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The stories that transform

When dealing with human difficulty, the language of story always seems to land with more force than a ‘logical’ explanation.

The following quote was always one of my favourites to share during workshops on self-kindness:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rainer Maria Rilke

The mindful way to become more resilient is not to fight our dragons, but to lean in and listen to them, with kindness.

This is so much easier said than done, but over the years I’ve been sharing this approach, I’ve noticed that what helps people the most is not my skill at explaining ‘how you do it’.

It is, instead, my willingness to tell stories.

The kind of stories I’ve told (in classes and in blogs) have been about my own struggles – with anxiety, and grief, and vulnerability, and all those other tricky human energies.

I realise now that these stories have had the same effect on others that reading fiction has for me: when we encounter someone else’s story of meeting the inner dragon (or the inner warrior), it gives us the opportunity to ‘try on’ a new way of being, the courage to imagine new possibilities for ourselves.

I’ve also discovered that writing stories (as a personal practice, rather than a ‘professional’ endeavour) can teach us a lot about living our own hero’s journey. When I write fiction – stories about people who are not me – it’s as if they extend a hand, an invitation, to see if I’m willing to follow where they lead.

My story collection The Girl Who Survived grew out of my fascination with what happens when we have to let go of our known, familiar ways of being in the world.

These tiny stories taught me so much while I was writing them, and I’m really pleased that Retreat West are sharing them in an anthology with two other novelettes-in-flash – because I suspect that readers will find their own meanings in there, ones I’m not even aware of.

If you’re curious about these type of stories, you can find out where to buy the Monsieur anthology on the Retreat West website (I write fiction under the pen name Dawn Siofra North). If you’re wondering what the heck a novelette-in-flash is, (or what any of this has to do with mindfulness), I’ve talked a bit about that on my Flash Fiction page.

The importance of stories and the imagination is also explored in this talk from Marina Warner on the power of the fairy tale.

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