In this era of fast-paced change, drought, bushfires and angry political rhetoric that seems disengaged from the pressing matters of our age, let alone common sense, I have days when I wonder just how much relevance and value whimsical oral tales really have. Then I remind myself, it is exactly in times, like these, that we need soul food of all kinds and stories are one potent form of soul food. Since the school strikes, children’s participation and awareness of pressing matters has intensified. Even the most sheltered child will probably be sensing that there is a lot going on. So they will need support to build resilience.
There are certain stories I look to for comfort when I feel distressed. When I feel overwhelmed and want to give up, I recall the Russian folktale Never Give Up, in which a frog gets trapped in a milk churn. Despite her seemingly hopeless situation, the little frog persists until she eventually discovers a surprising method of escape. When I hear of acts of large scale damaging selfishness, I turn to the story The Difference Between Heaven and Hell. It helps me remember that I have the power to influence my world with the choices I make. I know that my thoughts and actions ripple out into the wider community and can have an impact. When I feel not enough, I remember Treasure on the Bridge, which reminds me that treasure lies within my own heart and I have within me everything I seek already.
Even though these folk tales and not literally true, their impact can be significant because they speak to metaphorical truths that resonate deep within. The power of imagination cannot be underestimated. If we cannot imagine the world we would prefer, if we have only a loud No, but no clear Yes, then how can we build a better world for ourselves and the new generations? Storytelling allows us to reimagine ourselves and our world, retrieve and reweave ancient wisdom and ways of being, and create blueprints for future possibilities.
(This post was inspired by listening to a podcasted interview of my colleague Laura Simms, author, humanitarian, Buddhist meditator and master storyteller from New York. Laura eloquently explained how storytelling can support us in anxious times. THE STORIES WE TELL: Coming Home to Ourselves in a Tumultuous World as a part of the Seven Tools of Healing ‘Building Resilience in Anxious Times’.)