Saturday, March 12, 2016

Good Stories Move Us from Literal-Mindedness to Transformational Living

Dawn, today, March 12, 2016
Good Stories transform the literal (mundane, meaningless, and/or mean) into the Essential: True, Just, Peace, Beauty, Love. . . In doing this, the pathway of Good Stories progresses from resonance into amplification, through translation of nonsensical and fundamentalist oppression into liberating personal and social meaningfulness.  At best, Good Stories thrill in transformation.
         As we produce digital media projects and work through the associated journal assignments, we enact this progression. I’m finding it’s a pretty good model for transforming life in general. After all, we are making a Good Story, aren’t we? So here we go:
1. Identify the strongest point of resonance.
2. Develop amplification at the story level.
3. Translate to the individual level and amplify at that level.
4. Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
5. Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.
6. Translate the archetypal term across the universal level to the local level.
7. Explore the transformation in meaning and/or capacity.
          As in most attempts to articulate a complex process, the seven steps are an oversimplification.  The actual work of moving from Resonance to Transformation usually takes these steps out of order, goes back recursively, and dialogically intermingles the steps. So don’t force yourself to go 1 to 7; when your imagination opens windows in a different sequence, go with the flow. I’ll illustrate the movement from Resonance into Transformation with my own thinking and composing, and you might notice how it flows on its own dynamic wings.

Step 1. Identify the strongest point of resonance.
Resonance: Centering on the individual’s resonant moment/image in a teaching-story focuses the big question that wants exploration and integration. An individual’s big question often paradoxically appears initially as trivial or as nonsense, and so it’s better to respect the small voice as “not-yet-sense.”
     For most of my life I’ve resonated with the Epaminondas story, particularly with the Puppy Episode. [For background on the story, see Note* at end of post.] The story is often portrayed as a “nonsense tale.” Yet, especially due to a near-death childhood experience, I’ve been drawn to wonder about someone (like Epaminondas or Lazy Jack) who follows directions exactly and without the understanding of when and how prescriptions ought to be modified. As Brian Boyd asserts in On the Origin of Stories, the ability to adapt is crucial to survival and to advancing both consciousness and culture. Good Stories, like Epaminondas, when developed as a teaching-story help us adapt through developing symbolic capacity and thus liberate us from being stuck in literalism.
         Maybe my wonderment also concerns the nature of knowing, including intuitive capacity, and about serving true authority instead of ones that have lost contact with the essence. Note that wonder continues to provide a center for the composing of a digital media project, just as it does for life worth living. It's important to identify a question or a puzzle capable of motivating exploration. The inquiry isn't worth the effort unless the question is significant and vital to the individual explorer and to our world. The effects on the puppy in the early versions of Epaminondas force me to confront the consequences of literal mindedness.

         Here's an image of wonder; certainly one I find wonderful. 
It’s a photo I took on October 9, 1982 when my mom was telling Epaminondas to my three-year-old daughter, about thirty years after she first told it to me.

And just in case anyone got a mistaken notion that I don’t love puppies because the person listens to the story too literally, here’s a photo about thirty years further down the road from the one just shown, from about December 2014, with my daughter, me, and the sweetest doggie in the world.

In my digital media production, when I talk about Epaminondas, I might show these two images as well as this sketch.My voice-over might talk about having stars in my eyes and missing the consequences in the "real world." For example, a devotion to being an academic star (or any other kind that is not authentic to the indwelling light) risks loss of the sense-born-with, the essence of it all.

Step 2. Amplification with Nonsense stories & with Buried Treasure story.
Because I want to understand more about this kind of event, I amplify my point of resonance with other stories. When I looked for anyone who acts like Epaminondas, I found the Lazy Jack story.** Going further with the "lazy" theme, I found a book called Lazy Stories and in it I found "BuriedTreasure." Further tracing has taken me into the amazing Nasruddin
         In each of these, the protagonists act in some ways like Epaminondas.  But they often end up with happy results!  I wonder how these starkly different outcomes happen. What might I do that would increase my chances for happy results?
         My thinking leads me to consider Step 4 and then 5 before I attend to Step 3. As noted earlier, it's fine to skip around as your thought path and association of images leads you. 
4.Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
As just indicated, I see a complication about when this literal-mindedness works and when it doesn’t. Why does Jack get the rich man’s daughter when he’s following directions almost the same way that Epaminondas does and Epaminondas loses everything? Why does Luis get the buried treasure when he seems to sleep so much? That reminds me of Spider in the Kanu story…Hmmm...
         Maybe there’s something about Luis, Jack, and Spider that is not evident at first glance. Maybe there’s something about me and about the work I’m here to do that has that kind of invisible and non-appreciated aspect.
         Sometimes our "gift" is hidden until the time is right and/or until we search enough to find it. Sometimes a gift or talent is too big to manifest until the person entrusted with it has developed sufficiently to be able to handle it without harming self or others. I'm still searching and finding more that seems to hide behind veils. My blog posted on Sept. 13, 2015 shows part of this search.

Step 5. Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.
As I look for comparison stories and for the relevant moment in the stories, it's obvious that I  need a broader term than “Epaminondas.” I know the story is called a “nonsense tale” and that he is called a “noodlehead.” So I look for characters who act a bit looney. When I look at categories of archetypal figuresI note the “jester.” In addition to the Jack tales, I can amplify with Nasruddin and similar figures. In looking into archetypes, I also found Jung’s “inferior function.”
         As expected with working with archetypes, I’m not really content with any single label. This feeling is typical when dealing with archetypes because they tend to defy labeling. But I can work with the term “nonsense,” especially when I put it in the context of moving toward not-yet-sense with the potential of advancing further into sense-born-with. The culture of “court jester” also helps because it affirms the place of story in advancing social justice.
   Possible image I could use:

Now I’ll skip back to Step 4. Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
When reviewing archetypes, I was teased by Jung's "inferior function" and how something that isn't articulate might be the important place. When we feel drawn to something and it still doesn't make much sense, maybe it's not a problem but a clue that this is where things are hard to see.  This feeling reminds me of Luis in “Buried Treasure” and how it didn't make sense at first that he should get the treasure instead of Wally. Maybe there's an "invisible" dimension that allows Luis to engage power (the horse) in the amazing way he does. Again, the blog post just mentioned explores this point of wonder.
         A visual that I might use appeared when I was in production and noticed a fade between two images. The process of digital media producting offers opportunities to see ourselves in ways that penetrate veils. The screen capture of this fade is shown here:

Step 3. Translate to the individual level and amplify at that level.
The images just shown begins this translation. Sometimes I'm in the place of the avatar and the story figures. Now I'm trying to show and tell how this relates to me and not just to Luis or Jack or Epaminondas.
         As I consider this, two areas at the Individual Level dominate my thinking: storytelling and horsemanship. When my thinking jumped to Step 5, I saw that the word “jester” derived from storyteller or minstrel. The point in "Buried Treasure" that especially commands my attention is when Luis catches the horse by the bit. I can show visuals and talk about these areas in amplifying the movement of not-yet-sense into meaningfulness. How does storytelling open my capacity for imagination, for play, and for empathy? 

In this next image, I'm pretending to be in conversation with Jim Henson and Kermit. As explained in Step 6, the image overlaps Individual Level with Local Level; but here I'm mostly exploring my own Individual Level of my storytelling. I would also consider elaborating my personal engagement in horsemanship.

Step 5 (again). Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.

When I work with the theme of horsemanship, it takes me back into the connection with archetypes because the horse is a prime reference for the archetype of power. 
Here's a drawing I made by looking at an image that I found. I used it as a model for how I see the power in horses in a somewhat abstract way that fits with archetypes.

6. Translate the archetypal term across the universal level to the local level.
 Brian Boyd gives his definition for Local Level on page 322 of On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction: "a local level...focuses on particular cultural, historical, social, economic, technological, intellectual, or artistic contexts." 
I see many Local Level possibilities for my point of resonance. As noted above, Jim Henson's work with storytelling gives an outstanding model for me to consider. I also consider models of horsemanship going back to the Spanish Riding School and contemporary persons such as Karen Rohlf's "Dressage Naturally" and Alan Hamilton's Zen Mind, Zen Horse. This photo below shows me in a workshop near Tucson, Arizona that is led by Dr. Hamilton. 
As shown in my sample digital media project, I connect horsemanship, horse rescue, and human recovery. I used photos of a prison fence that I took in Maryland and a horse rescue program in Maryland. Another terrific model involves connecting rescued mustangs with veterans and PTSD:

To amplify across the Local Level, I also get ideas from the following:
a. Darwin makes a positive model in establishing the importance of adaptation. In Tree of LifePeter Sis wonderfully shows the multiple levels of Darwin’s dealing with his developing consciousness.
b. Religious wars as negative: e.g., Crusades, Great Britian (Church of England vs Irish Catholic), ISIS. Even the hostile relationships in my home town among different churches.
c. Power struggles among academics for what counts as “research” in making tenure decisions.

7. Explore the transformation in meaning and/or capacity.
In this step, I can look at the three levels for indications about how to progress. At the Universal Level, I look at stories for places that light me up. For example, my energy level jumps when Luis stops the run-away horse by reaching out and catching the bit in the horse’s mouth! While I’ve not done exactly that, I have experienced exciting and insightful moments related to riding and working with horses. I also look in the Local Level for the persons who have inspired me: poets, storytellers, gnostics, and horsemen. I can talk with them or read accounts about their challenges and advances.
          Maybe the nonsense theme connects with moving toward a more meaningful understanding of power. This archetypal theme often offers the organizing principle for my production: I could show the nonsense situation with Epaminondas, move through my difficulty with the Puppy Episode, go into the amplification with Jack and Luis, show the connection I have with horses, explore how I've learned more about engaging power with respect and subtlety, weave in Local Level cases where they best fit, and conclude with insights I'm reaching about the big questions related to transformational power. Possible development could show movement from "out of control" toward "cooperation."  I might link with our Big Question in Good Stories that relates to advancing Peace & Justice. Again, I might return to the use of playful images such as the final one shown below. Any digital media production is unlikely to "answer" a big-enough question; instead, further possibilities are glimpsed before the closing credits. This closing image comes from a story called "Horse of Power" that we'll soon engage:

* The link is to my telling of Epaminondas and Lazy Jack. I’ve also made a 5-minute Vimeo (available by request) that includes an audio recording of my mom telling the story to my three-year-old daughter. It also shows evolution of the text of the story from the earliest print source I’ve found, ~1907 Sara Cone Bryant. The illustrations used in the early versions and portions of the text are sometimes criticized. Insensitive handling of the story deserves to be critiqued. I have great respect for the story and for the transformations it’s brought to my life and to the people and profession I love.

** Appalachian versions of the English tale of Lazy Jack were almost certainly the source from which the Kentucky tale that Sarah Cone Bryant reports as the basis of her “Epaminondas.”