“We cannot wish old feelings away nor do spiritual exercises for overcoming them until we have woven a healing story that transforms our previous life’s experience and gives meaning to whatever pain we have endured.” Joan Borysenko, PhD
I need to tell my story’, the story I haven’t told anyone yet.” I have spoken these words as have many of my clients over the years. And this week, we have heard again the power of telling our real soul stories in the unveiling of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations with regards to Canada’s shameful past of the ‘cultural genocide’ of First Nations peoples in residential schools.
Telling the painful story that has derailed us, that has taken our breath away, that has stolen pieces of our soul light is very hard to do. We need to feel safe – deeply safe. The vulnerability we have to surrender into can feel daunting as we face these dark moments of our past and the way this story may be continuing to unravel the joy and worthiness of our present. Somewhere inside of us, as ancient as the first people on the planet, is the need to tell stories that transform us, that invite us to act beyond who we are in the moment. This story of the heart is often emotion-laden, gripping and intense when filled with pain, loss and/or abuse and desecration of human dignity.
These stories of the heart require courage to tell, as we collectively learned this week, the shame we have hidden in our hearts about who we think we are in the story comes to light and is heard. People now see us in that most raw moment. We have to surrender control of outcome as the storyteller because we do not know who we will become in sharing our story nor what potential we will awaken to in our future until after we share our heart-story. The masks and sugar-coated story must drop away for the actual experience that needs voice from deep within.
But for a story to hold transformative power, there needs to be a compassionate listener. The listener must equally open their heart and with non-judgement and compassion listen with heart to the heart of another. Again, as we collectively witnessed this week, some stories are not easy to listen to because we become changed by these powerful stories. And we should be! Our hearts are opened, softened, made more compassionate. We both become awakened to a greater potential spiritually and for the future.
I recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post sharing her experience 30 days after the death of her husband. Raw. Intense. Honest. Painful. As she stated, it is hard at times for people to know what to say when someone we love dies so suddenly. We often feel awkward, confused, anxious because we are unclear how to attend to the painful, grievous story our neighbour is living.
These are the moments that as listener we need to soften our hearts, to fill our hearts with compassion and invite Spirit, Universal Love, Higher Power (your metaphor for Divine Essence) to join and transform us beyond who we know ourselves to be in this moment. In doing so, we discover we are not alone and unworthy. Both the listener and the storyteller find release and a kind of relaxation as the hormones in the body begin to shift from stress ones to bonding ones. We find we are connected to others and are worthy of their love and care. Burdens and suffering are lightened. We begin to realize our separateness is an illusion. We begin to create a story of meaning, purpose and connection. We become members of the Circle of Life. That’s healing!
Although I have many ways to listen and respond to a story, my intent is to acknowledge, validate and bear compassionate witness to the experience with whom I am in Circle. When I listen, no matter if it is just me and someone else, I cannot imagine doing so outside of the ancient practice of Circle. For in Circle, love flows. The structure of Oneness is inherent in Circle. We are each equidistant to the centre of Circle, the place of purpose and the light and warmth of the fire. It’s an ancient wisdom that seems embedded in the best ways of speaking from our hearts.
I do not seek to change their story. That is pointless and dishonouring. What I support doing is holding space for the storyteller to remember and discover more of their power and love in, for, and with themselves, and in relation to their lives, their purpose, and their surroundings. I invite them to tell their stories in a way that keeps them constantly open to different pieces and hidden dynamics of their power within it.
And as I listen and they tell, they begin to discover a way to act beyond the imprisonment of the shame or guilt of who they perceive themselves to be in their story. It is in the deep listening and telling the story from heart that I have found people finally remember their own true spark, their own divine nature and can once again ground into their essential self.
Getting back on track after the rug has been pulled out or because the past has come back once again to say ‘deal with me’, ‘hear me’, often requires true heart courage and vulnerability to tell your story, unapologetically, truthfully, unmasked. Such moments transform. And when you tell it, share it with someone with compassionate presence, who bears witness to you in the moment, the path to your future opens up again with new light and potential. Telling your story into a bottle, or whining into the night does not transform. Such behaviours only further isolate and dishonour the real experience your heart needs to give expression to in the space of real connection and compassion.
There are many layers and dimensions to heart stories – personal, familial, communal, national, religious, cultural, ethic and more. An African proverb states that you cannot heal what you conceal. Free yourself today. Find a space and ask someone whom you respect and trust to listen. Be courageous and take off the masks and tell your story. Let the light, warmth and love in. It will transform who you have the potential to become and help you get back on the journey of your life … the one you know in your dreams!