A HEALING STORY STORY
by Mike Seliger
Is there a human being on this planet who is not, to some degree, wounded—physically or emotionally—or in fear of becoming wounded or still experiencing the effects of a past wound or threat?
I ask this because Healing can only occur if there has been a Wound, or damage caused by Fear of loss or wounding. And the healing can only begin once the wound has been acknowledged.
Some people say all Stories are actually healing stories. Indeed, virtually all stories have healing elements. Every story that is told, orally or via sign or image, entails an interaction between a teller and audience (whether an audience of one, ten, or thousands!) This is an active exchange that provides gifts to both tellers and audience. These gifts are elements of healing, such as
· A recognition of one another as humans with vulnerabilities and dreams
· Sharing in ways that resonate and contribute to understanding and resilience
· Affirmation that the experience of telling and listening are rewarding ( informing, educating , entertaining, reaffirming humanness!)
Healing Story is a way for humans to convey compassion and understanding in support of Resilience and empowerment for a person, group, community or the entire planet, that is suffering from a wound. A story may not cure the wound, but may make it more understandable and hence more bearable by showing that the pain or grief is heard or recognized. Healing stories may reawaken belief that things can get better, obstacles overcome, justice achieved, cruelty confronted, possibilities opened. The stories may also offer alternative ways of looking at a situation, sometimes educating, sometimes reassuring or refocusing. Often the message is “You are not alone or trapped in an impossible place.”
Many stories follow the arc of “the Hero’s journey”, in which an individual is called to take actions, go places, encounter helpers who may offer advice or empowering gifts, overcome dangers and challenges, eventually achieving a success that provides rewards and new knowledge/ awareness with which he/she returns with new ability to use this in beneficial ways.
That story arc may or may not focus on a heroic figure who is suffering from a wound, although in the course of the journey wounds and dangers are likely occurrences. But the journey experienced by the listener/ audience is healing—it comforts, reassures, supports imagining of wonderful possibilities and achievements and can alleviate doubts and pain, at least for the moment. The story’s protagonist acts bravely (exhibiting courage in the face of fear) even though sometimes that bravery may seem to come out of ignorance or foolishness. The listener identifies with the character, even as the character may stumble into deeper troubles that call for further reliance on the resources within his/her grasp..
The wounds we experience come in all sizes and shapes—from a sprained ankle to a broken heart, from a lost ring to a famine, from a child being bullied to institutionalized racism, from loss of a job to collapse of an entire economy, from a common cold to a devastating pandemic.
In all these cases, stories may not cure, but can awaken ways of looking at them and assisting in finding the best ways to act within the situations.
Stories may not prevent anxiety and impatience, but might offer options on how to find and use inner resources to discover the best ways through difficult situations.
Stories may not reduce feelings of loss of loved ones, of home, or the frustration at finding that one’s beliefs in fairness and justice are being denied and abused, but may encourage identifying resources and supports that can help respond to the feeling of woundedness.
Some times, major crises such as wars, fires, natural disasters, famines or plagues (!) leave many people experiencing loss, confusion, and anxiety over what might happen next. This was certainly true after 9/11 brought down the World Trade Center Towers and brought in a time of fear and mourning.. Yet at that same time stories of resilience, heroic acts, kindness, and hope made the situation more full of possibilities, more strands of hope for people to grasp and begin to rebuild their sense of a future. Fears were acknowledged, shared, and ways were sought to overcome and move past them. Resources aimed at helping children better understand the world they were experiencing, and offering stories of generosity and resilience, were developed. (See the Resources on The Healing Story Alliance Website, especially Stories for Children in Times of Crisis compiled by Laura Simms).
Of the many many stories that could be told as examples of Healing Stories in times of crisis, where the right story at the right time can open eyes and hearts, I offer this brief tale, which I first heard at a prayer service not long after 9/11. The story’s origins go back many hundreds of years.
A king had a favorite jewel, one he proudly wore on a chain around his neck, showing it to admirers pointing out the way light radiated from each point on its surface. But one day the jewel fell from its casing, landing on the hard floor with a loud thud. A crack appeared on its surface. The king was terribly upset. His prize was no longer perfect. He called for the best artisans in his kingdom to come up with a solution for restoring the prize to its perfect state. One suggested simply reversing the jewel in the casing, so the crack would never be seen. Another suggested filling in the crack with a glue, then sanding down the surface. These were not acceptable solutions. A young artist stepped forward and boasted that if given the jewel for two days, he would return it and the King would surely be pleased with the result. The king gave him the opportunity, with a warning of dire consequences if he failed. He returned as promised, two days later, and handed the gem to the king. At first glance it was clear that the crack was still there. But the artist had etched the surface so that the crack had become the trunk of a tree, from which branches, leaves and flowers emerged. The work was beautiful. Indeed, the king was pleased, for what had happened was that rather than attempt to restore something after damage, the wound was turned into an opportunity to build something even more special.
Most recently, Healing Story Alliance has been conducting weekly “zoomed” gatherings of tellers and other story users. These gatherings, under the heading “Keeping the Oars in the Water” apply the metaphor that in turbulent waters, keeping the oars in the water enable the boat to be kept on a stable course heading towards safety. These weekly gatherings have provided a place for members of the storytelling community to share their experiences, cares, and vulnerabilities in a safe supportive space. The stories emerging there are not performance oriented, they are expressions given from a place of generosity and hope, providing moments to pause , reflect, and renew. It is there that the essence of Healing Stories can be found.
Mike Seliger has been Chair of The Healing Story Alliance’s Executive Committee for over six years. He holds a doctorate from The City University of New York in Sociology and has also studied mime, clowning, and storytelling. A retired Dean for Planning at Bronx Community College, Mike has devoted most of his life to community organizing and empowerment through education. He has written and edited extensively as editor of Mime Times, the New York Storytelling Center Newsletter, and Broadway Local Community Newspaper.
He lives in New York's Hudson Valley.
Learn more about his work here.