Start with Where You Are: The Story of Yourself
“Stories heal us because we become whole through them. In the process of writing, of discovering our story,
we restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, hidden, suppressed, denied, distorted, forbidden,
and we come to understand that stories heal. We are like a broken vessel and story has the possibility of
gathering us up again.”
–Deena Metzger, Writing for Your Life
Every journey has a preparation and a starting point. The preparation includes the entirety of one’s life history, dreaming of what might happen and what we wish would happen on the journey, and figuring out what needs to be done in order to depart. Much like a pilgrimage, this opening segment readies your youth to make their journeys relevant and personal. Outwardly a pilgrimage is a sacred adventure in quest of a designated site far from home, where one discovers something larger than oneself. But the actual destination is self discovery… finding what is sacred or meaningful within oneself. Pilgrims return home refreshed, with more access to their understanding of self in relationship to the world.
Starting with one’s life history, including acknowledging family history and personal hopes and vision, helps youth express their fears and dreams about change, secret wishes, outrageous wishes or even lack of wishes altogether. As a facilitator, your willingness to accept all stories—even those without apparent hope–is essential. The goal is to provide ways for children to explore a sense of place, belonging and genealogy so as to constitute a point of departure.
We are setting a very specific course with Becoming The World. Each participant is traveling through stories and activities to enlarge their view of themselves, and develop inner capacities to enrich self-esteem. Along the way, we anticipate they will develop better understanding of others and the ability to dream of a better future through implicit and explicit discussions. New and positive imagery, patterns of thinking, and deep resourcefulness will be stimulated along the way.
A Mythic Tale of Origins
In the beginning, the great Creator of the Bella Coola named Alquntam made the world including human beings and animals. The Creator has many names. He is mainly known as “the story man” because at the same time that he made all the people, he created the stories. He is also called “From whom come, and to whom belong all the myths.” He is the owner of all the stories. Though he often travels to the sun, his home is in the flat land above the sky. He has a huge house that is named “The House of Many Stories.”
— Malaysian Proverb
In order to initiate a sense of adventure, willingness, and enthusiasm, rules of play should be discussed by everyone present. If children can name what they need to feel safe they will feel ownership of the journey. Ask children to make suggestions and write down what they say on a big piece of flip chart paper in the front of the room. Things to look for might include no insults, no interruptions, no snickering behind someone else’s back, no talking loudly all the time, etc. Also, include possibilities of different ways that children can be included. For example, if someone feels they do not want to take part or speak, that can be accommodated. The non-participant can agree to remain in the room, but to listen. Their attention is vital.
Many children devalue or don’t know their family’s origins. Still others find their living conditions unsuitable, dangerous, shameful or barren of interest to them. No story can change the reality of a child’s life. But the telling and sharing of stories sets in motion the ability to acknowledge that our story exists as it is and can be heard without shame or fear. If we ignore our present situation, then we have no foundation on which to imagine a future that might be wonderful. To know that others are willing to hear your story is a powerful discovery for children. Make sure that throughout all these exercises, the atmosphere is curiosity and memory and celebration and not about making realistic pictures or getting names and dates exactly right.
The child, like the hero or heroine of our fairytales, can set out to discover something, or to change something, or help another without losing hope; knowing that regardless of present circumstances their goodness and creativity within can never be diminished or lost. It is believed by many traditional people that when the act of thinking, telling stories and speaking is from the heart it effects more than ourselves, it reaches out far into the world.
A series of activities follows to help lead your children on a guided journey during which they will begin to explore who they are. While these activities build on one another, each can also be used independently.
Using the Map
On the following page of the book is a world map. Can the children identify where they are right now on the map? Have them each say where their ancestors came from, and where they imagine the great Creator of the Bella Coola might have placed his house of stories. Record these on your map. You may want to make copies of the map for each child that they can include in their storytelling journal or workbook. If you do this, they can mark their answers on their own maps, and share them with the larger group.
Using the world map is intrinsic to coming to feel part of an entire global community. Show the map of the world with all the children’s marks included, and discuss what a map does for someone on a journey. Elicit children’s ideas and be open to unusual or surprising perspectives.
Who We Are
Encourage every person to make a list of things that they like. Suggest that this list include five things they like to eat, and five things they like to see, to wear and to do. Then, read all the lists out loud and enjoy the diversity and similarities of what children have chosen.
The Mode of Travel
Exploring the Imagination
We are riding in the vehicle of our own imagination. Have everyone stay just where they are and practice looking and seeing. Everyone takes three deep breaths and then opens their eyes wide. Ask your children to be absolutely quiet and take three minutes to look very slowly at the whole room and at each other (without making eye contact). Use a gong, a glass that makes a ringing sound, or the clap of your hands to begin. The aim is to see all aspects of the room including the most insignificant and subtle details, and to enjoy looking.
After three minutes make a list of all the details that have been seen–from the cracks in the walls, to the shadow of a hand, to the number of windows in the room. The secret aim is to help children settle their minds. When they have succeeded in making the list, ask them to do it again and discover what detail they did not notice the last time. Make a new list. Congratulate them on the great feast of seeing where they are.
My House has Many Stories
In Africa it is said that to know your own story is to find one’s place in the world. Who we are, where we live, where our families have come from, what we have learned and what we find interesting ourselves are all part of what makes us unique, and is the rich loam of our own ongoing story.
No visa is needed to voyage in our own inner territory. Borders can be crossed without danger. Knowing oneself is the supreme protection. But, as with any small country, each person shall have their own personal banner that will flutter and soar just like all the flags before the United Nations. Each of you is going to write down parts of your story based on a series of questions. This is to start us all thinking about who we are.
- What’s your first name?
- Are you named after someone? How did you get your name? Does it have a special meaning?
- Do you have a name in another language?
- What country, city, village, or town do you live in right now?
- Do you live in a house, an apartment, a cottage, a tent or a group home? Do you live in a city or the country, on a hill or on a flat street?
- Can you describe what is special about your room?
- Where were your parents born? Where were all of your grandparents and great grandparents born as far back as can be recalled? (Children might need to ask questions of their family members.)
- How many different countries, cultures, religions, and tribes make up your family history, and those of all the children in the room? Using different colored pencils or markers, make a dot on all the places of origin in the world.
- Are there any stories known by the children about how their family came to be living where they are? Tales of moves, or migrations, narrow escapes or following dreams.
- Chose an object that is real, and small enough to hold in your hand but large enough to see. It should be something that you value–perhaps a gift, something you purchased or found, or something you once saw and have never seen again.
- Draw a little picture of the object or something that represents the object.
Envisioning A Journey
Since you are embarking on a long trip without ever leaving your room, what would you like to take along with you? Make a group list.
How would your group like to document what takes place on the journey? You could use pictures, radio reports, written journals, secret diaries, or have a note keeper, official journalist or mapmaker.
Answers to the following questions could be spoken or written, depending on the age of your group and what they want to do. Use some or all of the following questions to guide a discussion or writing exercise.
What would you like to leave behind and not take on the journey? This could be a situation or a person, as well as objects, or memories.
If there were one person that you could take on this journey, who would that be?
What do you fear about making this trip?
Whom do you not want to meet–real or imagined?
What sorts of things do you not want to confront as you travel?
What do you wish will happen?
What do you want to learn?
What do you want to find that you can bring back home?
If you could whisper something to someone in your family, what would you say? Better yet, if you could ask a question of a person in your family who lived a long time before you were born, what would you say?
Story Making Activity ~ Our Special Places
Most of us have a “special place” in our mind or heart. We may visit that place every single day, or during the long dusk of summer. We may have been there once, or seen this place from a distance for only a few minutes. Ask each child to describe this place—it should be one where they feel safe and protected, special and private, where secrets can be remembered, and one can think about anything without disturbance. Some people in the past have chosen their rooms, in the branches of a tree, the warm kitchen of a grandparent, or a room they saw in someone else’s home or in a film. The place can be anywhere.
Give your group five to seven minutes to write about the way their special place looked, smelled, and felt, and what it looked like. Let them know when they only have two minutes left so they can finish this up! Then, have them write a story of something that they did in that space once. Don’t worry if the story doesn’t seem exciting; when told to another, it will be very meaningful.
After all members of the group have created their stories, divide children into pairs and have each partner whisper their story about the place to each other. Include as much description of the place as possible. And tell why it felt so safe and good.
After each partner has heard the other’s tale, let each listener become the storyteller and retell their partner’s story back to them in the third person. For example, “there was once a little girl in such and such town who had a very special place.” The job of the listener is simply to hear their own story. Afterwards, take time to have a discussion about how it felt to hear one’s own tale told. What, if anything, did they discover?
Arts Activity ~ Making Personal Banners ~ Prayer Flags Flying
In Tibet, prayer flags have stories and blessings that are believed to travel on the wind to bring happiness to everyone, sending radiant thoughts out to the world. In this banner-making activity, group participation and an outpouring of energy is involved. Afterwards, the decision of where to hang everyone’s prayer flags can be a special activity all its own.
▫ Pieces of cloth or strong paper (8 ½ x 11 inches)
▫ Pencils, magic markers or crayons
▫ The picture of the chosen object
▫ The newly created stories
▫ Strong rope or ribbon
▫ Big needle and thread, glue or tape
- Give everyone a piece of paper to design his or her own prayer flag. Show examples of flags, especially Tibetan prayer flags.
- Choose the colors that best feel like your colors, and your family’s colors.
- First decide on the design—take time to think and plan before you start. Then color vividly!
- Make a space to write your story, and write it. Somewhere else on the flag, write down a wish for the world.
- Children can sew, glue or tape the top of the flag on the rope or ribbon so it can hang down. They can cut fringes on the bottom of their flag if they would like to.
- Hang all the flags on the same long rope so they flutter together. They can be hung in the room or out of the window, or from a tree or pole outside.
© 2003 Laura Simms