In the face of the too close to home tragedy of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and the increasing violence in the Middle East and in so many other places in our world, I am offering these fragments of reflection on the fairytale of THE GIANT WITH NO HEART. Recognizing the process of engagement in spoken story as an active antidote to the disconnection we have between our own actions and how change takes place in the world can help us be more useful in our work in the world.
The desire to see a story as a content driven lesson to promote ethics or offer a conceptual moral is a very limited view of the power of storytelling today.
The potency of engaging individuals, particularly our youth today, in the unfolding event of a symbolically penetrating story (or a well constructed personal narrative) is a way of connecting to reality, and is significant. We have delegated the texts of stories as something that can be analyzed and viewed in a literal way. It is my wish to share with you how the story is what is happening in the event itself between listener and teller and is a penetrating and provocative experience that can increase compassion, and awareness, and awaken intelligence and capacity to work with one’s mind grounded in the knowledge of interdependence. The technology unequalled is presence and imagination. I offer this to encourage storytellers and others involved in personal and communal peace making, education and direct communication, to gain a deeper recognition of how storytelling can work when it is not seen as a spoken word performance presenting a text, but as an event that is far more potent than the sum of it s parts and dependent on reciprocity and presence.
We have not only to understand the narrative but the narrative process and ourselves take the journey of investigating the nature of our minds, of the actuality of what imagination unlocks within, and the nature of spoken and heard language when arising from the territory of unbiased presence within. This awareness and training can strengthen the experience, intention and presentation of stories for the benefit of others. Then, we can skillfully help guide our listeners to naturally access the inherent experience of their own vast mind without bias that is available always, now, present, within. This is the wild place of interdependence and the house of compassion we each can travel. It is this territory of what Shambhala Buddhists called BASIC GOODNESS, and Traditional Buddhists call NOBLE HEART and most traditional peoples refer to as SACRED VIEW or living knowledge of interdependence.
When we are severely and culturally disconnected from our natural access of inner open heart and mind, we like the giant in the story turn ourselves to stone and continue to perpetuate violence and suffering unwittingly and consciously. At the end of this reflection I have several recommendations for further reading.
The prince rode into the depths of the forest on the back of his old horse. Then, from behind a tree appeared a wolf. The body of the wolf was frail. His ribs were seen through his skin like transparent paper. His fur was dull and his eyes nearly closed. The wolf moaned, “I have not eaten in two years. Please give me something to eat.”
Feeling tremendous pity, the prince offered the other half of his bread. But, the wolf said, “Please. Let me eat your horse.”
It is one thing to give away that which we carry that is familiar; to offer what makes us safe and protected and fed. To offer the bread, the prince is generous, but he can replace that food with something else if he is clever. And, yet it is another to give away what has carried and supported us in our lives: our identity, past history, unconscious habits, and beliefs. Our known stories support us, define us, identify us. Even if they have proved to be challenging, obstacle ridden or painful, they are what we know. We are addicted to these beliefs as if they are “right” and there is no other way to move in the world. They bind us to home, our parents and ancestors through repeated behaviors and unconscious patterns. All that we carry or carries us from our past — all of what we have learned is what has given us a map we can follow without falling off the world or disconnecting from what we believe to be our security. All that seems to make possible our journey. This domesticated creature, even if old, has carried the prince on his journey; just as our assumptions, habits, attachments and learned beliefs influenced how we travel and react. What is it that we have to divest ourselves of to truly enter the forest of our lives and confront what is causing our misery, and the suffering of our world? What can we give up and move further more fully into the world as it is … deepening our desire to heal ourselves and find those parts of ourselves and the world that are turned to stone?
It is undiluted courage to know, to recognize, to feel the effects of what we carry and rely on. It is also the greatest compassion of the story unfolding to let us live this experience through the potent image of starving wolf asking to be fed the old horse the prince is riding on.
The prince helped a creature of the air, of the sea and now of the earth. But this encounter with wolf is far more uncompromising. Thank goodness we (and he) have been prepared. His first two offerings opened his heart, strengthened his knowing of how good it is to help. He saw the raven fly back into the trees, and watched the fish swim away with zeal. He has not shut down. He has not run away through fear or anxiety from his mission of saving his brothers. It is after all the truth of the story that everything has to happen that takes place in order to fulfill the journey. The literal journey is the quest of the youngest prince to find his brothers (so far). The psychological journey is to let us metaphorically experience cause and effect and live through the reconstitution of the feminine, return of the brothers, and awakening aspects of ourselves necessary to complete individuation for ourselves and the world (the Kingdom and the natural world, the giant and the brothers, the absence of feminine, the encounters with creatures and what is yet to come)
I am reminded of another tale: (heard in Haiti) where a woman took/stole a beautiful bowl that had been placed in fresh water for everyone in a village to drink . She admired it and wanted it for herself. No one was watching. She was not thinking of its purpose, but of her own desire. She hid it in her basket, and filled it with a sack of salt bought at the market, so it would not be seen.
If you listen to politicians explaining why we need to ravage the arctic, or have guns in our homes, it is this individual desire to have for oneself unconnected to effect and others that deludes us.
As she walked away the bowl, the basket, and the salt spoke, saying, “It is not your bowl.” What we take that we think is inanimate and unrelated to anything else is alive and connected. As the Pygmy song resounds, “Everything is alive. Everything speaks.” Even her clothes called out and told her that it was not her bowl.
She threw away the basket, the salt and her clothes, ran from the speaking skin of a beloved friend, but held tight to the bowl – even after she was exposed and humiliated. Finally, she retraced her steps and jumped into the water from where she had taken the bowl. The water took back the bowl. But, until, she was nearly drowned by the force of the water pulling her down , until she called out, “It is not my bowl,” she clung to it. Do we have to confront our death in order to let go?
Isn’t this our dilemma: we hold on to our old ways, habits, fixations, opinions and beliefs until we are nearly dead. We are willing to offer our food, our money, our clothes, even our words about what we are doing , but rarely notice that the root cause of this misery is our deep rooted attachment to attachment and we refuse until our lives are in danger, to give it up. Unless, we are reawakened from within to know our interdependence with one another, the natural world, the world of spirit.
Awareness is like a wind. If you open your doors and windows, it is bound to come in.
—Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche
The lived and imagined story increases the possibility of tasting what it is like to let go. We practice this in our imaginative response, in our surprise and empathy for world and horse and prince and our own lives. Then, there is a small pause garnered through feeling where the wind of awareness blows in unseen and we touch deeper into the healing of awakened listening. We begin to know that if we kill, even in the name of our god(s) or destroy something in order to assure our security and comfort we are killing ourselves and the world that sustains us and feeds us.
These personal reflections, and the personal practice of looking at the nature of mind through the practice of meditation under the guidance of a teacher has been my path to urge me to recognize and acknowledge inherent goodness and compassion. It colors how the stories I tell are revealed to my listeners. No amount of explanation or data without this seminal experience of open mind can touch us with the capacity to help us refrain from harm. It is the responsibility of storytellers to make the journey themselves in order to keep open the tender heart where we speak from that lets the story arise as directly as possible o those who are listening. In that access of authentic language spoken from the heart, that inspires words into image between us.
At present, the image and reality of wolf is palpable. Wolf has become the symbol of nightmare danger and for others the symbol of family cohesion and unconditional love. We all know the story of the wolf in Little Red Riding hood that devours the grandmother and deceives the child made into a caricature in children’s books and Disney-fied films. At the time when these stories were being told there was fear, but also still knowledge about the wolf. In Native tales, wolf is known for her interdependence with others, knowledge and literal place in the natural and spiritual world. Today in order to protect the wealth of ranchers (who have been offered ways to keep wolves away from their cattle without killing them) there are government sanctioned helicopters with armed soldiers shooting wolves indiscriminately from the sky leaving cubs without parents, crippled wolves without aid, and corpses on the earth. What are the effects of this sanctioned shooting. Is it different than the gone mad young man who collected an arsenal of weapons and went into a movie theater killing. If one is sanctioned by governments as is the allowance for anyone to buy and have guns, is that unrelated to the massacres that are increasingly taking place?
The wolf said, “If you let me eat your horse you can ride on me.”
The first time that I told the story after 9/11 when I came to the part of the story where the horse was about to be eaten by the wolf, the classroom of third graders shuddered. Suddenly, I remembered their all too recent confrontation with death and the fear of death; of having watched people leap from buildings; of television replays of planes crashing into seemingly impenetrable buildings; and, of parents and other adults in a state of panic being motivated to take revenge as a means of alleviating the terror that had disrupted our lives. I paused. I changed the details in the story, hopefully not changing the essence of the story.
I assured them:
The very old horse was ready to die. He looked up at the prince. The young man climbed from its’ back and watched his horse peacefully take his last breathe. Then the wolf ate the horse. The wolf grew plump and strong.
“On my back” said the wolf to the Prince. And the Prince climbed on the back of the wolf. And they rode further into the forest.
A sigh of relief, a communal breathe, moved through the classroom as I continued with the story. I held an internal image of the body of the horse in the body of the wolf. I felt the wild creature fed by the old patterns and stories of the prince, under the prince carrying him further into his story — into the forest — where he would encounter the next phase of his adventure.
From the logic of the tale, he needed a wild vehicle… not a domestic and well worn vehicle to meet the giant and save his brothers. The past was not lost or forgotten. It was digested by the wolf. It fed the more wild being that was the only one who could take him into that place.
Please take time to watch this video and remember:
For me, the prince having flowered his generosity and intelligence now was able to go on. And for myself, I can see that my own expanded sense of compassion was perhaps capable of delivering me from what Trungpa, Rinpoche called “Idiotic Compassion.” Idiotic Compassion taking place when we act to help others to relieve ourselves of discomfort or to see ourselves as heroes or heroines and never having to give up or our old horses. In the name of helping others we increase our own separateness. What is needed, the story incites in us… is an alchemical act… a conscious realization that our old horse is ready to die and that we do not have to destroy it, but use it as food. We need a more direct, less filtered, wild vehicle for travel (wild that is natural, related. I am not speaking about wild as out of control but out of mental control… the ability to be aware of consequences, relationships, with compassion and tenderness). that can only occur when the storyteller has activated their own sense of “letting go.” All this is done with no expectation of anything in return. The urgency of the journey is motivating the prince who now rides on the back of the wolf deeper into the story.