"Only connect .... Live in fragments no longer." ~ E.M. Forster
Storytelling is as old as humanity. Our earliest ancestors told stories in pictures on the walls of caves. This same impulse has guided us across millennia. Stories make us human. They allow us to connect with our world and with ourselves, bringing meaning to our lives. In this sense, storytelling is a form of mindfulness. As a lawyer, writer, book lover, social entrepreneur, mindfulness consultant and yoga teacher, I spend much of my life immersed in stories. And I bet you do, too.
Why are stories so powerful? Well, they are more memorable than facts. Our brains are wired to respond to stories. Metaphors and anecdotes help us relate ideas to our own experiences, providing richness and texture. Stories bring you and your listeners into a multi-dimensional world, full of colors, sights, smells and emotions, making us feel as though we are actually living the story.
The greatest stories weave together symbols of our common humanity and our deepest-held values. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't just have a few ideas about civil rights. He had a dream, which he shared in the form of a story. He asked listeners to participate in his vision of a more just world. John Lennon did the same. He didn't just give his point of view; he invited us to imagine it with him. These bold images continue to resonate and inspire.
In today's information-saturated landscape, one of the most valuable skills you can acquire is the ability to tell stories. If you want to be a good storyteller, practice listening to others. A crucial part of good storytelling is empathy: the ability to perceive and intuit what others are experiencing, and then to forge a connection on that basis.
Storytelling allows us to be present with our experience, and to draw others into that experience as well. Ever told a child a story? Laugh or light up your eyes at Dr. Seuss? Or remember way back when you were a kid, and how excited you were to tell your parents about your hand-crafted macaroni necklace, or to tell your friend about your sweet new tricycle? (side note: was I the only one who bawled her eyes out at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows?)
To impact others, you must first discover what impacts you. To truly tell your story, you need to find it. That's how mindfulness can help. Visualization is a transformational way to tap into the vividness of our creative storytelling. It's proven to be one of the most powerful parts of my seminars.
Collaboration is a key part of storytelling. It's a dance between the storytellers and the audience. It's how every Pixar story gets made: people who trust each other, playing off of each other's ideas and not being afraid to brainstorm. Creativity requires trust and courage, which mindfulness can help us find within ourselves.
My experience as a human rights attorney, teacher and a human being always leads back to the same conclusion: we yearn to tell our stories, and to be seen for who we are and what we have survived.
But to accept and then tell your authentic story, you need to commit to your own vulnerability, which is actually the origin of your greatest power. Brené Brown, a visionary of this work, has found through her research that:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy -- the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
We hide our stories when we feel exposed or ashamed, or when we convince ourselves that we have to be perfect. Newsflash: Perfect is out. What's in? Honest self-expression. Allowing ourselves to share emotions. To be seen. To feel vulnerable. To stay open to others and to ourselves.
We're all imperfect, yet we're all worthy, just as we are. It's beautiful and worth telling. Vulnerability is also the path to our greatest creativity, courage, love, transformation, and connection. It leads us to our purpose, passion and our place in this world. It's how we shine, and how we show others they can shine, too.
So don't diminish your story. Don't hide it. Let someone see it. Let it be your strength and your evidence of bravery when you are feeling lost or beaten. Realize that, no matter who we are or what has happened in our lives, our lows, our disappointments and our struggles can be the most compelling parts of our stories. People will rally around you and you will find love and connection in the process.
If you allow it, your wounds can become the source of your greatest gifts.
It just takes a shifting of your mindset so you can see the big picture. Mindfulness helps us to achieve these radical shifts by helping us to have compassion for ourselves and others, and by giving us the confidence to live our stories to the fullest.
This is a central tenet of my creativity teaching and what often fires up my students the most. The world becomes a better place when we share ourselves with others, letting them into our story. We might discover that we have something in common with someone we once saw as different, or that our vulnerabilities help others to overcome their own fears.
Try this: Take a few minutes to write five of your deepest held values. For each one, think about the experiences that have shaped this core value. Translate those experiences into stories. The next time people ask why you're taking a risk or embarking on a challenge, answer openly, honestly and with empathy. Remember, what that other person really wants to hear -- what all of us really want to hear -- is your story.