Monday 24 August 2020

The Therapeutic Effect of Storytelling:

Threading the Strings of Yesterday to Today and Tomorrow
“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” — Philip Pullman
Stories are the nourishment, embodying, and companionship that makes our minds grow to their utmost potency. It seems most of the wisdom the ancients had that catapulted us to civilization has hitherto been brushed aside. Thinking we have arrived and have a better plan, we are merely retrogressing rather than progressing. No doubt, some of the results we see in the increased mental illnesses of our day.

Before the advent of the different recording devices we have, history was passed from generation to generation by oral means. The arrival of better recording devices does not eradicate the verbal means, nor make it of no value. More than the passage of history, they gave us a sense of commonality, and root, that in no small way is the basis of the resilience (anchor) with which we face our today and our tomorrow.


I remember growing up in Yaba, a suburb located on Lagos Mainland, Lagos, in Southwestern Nigeria. There were those special evenings, with the moon fully out, when the children gathered around our elderly Landlady to hear a story. Wow! Those were magical moments. Tales by moonlight, indeed, they were. Even though well over four (4) decades ago still hold those special memories close to my heart. We heard various folktales. The Tortoise ("Ijapa" in our local dialect) seems to be the most popular actor in most of these. 

I remember the Tortoise and the Hare, the Tortoise and the other animals, how the tortoise got his bald head, his rough shell, etc. These were our main sources of entertainment in addition to the limited Television showings. The main difference being they were immediately relatable and were geared toward adding to us. They kept our minds sane and rightly occupied. Then as we grew up, and we had more external influences, there were comics and novels added to the list. 

The kinds of literature we had included, Adventure of Tintin, Arabian Nights, Superman, X-men, Spiderman; Hulk, Avengers, Famous Five, Mill-and-Boons, and James Hadley Chase, amongst others. These were in addition to the ones which were part of our academic curricula. Books like A Tale of Two Cities, Things Fall Apart, and Animal Farm. (It is amazing to note I was more of a lazy reader growing up. Engineering was an easy choice compared to Law or any other that would have required voluminous abstract readings.)

Ancient Wisdom:

These were all rich literature available to stimulate our imagination, increase our vocabulary, and help us in writing our own stories. Yet, no one introduced these to us, nor gave us any hint as to their objectives. Unknown to us then, and more now, as more studies are done in the area of neuroscience, we were rightly exercising and programming our subconscious mind, and our imaginative quotient. 

Albert Einstein was well educated in this wise. His proposition to parents was, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." No wonder enlightened parents read bedtime stories to their children. It is not simply to fill up space or to put the child to sleep. It is an essential part of the child's development.

Did you know the best two times to feed your subconscious mind about the time you wake up in the morning, and in the evening before you retire? Another Ancient wisdom that hitherto did not make sense to us. These are our switch points between conscious (awake) and unconscious (sleep) modes. They simulate, in a sense, hypnotic conditions, where and when we are able to have direct communication with our subconscious mind. 

So, we talk about having a time of devotion in the morning and a time of storytelling (journaling) before retiring to bed. Unknown to us, we are doing things beyond the merely ordinary. When I first got sold on having devotions in the morning, it was a rather strenuous activity for me. I reckon I am not one that can be described as the "morning person." It was sold to me more like a law, without a cogent reason as to the time benefit. So, I struggled with it for years, having devotions halfway between awake and asleep. Today I know better.

Devotionals, including the meditations that are its core, are not unique to Christianity. It is an ancient practice. The Buddhism version is rather popular in today's society. Made popular by its accompanying mother practice, yoga. All geared toward communicating with the subconscious mind in a bid to create the hypnotic rhythm.

Three Spheres of Life:

There are three days (times) in our lives that are most important to our mental health, and wellbeing. Guess what those days (times) are? You don't have to go too far. They are the same ones we all have to deal with, every day. These are "Yesterday (Past), Today (Present), and Tomorrow (Future)." Do you realize different parts of our brains are dedicated to each of these? 

Mental health is when each of these days (times) is rightly processed where and when they are meant to, without limiting, or overworking the functions of the other parts. Ordinarily, there is a fairly seamless integration of the past, present, and future. In simple terms, we experience something in the present, compare it to similar experiences in the past, and decide how we will respond. 

The time frame can be very brief; even a few milliseconds. Especially when the brain is functioning normally. When it is not we are either prisoners of our past, something we find so difficult to forgive ourselves for, or the future, an imminent danger we think we will be exposed to. We are trapped in either or both of these worlds we are useless in the moments of our lives.

The Anchor:

These typically occur in life where the anchor (resilience) is either none existence or weak. Storytelling is the natural way in which we build anchors in one another. Do you remember the five questions Myles Munroe taught us we need to answer in order to be successful in life? Not a problem. Here they are stated below.
  1. Who am I? (My Identity?)
  2. Where am I From? (My Source?)
  3. Why am I here? (My Purpose? The Difference I am Here to make.)
  4. What Can I Do? (My true ability?)
  5. Where am I Going? (My Destiny?)
We were created to live life with meaning and purpose. We are not a mistake. We did not randomly evolve. Our life is one that was already finished before we got on the scene. We are here to live a script - a script of success, victory, and life in all its ramification. Our place is to live out the truth, the destiny, the potential that was embedded into us at conception. So, in this wise, the Preacher tells us,
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NKJV)
Answering the Questions of Life:

Storytelling is one of the ways we help our wards and our own selves answer these questions. Like Scott Turow so rightly said, “Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?” Isn't it interesting that folklores, tales, and myths are not isolated to only a few cultures or societies? It seems to be the essential thread that ties us all together as human beings.

Storytelling should be a notable part of healthy family life. Parents share stories of the origin of their families, peculiarities, and special occasions that define and mark the family unit. Each person shares stories that illuminate and combine their separate experiences into a meaningful whole. This ought to be all-inclusive, the sweet, the bitter, the beautiful, and the ugly. There is an essential string threading them all together. 

Roots and Wings:

Jonas Stalk so rightly said, “Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.” Roots are the anchors, the resilience we build in our children, and our own selves also. Recently, I got reconnected with my classmates from Elementary School. These are friends I had not seen in upwards of 42 years. Reconnecting brought back old memories and a sense of where I came from. It has simply been therapeutic as we meet and enjoy fellowship together. They are a part of my story.

Storytelling is one of the ways we carry our children on our shoulders so they can see further and go further than we ever did. We need to share with them our conquests, our defeats, and the wisdom we picked from each. We also need to listen to the stories of our children. What stories do they have to share from their daily experience of life? Are they empowering, or disempowering. Their stories give us a window into their inner world, and hopefully, we are able to intervene before the cement sets on the wrong stories. Brian Morton pits it like this, 
"The world, the human world, is bound together not by protons and electrons, but by stories. Nothing has meaning in itself: all the objects in the world would be shards of bare mute blankness, spinning wildly out of orbit, if we didn't bind them together with stories."
Contextualization and Monumentatilization:

Storytelling helps us to contextualize our memory. We build our stories around the things we want to develop our monuments around. Our stories join where we used to be to where we presently are, and where we currently are to the future we desire. Stories are used to organize, predict, and understand the complexities of our lived experiences. A good story, along with relaying the “what” happened, reveals the feelings that accompanied the experience. Nwoye, A. writes, 
"Everybody, including children, has a story to tell that can break your heart. People record their life experiences, both pleasant and painful, in story form. People's stories are not neutral but partial, told from the angle of vision of the owner of the story "
Storytelling provides us with a means for chronicling, sharing, and making meaning of the experience.  

© 2020 Akin Akinbodunse

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