Voicing Your Story: The Gift of Storytelling

May 24, 2016

Human Beings Tell Stories

When I am exhausted, when I’ve run into something I don’t know how to handle, when I’m sad or frustrated, there are two things that help me: telling my story, and walking in beauty for a while. Often, the two go hand-in-hand.

Storytelling has been in my life for literally as long as I can remember. I consider myself fortunate that, in addition to reading my favorite storybooks, my Dad also told actual, off-book-out-of-his-head bedtime stories.

Many of them were along the lines of “things me and my brothers used to do on Grandma’s farm that you should never do because they’re really dangerous.” And some of them were giggle-inducing spoofs on popular fairytales, like “The Three Little Pigs and the Welcome Wagon Wolf Who Lived in the Middle of the Desert.”

(I’ll leave that to your imagination.)

Storytelling has been a part of human life for as long as we can remember. Since we first had sing-song musical communication and language, since we could draw on the wall of a cave. It is a primal, human impulse.

Over and over, from my English Lit degree to my current work as a voice coach, I have had opportunity to appreciate the value of storytelling: to honour our humanity, to entertain, to connect with our tribe, and to facilitate individual healing or group evolution. One of the first things I do in my work with a new voice student is invite her to tell me her voice story.

When I practiced foot reflexology many years ago, I was consistently amazed at how—about ten minutes into a session—just about every client would start pouring out their stories: vignettes about the minutiae of daily life; or huge archetypal or ancestral tales that they’d been carrying with them for decades. The combo of physiological input and the space of trust they felt with an empathic, skilled listener seemed to open the floodgates. Even now, I can’t say for sure how many were actually coming for the foot massage, and how many were there to simply be witnessed. It’s a humbling thought.

The innate capacity to tell our stories is how we share our joy, it is how we live in the midst of the crisis without imploding, it is how we solve problems and move forward after heartbreak.

New School: The Myth of ‘Sharing’ in Social Media

Today we have more outlets for sharing our stories than ever before: my blog could be read in China, or Antarctica, or outer space. But posting cautiously-curated snippets about our lives or weird-factoid memes is not the same as sharing our stories. Hitting the “Like” or “Heart this” button can make a mockery of witnessing another’s story with honour.

It is a truism that what we have gained in the ability to instantly update our network on our status, we have lost in our experience of being truly seen and heard.

That said, I’ve noticed a curious thing: when I post a vulnerable piece my personal story; or when I take a few minutes to shape my perspective on current events into a narrative of momentary beauty, I get instant and enthusiastic engagement. And when I offer a thoughtful comment on someone else’s post that communicates, “I hear you,” instead of reflexively hitting “Like,” real dialogue often happens, and I feel the connection buzzing down the airwaves.

Old School: Circle the Fire With Our Tribe

Whatever the modern media options, I feel in myself that primal need to share words and songs around the metaphorical fire with my tribe. To be in the same place, at the same time, and just. . . .be there. It’s not about learning something new, it’s not about ‘doing,’ it’s simply about following what feels like an impulse coded in my DNA. It feels like going home.

And here’s the lovely thing. When I follow the impulse home, when I tell my story in words, grunts, cries, songs and dance around that metaphorical (or real!) fire—and those energies drop into the container of what I call resonant listening—they are transmuted. Whatever the subject matter—however bright and joyful, however wounded and dark—that witnessed story becomes transformed into a thing of beauty in the world.

By sharing our stories in this way, we give each other the gift of walking in beauty for a few moments. Each teller of tales becomes an artist, each human life, a work of art.

If you too are feeling the call, I hope you will join me at the upcoming event in the Calgary, Canada area.

And, I know it isn’t always possible to share with our tribe around the fire, in the old way. Here are some other possibilities to bring your innate storytelling ability into a place of conscious practice in your life.


Some Ways to Tell Your Story

In writing

-Write it in a journal. Or on some random pieces of paper. Eventually, you may want to have a ritual around it—ripping & recycling, burning, or perhaps turning it into a more polished piece to share with friends and typing it up beautifully.

-If things like grammar and vocabulary are buggin’ ya, Let it go. Write stream-of-consciousness words, write poetry snippets, get out your crayons and draw it or (if you’re like me) scribble odd things on the page.

Speak it out to one person

-Share with a friend, and then reciprocate and listen while they share. I highly recommend a practice like Heart Listening so that you can offer each other a container of compassionate listening. No interrupting, no problem-solving, no judgment, no commentary, no “me too.” Safe space, silence, resonant listening.

Without Words

-Sound it Out. Use your voice in a practice like Free Singing. You can do this at home on your own, or with a friend or two.

-Dance It. Find a song that is a favourite or that seems to match the energy of the moment and dance it out.

Bonus Material: Video Yourself

-If you don’t have the opportunity to speak to a friend, try video-ing yourself using your computer or smart phone camera. Tell the story as many times as you need to, in order to feel complete. In my experience, the camera acts as a sort of witness. You can even have fun with costume and set. Change the room up, change your clothes, put on special make-up or do your hair in a way you’ve never tried before.

Some Suggestions for Practice

If you are Speaking or Writing and not sure where to start, here are some key elements to include:

WHAT happened (events as you see them),

WHO was involved,

HOW you felt/feel about it (using your senses, your emotions),

WHY do all these elements form a story in your mind (what is the connection, the through line, how is the character “you” developing in this narrative)

WHERE are you in that story right now (are you at the end or somewhere in the middle, do you need further input or feedback to complete)

If you are Dancing or Free Singing, Some Suggestions

Craft Your Safe Container

Give some thought to how you will feel safe telling your story. Maybe you need to keep it private, sing it to yourself. If you are dancing, maybe you need to have some props on hand or move furniture out of the way. If you are sharing words or sounds with another person, try a practice like Heart Listening.

Begin with the Energy or the Feeling

Now, begin with the energy of the story. Feel your feet on the ground, pay attention to your breath, feel the emotion and locate where you feel that energy in your body. Don’t try to give it words or shape. Let your body and your voice do that.

As always, I am curious to hear how it goes. You can share your feedback, here.



Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: