“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”-Anaïs Nin
I have been thinking a lot about stories lately. What is a story and what is real? The immense power a story has to humble, heal, inspire, teach and scare. Stories are the language of the soul and speak to our sub-concious in ways that nothing else can.
” It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you.” – Ben Okri
In working with child’s waking consciousness, a story speaks straight to their soul and is received by their heart. Stories help children make sense of things while our rational explanations are totally irrelevant to them. So many of my mentors are great story tellers just by meeting the moment and making it magic. Stories take the work out of teaching because the story itself is the teacher and yet the story itself invisibly weaves and strengthens the relationship between the story teller and the listeners.
While we parents are trying to find our way in the dark, trying to keep our feet on the ground, trying oh so hard to know the right way to tell our children what and heck is going on in the world right now, finding the right story for this extraordinary moment we are living in is difficult. A good place to start may be with what stories are we telling ourselves?
A dear friend reminded me recently to “go deep, go deeper and listen… to ourselves, to the earth and to the stories that humanity has carried as long as we have existed”. Where is the story of the Corona landing in us and how are our souls taking it in? We need our wise ones to light the fire, make some tea and sit us down and tell us what is the tale of these times so we can digest it and make sense of it in our dreams.
This story recently was sent by a friend from her daughters school, I thought it very important for us parents to really digest on these long dark nights.
There once was a Cherokee elder who shared a story about two wolves with his grandson. The grandfather said that within each of us, two wolves are living. One is the wolf of unhelpfulness — this is the wolf of anger that carries on, frustration that continues, untruths told, greed of wanting more than what is needed, pride that is false and not genuine, fear that is overwhelming, and more. The other is the wolf of helpfulness — this is the wolf of love, courage, helpfulness, listening, initiative, kindness, courtesy, compassion, positivity, honesty, truth, and more. After listening to his grandfather, the child bowed his head and pondered what he heard. He then looked at his grandfather and asked, “Which wolf wins?” The wise elder looked at his grandson and said, “The one you choose to feed.”
What stories we feed within ourselves will help us know where we stand, what we believe and which stories to tell our children. But before I spin yarns for my children I personally need to keep listening. To tap into the collective consciousness on the archetypical and mythical level to really know what is going one. I have been guided lately by Michael Meade, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and others who are telling us the story of this mysterious times through sharing the ancient stories of humanity. They are the ones who are the beacons who light the way in the darkness, the ones guide us back to the shore of sanity when our story spins us out so completely. It is the story tellers who remind us, this too shall pass, because all things do, and always have, and what can we learn from this dark tale?
I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking of a story I often tell in my Parent & Class Classes, brought to me many moons ago by a wise woman and dear friendwhen I was on the brink of birth. Pam England brought this ancient Sumerian myth, said to have been ‘the first story ever written dating back to 2300 BCE’ in her book, Ancient Map for Modern Birth and it is a perfect story of initiation for the new mother… but it seems so perfect to me for this very moment we are living in, for everyone of us.
Inanna’s Descent- As told by Pam England in “Ancient Map for Modern Birth”
Inanna was a woman of power, a warrior, a queen, a poet and the priestess of seven temples. Inanna heard the Call from the great below. She knew that answering it would disrupt her life’s rhythms and relationships and bring uncertainty. Like hearing a drum beating in the distance, it’s possible to ignore such a Call for a while, but they persist until answered. When Inanna’s heart was ready, she accepted her Call. From that moment on, there was no turning back. With her whole body and mind, she began preparing for her inner journey.
Inanna was the priestess of seven temples, a time consuming vocation as Sumerian temples were bustling community centers with markets, garden, social gatherings, and ceremonies. To free up time, to retreat from her ordinary life, Inanna’s first task was to abandon her seven temples.
Her next task was gathering seven royal articles imbued with power that would offer her protection as she journeyed through the unknown. Inanna dressed for her rite of passage in her finest royal warrior clothes arranged her hair, and donned her crown. Around her neck she tied a Lapis necklace and blessing beads. To protect her heart , she tied on her warrior breastplate. Over her hand, she slipped a gold bracelet. Around her shoulders, she wrapped a royal robe. Lastly, she took up her Lapis measuring rod and ring.
Inanna called on her trusted advisor, Ninshubur, Queen of the East, to help prepare for her decent into a place from which no one returns unchanged. All the while, Ninshubur fretted. If anything went wrong or Inanna suffered too much during her descent, Ninshubur would feel responsible for not having dissuaded her queen from taking this risk. She worried that Inanna’s powerful transformation might change their friendship. So she tried to talk to Inanna out of answering her Call, but Inanna would not be deterred.
Although Ninshubur and Inanna had fought side by side in other battles, Inanna knew she had to fight this one alone. She also knew she could trust her faithful advisor Ninshubur above all others with the task of ensuring her safe return. She said “My dearest friend and advisor, if I do not return in three days by my own efforts, go to the three wise elders and ask them to help me complete my return. Do not abandon me in the underworld.”
Having completed her Tasks of Preparation, Inanna walked away from her comforts of her ordinary life. In due time, she arrived at the First Gate of the underworld. Bidu, the gatekeeper, whose name meant ” to open”, demanded, “Who are you?”
” I am Inanna, ” she answered ” queen of heaven and Earth. I am a poet, warrior, priestess, and wife. Let me Enter. “
Bidu asked, ” Why has your heart led you here. To a place from whicd no one returns unchanged or unscathed?” Inanna gave her reasons and demanded to be let in “Come, ” he said, “you may enter”. As Inanna crossed the first threshold, Bidu took her crown. Inanna protested, to which Bidu explained, ” The ways of the underworld are ancient and proven. It’s ways may not be bargained away or questioned.”
Inanna continued her descent through a labyrinthine passage. Gate after gate, Inanna encoutered Bidu, the Gatekeeper. Each time, Bidu asked Inanna , ” Who are you? Why has your heart led you to this place , a place from which you will not return unchanged?”
Each time Inanna passed though a gate Bidu took something of value, something she had brought or worn for protection, comfort, or as a sign to let others know she was special. At the Second Gate, Bidu took her Lapis necklace and blessing beads. At the third gate, he took her breastplate. At the Fourth Gate, he took her royal robe, leaving her cold and exposed. At the Fifth gate he removed her gold bracelet. At the Sixth Gate, he took her shoes. And at the Seventh Gate he took from her hands the Lapis rod and ring.
With each small loss, the queen protested, ” It isn’t fair! Give it back! I didn’t agree to this!”
Bidu reminded Inanna, ” The ways of the underworld are ancient and may not be questioned. Keep going, Inanna, Find our who you really are. “
Gate by Gate, Inanna descended deeper and deeper into the underworld. The underworld was an unfamiliar place. She did not know her way. Only her resolve lit the path though the dark and twisting labyrinth, across thresholds of mercy, terror, and doubt.
Naked, humble and exhausted, Inanna crawled on her hands and knees towards the last threshold. She had given her all. Finally she arrived on the final Gate. By now the gatekeeper had seized everything except the one things he could not take: Inanna’s determination to do what needed to be done next. Reaching deep inside herself, she mustered up a great push, and then another and another until the gatekeeper opened the last gate.
And there, in the deepest , most sacred place of all, she saw the one who had been calling her and who was still calling to her, her child. In this transformative moment, the person Inanna had died. In the next breath, she was reborn as a mother.
Three days and nights passed. Inanna was suspended between worlds. She could not make it home. Three days is a long time to wait while someone you love is out of reach in the underworld. Ninshubur went to the elders. The first two would not help, blaming Inanna for her predicament. The third elder listened carefully and came up wit a plan. Of the three, only he knew the way out because he had gone to the underworld and returned. He created two allies and gave them ,the Waters of Life and the Food of Life, and instructed them to take these to Inanna.
Once she had gathered her strength, Inanna began to hear another Call, this time from the Great Above, to return to her life. She began her slow ascent.
At each gate on her return, Bidu asked, ” Who are you?” What do you know now that you did not know before you made this descent?” At each gate , the gatekeeper took from Inanna something that belonged to the underworld. At the First gate, he took self absorption from her and gave her gratitude. At the second gate he took worry from her and gave her relief. At the Third Gate, he took sleep from her and gave her stamia. At the fourth gate, he took old relationship dynamics and gave her renewal. At the fifth gate he took the weight of blame of self and others and gave her understanding. At the sixth gate, he stopped her mind from spinning. At the seventh gate, he took pride and gave her humility. At the last gate, Bidu took her gathering basket and turned her attention inward. At the ninth gate, he lifted the weight of the whole story and gave her wisdom.
The warrior – Priestess who had left on this journey was surely not the one who returned, for the descent and return had transformed Inanna’s mind, body and heart.
I realize the journey we are on right now globally is not voluntary and is NOT answering a call…. but we are being asked to go into a form of quiet ceremony with ourselves. The stopping of life as we know it to simply wait out the storm is a powerful moment to go deep and release, grieve, get beat up and finally, surrender, and then we shall return, changed or unchanged to the world as we know it, though maybe it too will be forever changed….no matter the outcome we are being asked to go deep. I want to use this time wisely to decide which wolf I will feed and which one will I release.
Once I come up and find my silver lining I will know what tale to tell my children, a tale of mystery a tale of pause, a tale of humanities invisible connection we had forgotten or never even knew we had…..
If your stories haven’t yet crystalized in you like me, it is good to start somewhere. Light a candle and try to tell a story, for I promise you- your children are listening.
Here are some stories to tell to start with:
For your littlest ones- A Story of a Little Gnome who Stayed Home by Susan Perrow
A Fairy tale or a young children –A Story of the Great Pause
Here is a master story teller, Suzanna Downs bringing a simple story of a little mouse who found a cozy home that simply encourages snuggles and gratitude
And here is a delightful story about The Seed Children Story from the wonderful Lifeways blog
And my favorite tales for little ones to help you begin your story telling journey are Healing Stories for Challenging Behavior and Tell me a Story
And here is a sweet nature stories resource for spring stories and Activities for 3-6 year olds from a great Nature Educator.
Here are some specific “Shelter in place” stories for you and your children to just listen to when you need to just rest from all the interacting with one another!
The Art of Story Telling
Here is a great article on how to craft a Healing Story
And to really learn the art of story telling go here.
A few great books I have about how to become a storyteller for children are:
Story telling with Children, & Bringing the Story Home
And here is an amazing read aloud list for good stories by grade put out by the Sandpoint Waldorf School for reading in the months ahead.
So many good books and ways to learn to be a story teller, a weaver of culture a guide and a beacon on the journey ahead, but mostly it is knowing your own story, witnessing the world with a curious mind and weaving the mundane into the magical. The world needs wise story tellers right now. Let’s learn how to tell this story together.
Thanks for sharing all these great resources, Erin!
I’ve been thinking about Innana’s descent lately, too. How many gateways await us? Our stories will hold the thread that leads us through.