Rummaging through old journals I find stories. This Ethiopian tale was tucked into a group of stories I found doing research for a program last year. I never wrote down the source. For that I apologize. But it exemplifies something I have been thinking about for a long time.
A story told has more meaning then what we think. There are treasures to harvest in the brilliance of listening. Once the story is enlivened by embodied voice and intelligent experience – in contact with an audience – the words are more than heard. They move in sound and energy shaping into luminous form to be recieved. They are felt – alive as image – arising then in the mind of each one who hears the tale. The imagination aroused, has the power to immediately render word into visceral sense and gossamer form . This process of direct listening accesses authentic complex emotion, and associations – as the story is spoken. Moment by moment, it engages the heart and the body of the listener in the more flexible and less fixed realm of waking visual dream. No more passive narrative medium has this unique response. The mental concept or analysis is an after thought. It has value, but is not the most beneficial. The event itself penetrates. The experience of the story is enduring It is more true than the explanation of what someone thinks the story might mean.
THERE WAS ONCE A KING IN ETHIOPIA WHO HAD THREE CHILDREN. HE HELD A CONTEST TO DECIDE WHICH ONE WOULD BECOME THE KING AFTER HIS DEATH. HE ASKED EACH SON TO FILL A SMALL HOUSE IN HIS ROYAL GARDEN.
THE OLDEST SON, WHO WAS STRONG, CARRIED WOOD AND STONES TO THE HUT. HE PLACED THEM ONE UPON THE OTHER UNTIL IT SEEMED THE ENTIRE ROOM WAS FULL. BUT, LIGHT STREAMED INTO THE SPACEs EXPOSING THE MANY CREVICES THAT WERE EMPTY.
THE MIDDLE SON, WHO WAS CLEVER, CARRIED PILLOWS AND QUILTS FILLED WITH FEATHERS INTO THE HOUSE. HE LAY ONE ON THE OTHER IN THE BELIEF THAT THEY WOULD CONSUME ALL THE SPACE. AT FIRST IT DID. BUT WITHIN HOURS THE PILLOWS AND THE QUILTS SAGGED. THEY LAY FLAT , LEAVING HALF THE ROOM UNFILLED.
THE LAST CHILD, CONSIDERED FOOLISH, DID NOTHING FOR SIX DAYS. HE REFLECTED ON THE EMPTY HOUSE. ON THE SEVENTH MORNING HE LIT A CANDLE IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM. T HE LIGHT GREW; FILLING EVERY PLACE. HE BECAME THE RULER AFTER HIS FATHER.
We can search for reasons and analysis, of why the third foolish son succeeded. But in truth, what has happened in our minds as we heard the story is the geunine work of the story. For each of us – filling space – or own minds – with seemingly solid objects, solutions and definitions – or expansive thick feathers – makes sense. But when we imagine the candle illuming all of the room itself, our insides are illumined. The space within us grows light. We, the listener, becomes pliable and radiant. This activity is what occurs when we listen. The wisdom is not in the lesson, but in the reciprocity that opens us. Twice we become the conventional brothers finding solutions that seem to be right. This is the kindness of a story. And then at last, we become the fool, who has dwelled with space itself, and therefore meets emptiness with luminosity and we come to know and light the candle within rendering us bright throughout.
Before we can expect to make change with ourselves or with others, the capacity for change has to be felt and practiced. The key to the potency of a story is not in memorizing the words, or adding voice to a text. It is in each teller’s capacity to reflect viscerally the experience personally of the event within themselves. Before we make a decision or a definition we need to open ourselves, and become the many levels of what is occurring in the tale. Then, the words, spoken from experience, from the heart, in direct contact with an audience and the energetic space between, brings the story to life from dynamic imaginative responsiveness. It is immediate, visual, visceral. It is not easily forgotten.