Storytelling as One of the Feeling Arts

When I teach storytelling workshops one of the hardest thing for me to explain is the nature of the progress that needs to be made by the teller in the story;  the internal journey of the teller.  

And a critical part of this is showing us the emotions that they felt as they grapples with the events, makes sense of them and arrive at the end with fresh eyes.  It is the emotion and the journey, that are the universal connection with the audience and at the heart of the engagement with listeners.

I try many different ways of explaining this and often participants get it, but sometimes in a three hour workshop, it just hasn’t landed. 

I ask:

How are you different at the beginning of the story from the end?  

What was the lesson for you from these events?

Imagine you are looking back on these events from the distance of time, what is the meaning of this event for you?

What is the value message in your story?

Where is the emotional struggle, in you?

After that my default method of trying to install this idea, is to beat them over the head with words until they get it, which, as you can imagine is hardly ever successful.  Part of the problem is clearlyhow I frame it, and it is my aim to get better at this in my teaching. 

But sometimes even feeling into a simple emotional event, like worry you’ve let a friend down, or fear that you left the stove on, is elusive. For people not in the habit being aware of their complex emotions, who are in perpetual forward motion, starting to peel back the layers of the events of their lives, what they felt and how they resolved the feelings, can not only be hard to understand, but terrifying.  Sometimes the feelings haven’t been resolved and so unpacking them brings them back with full force.  Scary stuff.

I remind myself, and the group, that storytelling, like writing, is not therapy, but it is therapeutic. 

And I am learning that it can’t be forced or rushed; a person must not only understand, they must be ready and willing to go there; ready to re-feel the emotion and then work to resolve it, process it, whether for the sake of their storytelling or for themselves.   For some people it isn’t the right time, and it may never be. Storytelling may not be their vehicle for this expression.  

But if someone does want to explore their inner world, they need to be supported, encouraged and held, they need to know that they are in control of the process and to go at their own pace, and that on the other side of the discomfort is peace and wholeness, and it is this peace that is their gift, for themselves and for their audience.  

And I need to remind myself that this is growth, a process not an event, not something you either get or you don’t;  it can be developed, felt into, learned and understood, and then embraced as part of the story crafting process - it should perhaps be called one of the feeling arts.

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