The Healing Art of Storytelling; A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery by Richard Stone. New York: Hyperion, 1996. ISBN 0-7868-8107-0 paper 238 pp. $12.95 US, $17.95 CAN
In this age in which we are more likely to tell the story of the latest Seinfeld episode than the story of our own lives, Richard Stone issues a call to re-storying our lives. "Representing our world to others through story is innately human, as crucial to our soul's survival as breathing is to the survival of our body. Short circuit this natural process and you will witness all forms of disease. It may show up as a physical symptom or as a mental stress. More likely it will appear under the guise of a nameless anxiety, or a general depression that we can't seem to attribute to anything in particular. These are the symptoms of an un-storied life."
Stone begins with a section which he calls Preparing for the Journey. In these chapters he looks at the ways in which we have become de-storied, and then examines the power of storytelling and story listening to transform and heal. Hospitals and health care environments, he suggests, should incorporate storytelling and other art forms such as dance and song. It may be a while before we re-learn as a society how to hear and appreciate stories but the end result is worth the effort.
An important chapter in this section is devoted to listening, the process of which is both active and creative. There is a difference between the daily filtering and screening of information through selective listening, and the kind of listening in which the listener becomes a part of a sacred ritual. In the latter case, listening is soul work – n activity in which the speaker is fully heard and drawn out so that the story being told is heard empathetically. A benefit of this type of listening is that the listener can hear the story of another's journey and experience a healing within himself.
The second part of the book is entitled On The Path, and it leads the reader into the process of retrieving and sharing personal stories. This part begins with a look at how to recapture a memory and share it, and some tools for recovering the past. Examining emotions can call forth memories of the past. Special people, both heroes and villains can lead to stories. Places, highs and lows, defining moments are all described and key questions provided to aid in unlocking memories.
Readable and insightful, this book sets the reader on the path to not only telling personal stories, but finding the meaning in them. If we could all learn to share our stories and listen to others' we would be much further along on the path to health communities.