By Dilnaz Boga August 2006 The story is one of the most powerful purveyors of spiritual truths. Here, a report on a recently conducted workshop. ‘The carefree dolphin roamed around the seas like she was the queen of the oceans. She spent her days and months catching fish, playing with friends, taking care of her family and exploring new parts of the big ocean. One day, while she was on one of her long and leisurely swims, she got lost and was captured by a group of evil sharks. She knew she had to escape or else they would eat her. Her several attempts of escape failed and she was getting very frustrated. So, one day, she finally screamed and screamed so loudly that the whole ocean shook. It was then that her friends and family realized where she was and came to rescue her. There was a big celebration on her return. Life was back to the earlier carefree days of catching fish, exploring new lands…’ Tarika Vaswani, a post-graduate student of Social Work, who attended a StoryWORK workshop at Malad in Mumbai, narrated this tale. Vaswani explained, ‘The key part of the workshop, for me, was presenting my life in a story – for me as well as others to see. And this way, I saw a lot more. I saw all that I had learnt; accomplished, lost, experienced…it helped me understand myself better. It helped me join the dots in the gaps that existed in my personality. This workshop gave me a lot of self-confidence and I stopped giving as much importance as I used to to other people’s opinion. I decided to take my own decisions in life – from career to friends to anything, basically. It helped me decide on what I as a person wanted and not what others felt were the right choices for me. I made myself the center, placing myself first to ensure I came before others, which was not the case earlier. I think I am able to understand myself better and am able to realize why events occurred the way they did. What’s more, I realized that everyone has a story!’ And that is the point Dr Marguerite Theophil, workshop facilitator and author of the book, Uniting Heaven and Earth: The Transformative Power of Story, is trying to make. Theophil, who has been conducting StoryWORK workshops for some time, both in India and abroad, says there’s a lot we can learn about ourselves from stories. ‘Every human being has a story gene. Stories have existed even before the written word. Stories gift us the understanding of who and why we are, and what we can be. It is well accepted that images and metaphors have profound healing effects, and that story – where words are designed to evoke pictures or images in our mind – can play an essential role in healing the mind, body, and spirit.’ Theophil’s work as a corporate consultant in the field of leadership development gave her an insight into how a group of people are held by stories that are audible or inaudible. ‘But my work in the HR sector was half done as there was no space or methodology for stories in this culture. I felt it was wanting in follow-through. And it was hard to convince people.’ But that is not the beginning of the story of StoryWORK. Its roots enveloped Theophil when she was a little girl. ‘My great grandmother, my mother and my maid were fantastic story tellers. It was an integral part of my childhood.’ After graduating in Psychology from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Theophil went on to become an air-hostess for 14 years. ‘Because of all the travelling, it was easy to pursue my PhD in Sacred Architecture from Mumbai University. Even that revolved around buildings telling their stories… only their language was silence. That’s when it dawned on me that the power of a story is found in the symbolism and not the obvious.’ In 1989, Theophil started WEAVE (Woman Earth and Vital Encounters), an organisation of likeminded individuals, especially women, who were seekers of spirituality. ‘This was spirituality without demonizing the other traditions. And so we had to learn about other traditions,’ she said. She added, ‘At our first workshop in Pune, I learnt that women share their experiences through stories.’ The StoryWORK workshop includes traditional teaching stories that have been handed down for hundreds of years, as well as stories from daily life experiences. Theophil explains, ‘As a teller of stories, I am often asked by members of the listening group about just ‘how’ I knew this was the story they needed at this time. The real answer is – I never really know. But I have learnt that I need to trust the stories I choose and I must choose stories that can offer insights, not morals or prescriptions for living. I use the gift and power of story in many areas of my work – with individuals, with groups of managers, educators, clergy or students – actually with anyone open to ways of learning that need not be usual or obvious!’ At the WorkshopStories have several components that have symbols. In stories, one can find people – man, woman, or child, prince, pauper or mermaid; aspects of nature – mountains, rivers, animals, the great earth; abstractions or concepts – evil, good, impermanence, cowardice, honor, good humor, greed, nobility, wisdom. Often these are personified, and sometimes the ‘personifications’ are easily identified, often they are not. While both are useful, the second type – the not so easily identifiable – is often the key to our transformation. Stories have many levels, and it is only by going past surface or immediately available interpretations that we give ourselves access to their healing gifts. Vaswani explains, ‘Very few of us realize the power of stories. Stories, in their own way, can help us deal with issues we push into our subconscious as children. They help us join the dots in our personalities and understand ourselves better. We learn to accept who we are, insecurities and everything else included. They help us to complete the story of our lives. This is how, I think, a story approach to life might work for me. I never realized the power of story till I attended the StoryWork workshop. ‘Now, I read every story with wider eyes and more open ears. I’m also on the prowl for stories – to find a story for its own sake or to forward it to someone who I know will appreciate it. Also, a story leaves me pondering over what I’ve derived from it (something that’s getting easier by the day).’ Contact Dr Marguerite Theophil at firstname.lastname@example.org (022) 2861 7744
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