II. THE ARChitecture OF A STORY:

Our quest continues…


From the point of view of the most profound Buddhist and Shambhala teachings the root cause of personal and societal suffering is the emphasis on individualism. Our mistaken view of our selves as solid – all important and separate beings out for ourselves – disconnected from other and earth – perpetuates the harmful selfishness, dissatisfaction, cowardly defense and deception, aggression and misery that ultimately justifies conflicts and power struggles of every kind. In our story, the six older brothers forgetting their youngest brother, is followed by their getting lost in a forest and turned to stone. It is both a tragedy, and a great source of possibility.

Because the story has already become our internal drama, by the trick of provoking us to want to know what is going to happen next, we do not need to explain this. It is happening. For children, who are not accustomed to diverse and constant stories (the engine of internal decency in traditional cultures), I say often,
“The brothers found six brides and started home. What did they forget?” Delighted to participate and suddenly coming aware, someone always calls out, “the seventh bride,” or “a princess for their brother!” Now we too are in the forest of our own story.

In a workshop this past weekend, (Washington, DC Shambhala Center sponsored, “The Cow That Feeds the World” where we worked with this story for two seven hour days) I asked about the difference between a palace and a forest. The one is designed and made, set apart from nature, and serves human beings – particularly those who ”rule others”. While a forest is wild, elemental, growing and dying, inhabited by animals, birds, and plants. It is in the middle of the forest that the six brothers , their six brides and their six horses meet a Giant in a stone palace. Another palace? Another ruler in control – this time of the natural world? ( a mirror of the first place of rulership). But here is a large unconscious heartless force of nature enclosed in a stone building. He has the power to turn others to stone. At this point, the storyteller knows more about the Giant, but the listeners know only this brute act of astonishing and sudden paralysis.

The King and his youngest son waited for the brothers to return. Finally, the youngest prince begged his father to let him search for his brothers and bring them home. The King refused at first. Afterall, this son was a dreamer. How could he find his older brothers? But the youngest son assured his father that he would try and return as soon as he could.

For me, this moment is pivotal and poignant. The youngest prince, who has been deemed incapable of action and bravery, power or ability to rule, is like so many of us, or parts of us, that are intuitive, sensitive, so often seen by ourselves or others as powerless. I watch as children lean forward a bit, hesitatingly interested, waiting to see what will happen if the one that was bullied, rejected, or insignificant or small were to set out to save those who forgot about him.

The King agreed on the condition that there was a strong horse left in the stable. But there was only an old mare with a bent back and wobbly legs. The Prince said he would accept whatever was there and he left with only a loaf of bread.

The older brothers, the ones who were now turned to stone in the middle of the forest before a Giant’s stone palace, had all that was needed outwardly for success: strong horses, gold and food. But our youngest prince accepts whatever is available and sets off slowly on an old horse. In so many fairytales and wisdom stories, the horse knows the way, is naturally intelligent, speaks, and provides instruction and often sacrifices themselves for the sake of the hero’s journey. It struck me that the old horse, the vehicle he accepts, might be seen like older ways of being: more direct, traditional, well-used and (like the prince himself) seen by contemporary culture as foolish.. depending on superstition and interdependence, rather than related to outer intellect, and power over others. In other fairytales, the youngest is given a three legged horse. (see Hen and Rooster in OUR SECRET TERRITORY) Along the route, when coming to a place of transition the 3 legged horse that appears disabled, and ridiculous, is the only one who takes the hero into the other world. An old man told the youngest prince, “Speak to your horse. Tell him that he is a noble horse. A beloved horse. Ask your three legged horse to take you to the other world.” And the hero sings to his old horse, “Horse of my heart, beautiful and noble creature, can you take me to the other world?” It is that horse that sprouts wings and carries the hero to the inconceivable world where the inside of the journey begins.

And how long does a loaf of bread last? The most basic of nourishment is all that he carries.

I remember reading SHAMBHALA: THE PATH OF THE WARRIOR, by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche for the first time over twenty five years ago. What gave me great courage was a statement in the introduction urging us to “start where we are.” Begin the journey with who we are and our history, rather than denying our lives and our mistakes, our lacks and our limits. These were the vehicles that we could ride on. Where ever we were, who ever we were, that was the most potent starting point.

It is these recognitions of all that is happening in the beginning of the story that supports my zeal and delight in sharing the story. Whether my audiences, young or old, recognize all of this intellectually or understandingly, is not what assures me. Rather it is that once engaged, the listening more direct and visceral. The experience takes place in the territory of our mind that is alive with response and imagination.

Once in a seminar at Naropa Institute, Allen Ginsberg asked Trungpa, Rinpoche, “What is imagination.” Rinpoche answered, “Nowness.” It is this place of profound space and natural intelligence that is accessed in the engaged listening. And the more we journey into the story, the more available that inherent space of presence becomes. In many ways, it is the unbiased presence of the storyteller that provokes the deepest possibility of imagination – the natural visualization that combines intuition and intelligence arising as ephemeral vivid image and feeling, moment by moment. The mind of the listener, enlivened into a more natural responsiveness, is entering the forest of their own inner mind, and is grounded and aware of the teller and others at the same time. This heightened and ordinary sense of space and ease can be expanded inwardly because the unfolding spoken details of the narrative holds our conceptual understanding opinion drenched thinking mind under the spell of seeming logic.. We are a mirror of the story journey itself. Our six brothers, their six brides and horses have been turned to stone. Because of that, the youngest aspect (so to speak) the natural intuitive aspect of our mind can emerge into the forefront of our listening without interference.

It feels as if we are more and more interested. We can ask questions, “Is that true?” “Why did he do that?” But, we have crossed over into the realm of beyond belief and the story moves on with our allowance. A man said to me, “I can’t believe that I was so involved in the story that I was calling out, and then what happened.”

At Wonder and Wisdom, a ten year old boy repeated the words, “an old horse.”
“Yes. A very old horse,” I responded.
“And a loaf of bread.” Someone else said.
“Why didn’t the King give him more food?” a girl called out.
“Why do you think?” I said.
“Maybe he didn’t think much of him.” said a girl off to the side.
“Well, let’s go on with the story and see what happens,” I said.

I love questions unanswered. The mysterious aspects of stories that are never explained, even at the end. More and more curiosity is engendered. More and more commitment to finding out what happens next and to keep the inner involvement going. It is a feeling like none other. Holistic. Engaged. Alive. At Wonder and Wisdom we were involved in what I had described to the youth as story detective work. We all paused for a moment and then, a girl said, “what happened next?”
We were communally moving into a bigger story than our own, each on our own imagined terms.

“Ok.” I said and continued the story…

Jean Houston wrote:
Soul – making requires that you die to one story to be
reborn to a larger one. A renaissance, a rebirth, occurs not
just because there is a rising of ancient and archetypal symbols.
A renaissance happens because the soul is breached. In this wounding the psyche is opened up and new questions begin to be asked about who we are in our depths. These powerful questions need not lead to alienation and withdrawal, but to the seeding of the world with the newly released powers of the psyche.
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One Response to

II. THE ARChitecture OF A STORY:

  1. Beth Cregan says:

    I am loving this analysis of story. It follows my experience of both telling and listening to stories and captures something of the magic that occurs in that space. I have found telling stories is the ultimate release – there is no where to go but right into the now and everything else disappears…Post again soon. What will this young prince do?

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