Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Main-idea on Auto-Pilot Makes Nonsense

This week our Good Stories class ventures into what are sometimes called Nonsense Tales.  This labeling might resemble the character who calls “Stupid!*&@!” at whatever he or she doesn’t understand.  My favorite player in this zone is Nasruddin. 

Once Nasruddin was searching frantically around a light post.  It was a dark and foggy night.  A friend approached and helped him look, but after finding nothing Nasruddin’s co-laborer finally asks, “Are you sure this is where you lost it?”  Nasruddin replies, “No, I’m sure it wasn’t here, but this is where I can see best.”

When we work with stories, we must beware of looking at them only in the way we have learned best.  For example, in school we drill readers and writers to pick out one central idea, especially for performance in high-stakes testing.  While this can be a fine skill, when we run it on auto-pilot, it can turn us into Nasruddins.  For example, when we have a chance to really get into the experience of story and we’re locked in main-idea detection, we risk missing the hidden treasure.  If we weren’t stuck under the overlearned main-idea method, we might be able to connect with another search pattern. 

In these first weeks of Good Stories, we’ve been working to develop a capacity that’s different from the left-brained, analytical focus.  We’ve been opening our whole being to archetypal images in traditional stories with the purpose of recognizing resonance.  We’re attending for the image in the story that makes a personal hit.  Sometimes the hit arouses emotion like fear or joy or anger; other times it might feel over-the-top, confusing, just really strange.  The resonance might also involve an apprehension of beauty or wonder.

Once the point of resonance is located, we follow it by making images and by translating across the four levels: universal, local, individual, and particular.  Often we’re like Ivan or Yvonne who has only glimpsed the beloved, has only a mysterious clue (“beyond the thrice ninth sea”), but will search for the beloved “as far as the sky is blue” (from Grimms’ 12 Brothers).  The searcher knows that the treasure, the “water of life,” the vitality for authentic living, won’t be found in the small circle around the lamppost.  One way to practice for going outside our auto-pilot comes in play with nonsense tales and in making meaning from them.

Our right-brained sense of resonance lets us move step by step and helps us find the way back when we've gone astray, but it doesn’t see very far ahead.  Perhaps this kind of resonance is "the sense you are born with" that we'll hear about in this weeks "nonsense."  We’ll work with the Lazy Jack tales to play in this space.  For reminders of that sense, see