Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Story as Medicine Power

My husband’s tribe is Tiwa of Taos Pueblo. They have maintained their identity and ceremonies for hundreds of years in the face of aggressive outside forces. They keep their most important stories and ceremonies secret from the outside world.
Medicine Song by
Blue Spruce Standing Deer
Even the most worldly of Tiwa people would never reveal these secrets to an outsider. The culture that I came from just can’t understand this. Everything in this non-indigenous world is for revelation and possibly for sale. I’ve listened as many outsiders asked tribal members questions about the beliefs of the tribe only to be given a circular non-answer. Eventually the asker gets tired of circling the bush. If they are too insensitive about the inquiry the tribal member may be forced to say that questions are not welcome. In the Euro-American culture it is deemed a compliment to express an interest in another’s beliefs. Having had a dualistic Christianity aggressively imposed on them for many generations, people from European cultures are now looking over their Church walls to find a more earth and life friendly set of beliefs. They are puzzled when they are confronted by a belief system that is not flattered but even threatened by their interest.

The essence of sacred ceremonies and stories is not something that can be revealed by a simple telling. A sacred secret is not a secret (although it can be) because its holder is being unfriendly or fearful but because its power is depleted and its essence squandered by spreading it too thin. And to reveal it to someone who doesn’t share the same sense of the sacred is merely to cast it to the winds like a dry leaf. But even though they may be searching for an experience of the sacred, those outside the walls of a culture bring their own usually unconscious beliefs with them like an invasive virus with the capacity to infect and destroy. It’s important to keep the Medicine safe.


As I tell my own stories I’m discovering how central to life they are and how stories empower or weaken us. They are not just a collection of random episodes in a life’s memories. They have the power to create or defeat. I am grateful for the ability to experience this process. A psychologist might interpret a story one way and a mythologist or anthropologist quite another but our stories do more than just fit the times of our lives together, they determine who we are in this life. And perhaps more importantly stories can be tools of healing, evolution and creation or the opposite. They are not static but in motion throughout our lives. Often we don’t think about our stories or recognize how they fit together to define who we are and our place in the world. Some of them we like and are proud of and some record grief and shame. Sometimes they are used to strengthen our sense of value and purpose, at another time transform suffering to an interpretation pleasing to the ego or on a grander scale, tribal or national pride. We also inherit stories from those who have gone before us. There are national stories tribal stories, family stories and personal stories all working like the wheels within wheels of a mill?

Stories define us to ourselves and define how we fit as individuals in these pictures within pictures. But stories should grow along with changing evolving times because the Universe and Mother Earth have their own agendas. Sometimes, the story no longer serves us as an individual or as a tribe or species. Our stories may be based on self-protective but fear-based lies and secrets, or just not big enough to allow for further change and evolution. All stories are a distortion of reality, but a potentially creative distortion. They can’t help but be so. Once we recognize this we can work with them. Stories are our interface with the events around us, and also a way of altering those events. Through stories we become co-creators of our world.

Being trapped in a destructive story or a story too small to last through a lifetime is a tragedy. And yet, many people are not aware that their stories are part of a creative process. It’s as if the personal or tribal story is the play and our personal story is about our role in this play. Unlike a traditional theater play, however, we have a place in the creation of the play as well as an individual role. Becoming conscious of the stories we are living gives us the freedom to participate in the creation of our futures.

All cultures have creation stories that explain how they define themselves. In one way or another many culture stories involve being specially chosen by the greater forces of creation to live and serve a place or divine agenda. But what part of a story is empowering, visionary and creative and what part is confining, self destructive or dead-ended? Be careful how you choose your stories and become aware of those that direct your life without your awareness.


Stories are so rich in potential that the same story may have many dimensions of meaning. But how can a story evolve in wisdom and power without the loss of a sense of place and purpose? It seems to me that this is central to our human condition. How can we be loyal to our ancestors and sources while continuing our ride on the creative waves of evolution? Again and again we humans stick to our story until it becomes a cage separating us from our future. It is so important that we go to the core of its meaning and not become attached to the exact form. Both individually and culturally it is unconsciously easy to stick to the story and not notice that the life has left it and it no longer serves the purpose it was intended to convey. As the Hindu mystics pointed out (literally) when one points a finger toward an object the purpose of this pointed finger is not the finger itself but the object it is pointing to.

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