The Power of Story

Fall: Windy FieldWe have arrived at mid-November. Here in Vermont that usually means cloudy skies and little light. This morning, for the first time this fall, there is a skiff of snow on the cars. Over the weekend we nestled in beside the warmth of the wood stove. With the advent of cold, dreary, weather, and soon, the Holidays, it seems a good time to ponder story.

Stories shape our perception and understanding of the world. I’ve been thinking a good deal about White Buffalo Calf Woman and her message of Peace, and the unity of the Sacred Hoop, a teaching that arrived in difficult times. Ultimately, she proposed, when we harm any being we harm all. That said, we have to eat and be clothed against winter’s bite. Thus, she presents us with the paradox of the inevitability of doing harm.  The problem is partially solved when the Animal People offer themselves to our hunters. We are allowed to end their lives so that we may live, as long as we do so in a grateful, sacred manner. She invites us to remember that all beings have souls and spirits, and desire a long, rich life just as we do. (This post was inspired by a painting and post from Gretchen Del Rio.)

Back in the Seventies when I was a college student I found myself drawn to two apparently divergent paths. One on hand I wanted to know everything about the traditional knowledge of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world. On the other I was fascinated by Buddhism, and to a lesser degree, Hinduism, from which Buddhism sprang. I was particularly drawn to the nature based, direct path of zen. When, late in the decade, I met Dyhani Thorner (Yahoo), I struggled to follow her in weaving together the Cherokee and the Tibetan Buddhist paths. Only much later in life, while contemplating the miracle of White Buffalo Calf Woman, would I see the underlying unity in those traditions, a cohesion obscured by surface trappings.

Looking back over recorded human history it is difficult to ignore the power of narratives of difference and force.  Trauma fear, and greed generate visions of the world as a place of loneliness and danger, requiring ceaseless monitoring and great caution. In response, persons and nations that are physically or socially powerful may adopt bullying as a life strategy. Others may attempt to become invisible, seldom inviting others into the depths of their inner being. Both positions yield much suffering for self and other.

Fortunately, there are other stories. White Buffalo Calf Woman brought visions of unity to those who would become the Sioux. Other prophets and sacred beings visited Indigenous nations throughout the Americas. The message was almost always the same: war causes too much suffering, the way of Peace is sweet, and, most crucially, the lives of all beings are interwoven in the Great Hoop.  We are all, literally One.

In a world where all beings desire, love, and suffer, where all have consciousness, soul, and spirit, one must tread softly. In such a world it is good to keep an active ear, to listen for the stories being told all around us. Revelation, connection, and awakening are always at hand. As White Buffalo Calf Woman promised, the teachings of the Sacred Hoop are good to hold close; they make a fine way to live.

As we move further into the seasons of dark and cold, the time of telling sacred stories, may we remember the message of unity brought by the Holy Ones and wisdom carriers. Once again, our very survival may well depend on our doing so.

8 thoughts on “The Power of Story

  1. Michael: I have know you and appreciated you as a great story teller. Recently I found a lovely TED presentation by Brene’ Brown who calls herself a “researcher/story teller” on vulnerability. She makes some interesting connections between psychotherapy (she is a social worker) and story telling. Her approach reminds me a bit of you.

  2. This is such a lovely reflection about the power of stories to heal or divide, Michael – a timeless and universal message. It’s especially helpful for me to remember this during the darkest time of the year.

    1. Dear Carol, I have been addressing the many demands that accompany the end of the term. It is good to finally have a moment to check in with the blog and find your touching message. May the dark of the year bring you surprising light and joy!

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