I. THE ARChitecture OF A STORY:


Each time I tell the fairytale – THE GIANT WITH NO HEART –  I am awestruck by the its’ effect on children and adults.   There is something about the way in which the story works within the listener that is medicinal and   liberating. This many- part blog is my  detective work… a spyful  attempt to to find the hidden significance of the totality and details of the story.   Why does this happen?  When it is told/heard something unlocks that is a revelation.   Hearing/living  fairytales connects us to our authentic self in ways that  allow us to make peace with ourselves and others.. hence peace in the world.

In 1996 I purchased a book in the mandala bookshop in Nepal called DRUNG, DUE AND BON about the history of narratives in early Tibet, written by the great meditation master Namkai Norbu (who recently died).   He wrote about the important function of these stories that were “used as marvelous means to awaken deep spiritual knowledge.”

I was once in a  girl’s junior high school in Manhattan.  They said, “I hope you are not going to tell stories about Kings and Queens.”  I said, “OK. I will tell a personal story and then try out a fairytale.  If you don’t like it you can tell me and I will stop.”  They agreed. I told  two stories.  They loved the story about my childhood in Brooklyn. But,  when I finished telling a fairytale, they moved out of their seats and sat on the floor by my feet and began to tell me their dreams.  This spontaneous event revealed unrecognized difficulties in the lives of two girls.  They were helped as a result.   The seemingly indirect images of the story provided a way for them to give voice to what was unspeakable for them.

Perhaps in the listening space, there is  pause or disarmament taking place like the wing of a butterfly effecting a storm across the world.  This inspires me to tell the story  again and again.  The telling, interdependent with listeners, imagination and circumstance, feels like  the beginning. The  resonance of effect of  the story  is without.  Even though the session comes to a close what occurs serves as  a stone thrown into a fathomless lake.

As I uncover more levels of meaning in what occurs , the more I am changed by it as well.  I am trying to write about this confluence of  awakenings .  We are hurtling along with  amazing technologies; social media that renders  people able to make changes in the outer world at a rate unheard of;  but are we tending to the heart ?   Are we harvesting our unique technology of mind and imagination founded in fundamental and inherent basic goodness?   It is the experience of the story that accesses this place of beingness within.   It can reach into the  marrow of the invisible bones of our  mind/body/heart  and realign us.   Practice and patience in this listening event might save us from doing harm.


There was a King who had seven sons.  When the six eldest princes asked to leave the palace and seek wives, he was reluctant to let them go.   They assured their father that the youngest brother, who was a fool and a dreamer, would remain at home and they would return quickly.   The King  agreed on the condition that his sons bring back seven brides, one for the youngest prince.  With strong horses, gold and food, the six brothers set off.

Recently, at the UN School three large classes of first graders, squeezed onto a rug in a small room, called out  “Seven? That is a lot of sons!”  Suddenly, more alert,  they leaned forward to listen.  Usually in fairytales there are three sons or daughters. This IS a lot of young men!   What flashed in my mind were the descriptions  of Deu – (from Namkai Norbu’s research) which were enigmatic or symbolic narratives that held the key to open  the gates of realization.  I thought of  the  seven consciousnesses and an eighth  (in two parts) that make up  the aspects of consciousness, according to the abhidharma in Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy – the nature of mind.    What was missing and not mentioned was a Queen, at the start,  Who gave birth to this plethora of boys?  My own feelings rested with  the youngest son, the one considered to be a fool, who was left in the palace like a seed sleeping under the earth.

I love  the beginning of stories. . So much is gathered into their  opening that the storyteller can heed.  There is the outer task of making a relationship to listeners that is trustworthy and direct. He or she who tells the tale has already undergone the entire journey and has survived and observed., so there is trust that arises.  And, there are clues to understand that are not mentioned but can be assumed by knowing the whole tale;  and there are the unseen details of the story that the storyteller knows.    It is only when I feel that it is a worthwhile journey  and I have done this exploration do I tell a story. Or as they say in Bhutan, “Release the tale.”

What do we know as storytellers at the start that the listeners don’t know?  Everything takes place the Kingdom.  A king with seven sons, the youngest considered inert.  Six wanting to go out of that “place” and find brides leaving their brother home with the King.  They leave  with outer  needs fulfilled:  strong horse (vehicle), gold (commerce) and food (nourishment).

Aren’t we often in this position in the world.? A King, a solo Leader, A CEO or President sends out his army into the world to bring back what is needed for the sake of his realm.  The Leader without the feminine without a Queen, would never think to send out a poet, or a storyteller,even less  a dreamer, to increase the wealth of his territory.  In a Russian fairytale called THE HARP WITH NO HARPER, a King refuses to have his son seek his two vanished daughters:  “You have no army, and you have no training or zeal for protecting our borders. All you have is a useless harp with no strings and a lazy life of dreaming.”  The young prince says he will bring back his sisters.  All he needs is the harp.  He refuses gold and armed forces. He chooses his artistry and intuition and not force.  He tells his father, “If I don’t return in three years, choose someone else to become the King.”  Since everything else has failed to retrieve his daughters, he agreed.

I was a visiting artist for Wonder and Wisdom ( an imaginative arts project) in Greensboro, Vermont.  The children ranged from 8 – 18 and were familiar with the space where the program was occurring: in the basement of a church filled with paper, costumes, games and a molting scorpion in a small cage.  They were having snacks, trying on clothes, hunkered about or watching the scorpion when I arrived.  It was noisy and excited.  To begin the story immediately would take a lot of work, so I called out as if I was  a barker at a street fair: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen! The story is about to begin. Come and make a circle.”

There was curiosity and hesitation. Some raced happily to the empty area of the room where I was waiting;  others sauntered  shyly or more cautiously. But all arrived.  “Who is going to hear this story?  I want know your names. I have been sent by the Council of Fairytales!”   I invented a name game in acircle where each child called out their name,  went into the center and all repeated the name with claps and gestures.    A zany dance  occurred and finally everyone was in the circle and I was introduced.  Some kids rushed to the costume box and presented themselves in a whacky array of scarves, Mexican shirts and hats for the listening.  But everyone  was now part of the event.   Even the boy who chose to stay by the scorpion cage called out his name off handedly and was “in.”   When we were on the couches and chairs and pillows on the other side of the room, and I began the tale, there was  a very strong sense of communal involvement.

“How does a fairytale begin,” I asked.
They called out, “Once Upon a Time.”  And I began.  “There was a king.”
“Where is the queen?”
“That is a mystery,”  I said.
And then I announced, “We are not only listening to a story, but we are becoming story spies. What is a spy?”
A boy said seriously, “someone who spies.”
“Yes.”  And I added, “There are a lot of things that are not explained in the tale, but we can find out what happened.  At the same time  the tale has a mystery to be solved that will be solved.”
A girl in a combination gypsy skirt and nightgown, said, “Is there a scary part?”
“Of course, “ I responded, “It is a good story!”

And we were begun.

The six brothers found brides and set off home.  They entered a forest and got lost.  They came upon a stone palace in the middle of the forest and sought help from the inhabitants.  Inside, was a Giant.  He saw them and instantly turned the six brothers, their six brides and their six horses to stone.

But the storyteller knows more at the start.. more than the listeners and at that moment, more than the characters in the tale.  The storyteller knows that there is another palace or places somewhere because the princes find six brides. He or she also knows that there is a stone Palace with a Giant with no Heart who lives in the center of a forest that they pass through.  The storyteller also knows that the heart is hidden somewhere in the story and will be found, and there is a seventh princess.

This knowing of what is there, beyond the view or knowledge of the listeners at the start, grounds me in a landscape and view.  As we were launched that day, I felt the relaxation into a deeper listening as the start of the story unrolled like a ball thrown in another tale that takes us where it will.

At this point in the story we have moved from finding out where we are, and becoming interested, to wanting to know what is going to happen next.  The brothers and their brides have been turned to stone and the King with the dreamer youngest son are at home waiting.  There is another place where princesses have been found and  a powerful giant – a force of nature with no conscience or heart – sits in the middle of the forest, capable of turning us to stone.

To be continued…

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I. THE ARChitecture OF A STORY:

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