Story telling

There’s a little group of ten year olds I’m currently teaching on a Tuesday afternoon, and as part of the contract evolving between us, they will try the asana and the pranayama and the Being Still (above all, the Being Still, please!) and in return, I read them stories from the Little Book of Hindu Deities by Sanjay Patel, which I adore, and so do they. It has the most beautiful pictures. So this week I was talking about Hanuman (First Among Monkeys), and how he jumped into the sky as a baby and started to swallow the sun. As sometimes happens, one child frowned and asked this week: “But is the story real?” “Well, stories can be true without being actually real, I think. They can tell us real things, and tell us things in magical ways, without a monkey actually thinking the sun was a juicy ripe mango, can’t they?”

Because of course, stories are true. They make us sad and angry, blissful and delirious. We can cry over their endings, and be inspired to greatness by their challenges. The stories we tell ourselves as a culture are vital, and strongly contested – even censored. Some stories we know to be true instinctively as soon as we read or hear them. They bury themselves deeply in heart after heart and become part of the language we use with each other. In an increasingly networked world, that process can be faster than ever. The right story becomes a gospel, creating new gods in the retelling. The right story can open minds and bring about revolution.

What are the stories we tell ourselves? What are the stories we allow others to tell us? What are the stories being told to the children of our tribe?

Within the yoga community, some of those stories are changing. Some of us are tired of endless stories of health, wealth and wellbeing coming effortlessly to the fingertips of folk who practiced enough, or held the right alignment, or were truly devoted  or were really clear about what they wanted or, gods forbid, had the right karma from a past life. We’re noticing how many of the storytellers are well off, white and able-bodied, and we’re wondering if they had so very much wrong with them in the first place. It’s too reminiscent of all those people who did a few months stint in a low-level position in a company when young and then worked very hard and grew wealthy because as well as working very hard, they also had the right face and family connections in the middle of a booming oil economy. And now they tell us stories about how if anyone just works hard enough, in some low level service job, and has enough talent and drive, that person can do just as well as they did.

What I find a real lack of is stories where a tribe finds joy and fulfillment in owning less, and real community spirit blossoming to the challenge of fossil fuels running out. Or stories of multi-armed single mother goddesses who can feed a baby, walk the dog, and work two jobs at once in a whirl of grace and elegance. And I need in regular doses, stories of magic, and wonder, of hope and inspiration, of all kinds and in all forms. So, here’s just a few of my most precious inspirations when the world is grey and drudgery, and magic feels very far away. When you find one, I truly belive it’s your duty to pass it on.

  • The story of Parvati in her bath, currently travelling like a virus on yoga’s strong oral culture – teacher to student; woman to woman; tribe to tribe – begun by Angela Farmer, committed to paper in Uma Dinsmore-Tuli’s brand new (launching Saturday) Yoni Shakti, and told over and again by womb-friendly yoga teachers in classes all over.
  • The growing culture of community and support around what Americans are calling ‘Body Positive Yoga’. Just one such personal story here (and how awesome that she never did lose those last 20 pounds).
  • The Dark Mountain project, which shows promising small shoots in its exploration of a culture of civilisational descent.
  • The always beautiful Earth Pathways diary, for day to day, domestic joy.
  • Scott Lynch’s ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’ – part of the Gentleman Bastards series and a belly-filling, heart-stopping tale of gutter-born thieves working with a (black, single-mother) pirate captain and her crew to escape the viciously corrupt attentions of the wealthy authorities. This book is dangerous in the best way. It reminds me that good little girls who mind their manners get exactly what they ask for – in other words, very little.
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