The people of the Hopi First Nations understood the power of
stories. They had a strong oral tradition and used storytelling as a mean to
transfer wisdom from one generation to the next. Carefully embedded within
each story was the values, skills and knowledge required to navigate the
challenges of life successfully.
In my journey to create peace and joy in my life I
too came to recognize the power of stories - both the stories I told myself and
the stories I allowed to be told to me. I learned that by carefully managing
these stories I could create the experience of peace and joy at will. The secret
to living joyfully was to recognize my role as a storyteller and to take full
responsibility for the stories I told myself.
The following is a true story about a young woman I worked with a couple of
years ago. Denise's story demonstrates the power of story.
Denise came to see me shortly after her fiancÚ had been
killed in a motor vehicle accident. The driver of the other vehicle was legally
impaired at the time of the accident and found to be completely at fault. The death of her fiancÚ occurred just weeks prior to her
Denise was understandably angry, resentful and sad. During
the first 45 minutes of her time with me she expressed an intense out pouring
of emotions. She talked with anger. She shared her sadness and grief. She was
immersed in fear. And she even talked of revenge. Eventually Denise released
the deep well of emotions that had built up inside of her and she moved into a
moment of silence.
I interrupted the silence with a question. "Denise," I asked
her, "If we could speak to your fiancÚ wherever he is and were to ask him
what he would wish for you now, what do you think his answer would be?"
After a moment of reflection a smile came to Denise's face.
"I know what Gary would wish for." she responded. "Gary would want me to be
happy. He would want me to reclaim my joy and to get on with living it fully."
"I think you're right." I replied. "I suspect Gary would
wish with all his heart that you not stay in anger or fear or resentment, but
rather that you embraced peace and joy; that you continued to live the
happiness that the two of you shared."
I then added a suggestion for her consideration. "Denise, I
wonder if a way to honour your fiancÚ would be to wake each day and fill
your heart with peace and joy and to live this way as a means of honouring
Gary." I could see that Denise embraced my suggestion. Her face filled with joy
as she grinned from ear to ear. "I'll do that she said." There was little more for me to say. I gave her a hug and
off she went.
One month later Denise returned. "I'm doing really well."
she declared. "Every day when I wake up I consciously hold Gary in my heart and
I make a commitment to living the day peacefully and joyfully just as Gary
would wish for me."
"My problem," she continued, "is that my parents and Gary's
parents don't understand my joy. They think I must not have loved Gary. They
think that the more you love someone, the more angry and sad you should be. I've asked them to come see you Ted, but they don't want to let go of their
story that if you love someone you must be angry and sad."
I acknowledged Denise's challenge. I have seen it many times
before. Many of us have been socialized to tell ourselves stories that
undermine our ability to live in peace and joy. And so we live a life filled
with anger, fear and resentment, not knowing that the solution is within us.
We are wise to acknowledge and consider the kind of
stories we tell ourselves. Mastering our stories is the key to our happiness. The
power of storytelling was so clearly understood by the Hopi that they declared
- "He who tells the stories rules the world." You can rule your world, but only
if you master the power of storytelling.