Stories and the Web of Life

By Anne Simpkinson

Posted on

“We all have stories. And they must be told. 
In telling our stories we affirm our selves, our very being and 
thereby the purpose of our Creator and our lives." 
- Sophy Burnham, Author

Living in an information age, we are barraged by stories 24-7 on our flatscreen tv, radios, phone, iPad, computer as well as in magazines, books and, yes, even newspapers. We also share stories on weekly “catch up” calls with family and friends, at lunches and on Zoom calls with colleagues, sitting around a table with grandparents, even sharing with strangers on social media.

We all have many stories to tell, but life is so busy, and there are so many distractions that we often simply share information, tout a success, or tell an entertaining or funny story. Maybe we complain about whatever upset us recently or, as one writer put it, we humble brag about our “honeyed lives” on Instagram or Facebook. But the truth is that most times we don’t listen deeply enough to hear and reflect on our stories, to uncover and therefore discover the meaning of our encounters with life. When we deeply connect to our stories – whether about loss, love, challenges, successes and, yes, even failures – when we tell our real stories, says storyteller Joseph Bruchac, we “develop a sense of identity, self-worth, and empowerment.” We not only intuitively grasp the why of our existence in the moment but, in the stillness and quiet, we open to the Indwelling Presence, the very ground of our being.

Thomas Merton, monk, best-selling author and mystic, expressed this idea when he wrote that “our being is silent, but our existence is noisy. Yet when our noisy actions stop, a ground of silence is always there.” Immersing ourselves in that ground of silence, if only briefly, can help us find the words that tell our stories, and thus not only change and transform us but others as well. It’s the energy that stories carry whether it be within a truth, insight, revelation, or emotion that is the glue that binds us. In The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni’s newest book, “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found,” he suggests that listening more attentively to others, and sharing our stories can “connect us in the common experiences that make us human.”

What we need so desperately in these times is what Virginia Woolf called “a room of one’s own,” a space to put aside our to-do lists, our worries and concerns, our anxieties and plans – a space simply to be quiet for a while. It can be a physical space, a room, comfortable chair or a patch of woods; it could be a meditation or prayer practice. If we’re lucky, it may be an extended time to retreat, to get away from the everyday demands and responsibilities in order to be quiet, to listen to the still small voice.

Taking the time and space to open up to the stories embedded in our experiences ultimately leads us to the realization of how precious they are and, when we share them, we participate in the web of life that holds us all. Perhaps this accounts for the popularity of storytelling slams and programs like The Moth and Story Corps. We need to tell our stories almost as much as we need air to breathe and food to eat. May they be cherished and shared.

“Life will go on as long as there is someone to sing, to dance,
to tell stories and to listen.”
- Oren Lyons, Native American Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan.