Ildikó Boldizsár: Cinderella's Facebook Profile
Self-healing stories from all over the world
EXCERPT FROM THE PROPOSAL
TABLE OF CONTENT
The Story as Compass
The Storyteller as Therapist
How Can Stories be Transformed Into Self-Healing Narratives?
The Plunge into the Depths of the Problem
Opening the Locks
Harvesting the Crop
Pebbles Fall from the Sky
Emboldening Stories the Smallest Among Us
The Difficulties of Growing Up
Cinderella on Facebook
Fear of Life
Animal Brides and Animal Grooms
Communication Problems in Couple Relationships
In the Well of Old Mother Frost
A Woman in Midlife Crisis
Disturbances Within the Family Order
A Nursery Rhyme in Nothingness
Rehabilitation after Sickness
“My Horse is not For Sale”
The Step into Mature Manhood Without Coat,
Without Boots, Without Wings
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THE STORY AS COMPASS
Since the very beginning of time, people have, from time to time, gotten in trouble. Sometimes they have come into conflict with the world around them, sometimes with the world inside them. The history of humankind and the history of the human has been a history of crises. There has hardly been an era or an epoch that has not been marked by, and sometimes defined by, crisis. From the perspective of the quality of our lives, a great deal depends on how we handle these crises. Do we rise above them, or do we immerse ourselves in them? Do we solve them, or do we merely wring our hands in despair? Are we able to change, even to grow, or are we mired in the ills of the moment? Or as they say in fairytales, do we set out down a new path, or do we turn to stone?
After having read many thousands of tales and fairytales, I have come to the conclusion that for centuries humankind has had a kind of “crisis management program” that has not only withstood the test of time, but has also proven both effective and helpful under the most extraordinary array of circumstances. Humankind has always had something to fear. Lightening, beasts of prey, darkness, illness, even one another. One could go on and on listing the many things we have feared and do fear, things for which we have often been unprepared, because in most cases they have been entirely unexpected. Even in ancient times, humankind sought answers to the enigmas that beset it, and it crafted narratives which served as vessels for the safekeeping of the experience and knowledge it had gained in “crisis management” over time. And thus, stories were born, stories which, regardless of time and place, offer us guidance, not simply because they give concrete names to the crises we have faced, but because they transform the spiritual processes we undergo when we face crises into images we can grasp and share, and they show us ways out of our tribulations. Today, however, it has become difficult to grasp the narratives behind the images, for we have lost our ties to the images and the language of the world that lies behind the tales and myths we have told over the course of the centuries. And yet we can perhaps grasp that when a story told over a millennium ago began with the words, “the dragons stole the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars from the sky,” this meant exactly what we would mean today if we were to say, “life is meaningless, and there is no hope.” A millennium ago, there was only one solution—to vanquish the dragon and win back the lost light—and we know full well that this is the only solution today. And the task was hardly any easier back then than it is today.
In the course of my work, I have told stories to people under the most extraordinary array of circumstances. I have told stories to babies still in the womb, to women in labor, to children yearning to understand the world around them, to teenagers yearning to understand themselves, to young adults fearing both divorce and commitment, to mature men and women, and to the dying. I have told stories at funerals and at weddings. I have told stories in prisons, reform centers, orphanages, institutes for the blind, libraries, banks, schools, university seminars, and hospitals. I have come to know many people through stories, including infants born prematurely, children gravely ill, adults terminally ill, even a young girl and a man who were in a coma. I have told stories to university students unable to find their path in life, middle-aged men who had strayed from their path in life, women and men in bad relationships and failing marriages, abandoned wives, cuckolded husbands, people wrestling with depression, parents and children in mourning, widows with no one left in the world, elderly men and women preparing for death, and dying men and women hoping to escape it. Stories have helped me come to know all walks of life, and in each walk of life I have told different stories to people beset with woe, as the circumstances and the person him or herself demanded.
For no matter what I come across in life, a moment of joy or sadness, hope or grief, it always reminds me of a story. A man or a woman is sitting across from me telling the story of his or her life. One half of my mind is paying attention, recording, asking questions, reflecting, but the other departs on a journey, moving freely in time and space, and rummaging around among events from the distant past. It is remembering. It is searching for the moment in history when the event being retold actually happened for the first time, when, long ago, a story first arose out of a similar situation. I am searching for this story so that I can pass it on to the person who now, many hundreds or even thousands of years later, is sitting across from me and facing a similar situation, unable to continue the story. Perhaps stories survive over the course of the centuries and the millennia so that we will have recourse to them when we face challenges similar to the challenges faced by our forebears. I believe that every situation in life has a story that has always accompanied it. Our task is merely to find this story. This is the essence of my work. I seek stories, ancient stories, so that people in trouble can find a way out of their troubles, regardless of time and place. I would like to present some of these “found stories,” and to present a few of the examples of the cases in which I was able to put them to use.
I have been doing research on stories, tales, and myths for thirty-two years, and most of what I know of people and of the world I have learned from stories, tales, and myths. For years, I studied individual stories in an attempt to determine what they actually say. In the end, most stories show us that an unfortunate circumstance can be changed for the better, we can overcome our limitations, and we can vanquish our fears. The heroes of stories do not give up when they are first confronted with a problem. Rather, they search for a solution to the difficulties they face until they find one. Stories do not simply present conflicts, they also show us ways of addressing and resolving them. In the course of his journey, be it literal or figurative, the hero acquires new abilities and new insights that he did not possess at the outset.
In stories, it is always possible to do something to change things that are not working as they should. The story suggests to us that it is not that the world is flawed. Humankind, rather, fails at times to grasp the possibilities that the world offers, and because of poor choices we have made, situations arise which in turn give rise to problems. In the symbolic language of stories, the “world” refers to the universe, but also more narrowly to the places in which we live and the worlds which lie inside us. As I began, in the course of my work, to understand that these three things are interdependent, and stories always intertwine all three of these worlds, I came to the realization that the story is fundamentally a means with which to bring order to chaos and create a kind of totality. This is one of the secrets of its healing powers.
I regard stories as a collection of human experiences. Essentially, I have transformed the knowledge I have acquired from stories into a means of providing health, a means of healing. In my search for what is normal and what is healthy, I do not rely on the precepts or conclusions offered by research institutes or academies. Rather, I turn to knowledge that has been preserved in the vessels of tradition, knowledge that stretches back centuries or millennia. When I am confronted with the challenges people face in all spheres of life, the first thing I ask myself is, what can stories tell us about this?
On the path towards solutions to our problems, the story that captures within itself both the problem and the solution is our compass and our point of orientation. It shows us the direction and reveals the goal. And thus we proceed from one story-tale place to the next. We pause in each in order to look around and determine the tasks that face us, and by taking advantage of all the possibilities that surround us, we accomplish every task and come to the end of the story. The strict world of the story does not permit prevarication, evasion, despair, or resignation. The compass needle of the story may quiver a bit from time to time before showing us the direction clearly, and sometimes it may even make a full circle. Indeed, it resembles a person searching for a way out of his troubles, but in the end it will show us the way.
I myself began to become intimately tied to stories in the course of a crisis in my life. At five years of age, my second child fell seriously ill. I sat beside his bed in the hospital and did what any parent would have done: I told him stories. I had no intention of helping him recover by doing this, nor did the idea that storytelling might have a therapeutic effect even occur to me, but as I was telling one of the stories, his mood and demeanor changed completely. He was pale, then flushed. He began to tremble and clung to me, but by the time I had finished the story he was calm, eased, soothed. From that moment on, he wanted to hear that story, and only that story. A few days later, his condition changed, but it never occurred to me to think that the story had had anything to do with it. I was grateful to the doctors and the hospital staff, so I asked if perhaps, as a token of my gratitude, I could tell stories to children in other wards. I began to go to the hospital regularly to tell stories, and this is something I have done ever since. I had no idea that there was a name for what I was going: “story therapy.” My only goal had been to provide a few moments of joy or at least distraction and, in doing so, perhaps brighten the everyday lives of the patients a bit. Metamorphosis Story Therapy is based on these experiences in hospitals. When I saw the effects that stories and storytelling have on people who are sick, I resolved to search for the reason. I wanted to understand why people suffering from illnesses felt better and even recovered while listening to stories. What exactly was taking place? And of course I was also curious to know why some stories seem to have such a strong effect on them, while others left them indifferent. Indeed, in different stages of illness and recovery they seemed to crave different stories. I wanted to know what it is that links stories and people in moments of life in which someone is facing serious challenges and indeed in which sometimes survival is at stake.
It is always a pleasure to listen stories and to tell stories. We tell stories to edify, inform, entertain, embolden, amuse, console, heal, and even simply to prompt further reflection, depending of course on the situation. Stories provide important and amazingly simple answers to the deceptively simple question of what it means to “be happy,” and they can help someone who is in trouble or who feels lost create a new story for his or her life or revise the existing one using the vast repertoire of existing tales.
Every child and every adult loves to listen to stories, though each of us in different ways. Some people are enchanted by the story itself, while others are enchanted to recognize themselves in the story. If we simply sit down next to someone who finds himself in crisis and we share a story—whatever happens to come to mind—with this simple gesture we have already helped a great deal. We have shared in their sufferings and tribulations, and they have found some consolation in our presence. If we tell a story extemporaneously instead of reading it aloud from a book, we set other beneficial processes into motion. People’s anxieties began to subside, they feel a renewed sense of vigor, and life seems full of hope. Targeted storytelling, when we tell stories that have been selected for a particular situation, places emphasis elsewhere. Stories show us the paths towards a state of balance without us actually calling attention to this. This is remarkably exciting and motivating for people in crisis. They do not understand exactly what is taking place, but if the story touches on their psychological state, they will feel its influence, and they will return to the story again and again and reflect on its motifs. They will sense that the story is speaking to them and about them, though they may not understand exactly how. The story becomes an enigma that must be solved in order for one to be able to discern its message. Enigmatic tales help people in trouble because the
very process of solving them and “putting them use” prompts the listener to address the challenges that they face and put things in order in their lives. I would even go so far as to say that the energy invested in figuring out an enigmatic tale is itself part of the healing process.
We all experience crises differently, and although every crisis is in itself unique and everyone responds differently to a given problem all crises have one thing in common. They bring about an inauspicious change in our state of equilibrium. This can happen on the physical, psychological, and spiritual level. This loss of equilibrium links the state of crisis to stories, for stories are precisely about this, the loss of equilibrium: suddenly, in an empire in which everything had been going perfectly, things change. Someone disappears, or someone is endangered. The equilibrium has been disturbed. A hero must come, and he will struggle to restore balance and show how to live a life of happiness. It hardly seems that this has become any easier today than it was long ago.
In stories, only false heroes remain discontent. We recognize them by the fact that they cannot move from the first step to the second. Time and time again, they are tested, and time and time again they fail. They have no endurance, no strength, no discipline, and no patience. Before they reach their goals they turn back, or they turn to stone, fleeing like cowards from the possibility that something might change. Their egos are more important to them than anything else. Nothing else counts and no one else counts when their reputation is at stake. They cannot grow, and they cannot achieve their aims. They become stuck in the manacles of their self-obsession. They lose all grasp of reality, and they have a false sense of the world around them. They are prisoners of their own passions.
The depictions of happiness in stories vary from story to story, or more precisely, type of story to type of story. In animal stories, for instance, the creature that manages to avoid being eaten for dinner is happy. An animal who can protect himself or escape from a tight corner and possibly even dupe and defeat a stronger foe is happy. In other words, the goal is to escape death. In legends, happiness depends on the character’s relationship to the forces that created the world. Someone who understands and obeys the universal laws of the invisible world will be happy. He is able to entrust himself and his fate to an unknown force. In contrast with the protagonist of an animal story, he does not fight against this force, but rather submits to it. In novella stories, characters who can think in images are happy. They understand imagistic (symbolic) speech, and they discern the world around them with their sensory organs. They can map what is taking place around them, and also what is taking place with them and inside them, and they are very deliberate in their acts. They do not entrust their fates to anyone or anything. I could claim that in devil stories, the character who frees himself from the devil is happy, but this would be an exaggeration. The fight with the devil consumes so much energy that the character cannot hope for happiness. At most, he will be relieved to have prevailed. Tales of whimsy and ridicule, along with tall tales, are less concerned with the protagonist’s happiness. They present various states of mind, body, and soul, precisely the states that are obstacles on the path to happiness. Most chain stories sketch the various paths that lead to resolution after loss. In these stories, the character who recovers what he had thought lost is the one who is happy.
One finds more happy heroes in tales of magic than in any other type of story, though each individual hero is happy in his or her own way. I have examined some 450 types of tales of magic in almost innumerable versions from the perspective of what makes the characters in the story happy. The contentment of the dragon-slayer, for instance, comes from having vanquished the monster that threatened the world. He does not seek to assert his personal interests. He fights to save or protect others, and though at the end of the story he is given the hand of the princess in marriage, as a ruler he continues to focus on the prosperity of his kingdom and the wellbeing of his people. Other heroes in this type of story are overjoyed to escape from a monster who has been holding them captive. Still others seek to acquire control over a dangerous power. They understand others, and they come to grasp that others understand them. They break with and repudiate their own evil natures. They are capable of change and transformation. They climb the tree that touches the sky. They love and are loved. They find their partner, make peace, and forgive. They use their talents and abilities, strive to achieve their goals, attain everything they set out to attain, and understand their fates.