Listening in Circles

"Listen, stories go in circles, they don’t go in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles because there are stories inside and stories between stories and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost, and when you’re lost, you really start to open up and listen."

Openings lines from Coming from a Great Distance,Traveling Jewish Theatre (Corey Fischer, Albert Greenberg, Naomi Newman)

I'm reminded of this quote whenever I teach one of my shamanic storytelling workshops as I did last Tuesday. In these workshops I use trance-drumming to shift participants' awareness so they can journey back into the story they've been listening to in a different way. I think of it as an opportunity to experience a story as children do: "from the inside-out."

Because this process is totally non-linear, it's immediately apparent from participant's reports about their journey experiences how many swirls and eddies are always dancing just below the seemingly straight-flowing surface of a good story.

And it's in the depths of these hidden waters that the real storytelling magic lies. Memorizing a story forces it into a straight line. Yes, you need to know where it starts and where it ends. You need to have mastery of the story so your listeners can relax. But it's the in-between, non-memorized bits – the stories inside and between, the swirls and eddies – that make the whole story really come alive for both listeners and teller.

The best tellers are also good listeners themselves. No matter how many times you tell a story, you should discover something new about it each time. To keep your telling from getting stale, you have to be unafraid of getting lost.

Sometimes an "aha!" may be as simple as finding that a different turn of phrase suddenly bubbles up or a few new descriptive words appear. Sometimes this is all it takes to open another, looping path toward home – or to greater wonder.

You know when this happens. You can feel it and sense it. Listeners and teller are lost in the story together and the true finding can begin.

Nancy Binzen
Nancy Binzen