symbols that our subconscious mind draws upon to create meaningful dreams.

I began to have what I now call "Illuminated Experiences," waking events that unfolded as if they were dreams. Often, these experiences included dreams, which foreshadowed events or meaningful objects I'd see when awake.

The best example I can think of happened when my son was about to go to college.

I was very sad -and filled with dread about the empty hole he'd leave in our home, and our lives. One night, I dreamed I was driving behind him as he drove to school. In the dream, a great hunger overtook me and i had to pull over to get something to eat. He drove on. My hunger compelled me to walk toward one of those brick "Hot Shoppes" along the highway. On the way, a black cat began to walk along beside me - as it did, another black cat appeared at my other side.

Without words, they greeted me, saying: Hello, we are the books you are now going to write. We will fill your life and your heart now.

Great dream, right?

There's more. The next day, I was browsing the stacks at Barnes and Noble when my attention was drawn to a corner of the store I'd never visited before where they sell greeting cards and pens and other book related items. I always follow such guidance and headed over there. As I rounded the corner of a display, my breath caught. There, perched on the shelf were two black cat bookends.

Laughing out loud (Yes, right in the middle of the store) I knew I'd just received a confirmation that the dream was real, that I would indeed write books now and that, when my son left home, I'd be okay.

Carl Jung called this way of perceiving the world, the Symbolic Life - and he thought all of us should experience the sheer delight, and wonder it brings. Without it, he warned, "We cease to partake in the life of the gods (the divine and universal processes that are the very ground of existence), and so we miss celebrating the divine sacrament of a daily life lived with meaning.”

Why is story important to me? Because it is life itself. In a world alive with meaning, story is everywhere, in all things - it's not just a part of our lives; story is the very structure and pattern of our lives.


Here's the link to Chris Brogan's challenge if you want to respond, too.


julie said...

brilliant and beautiful, like you.

Trish said...

Well now you've gone and said it all - AGAIN.

Christina said...

Thank you for this. I know i should listen to that small voice more often. I let myself get discouraged all too often. Thank you for reminding me that someone IS out there waiting for me to take the first step to move on.