Stories are acupuncture for the soul.
Before I unpack these six words, let’s acknowledge that not all stories work in this way. We’re referring specifically to what I call ‘sacred’ stories. The ones that go beyond a well structured narrative to touch something deeply human, a piece of the universal consciousness that lives in all of us. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, describes these stories as ones that cause ‘the teller to laugh or weep. . .to feel suddenly stabbed or invigorated with some odd fiery notion.”
There’s nothing wrong with the other type of stories, those that glide gleefully along the surface. But they aren’t the ones we’re talking about here.
Now, I’m not an acupuncturist by any means, but my understanding is that acupuncture works by stimulating energetic meridians or pathways located throughout the body. The practitioner examines the patient, listens to their concerns, then expertly inserts thin, finely wrought needles into the exact spots necessary to get stuck energy moving. The result can be profound releases of tension, emotion, and toxins from the body and a realignment of the body’s systems.
Well wrought stories function similarly for both the teller and the audience.
The process of building and shaping the story, molding and honing it, gets stuff moving in powerful, sometimes uncomfortable, ways for the storyteller. As the story develops over time and the storyteller shares it with audiences, the discomfort gives way to a sense of empowerment and acceptance.
The acupuncture effect really comes into full bloom when the storyteller shares the story with an audience. The emotions the storyteller conveys, the personal details, the structure and the humor all combine to create a deep resonance with the audience. As the listener’s brains move into sync with the storyteller’s (there’s amazing research on this here), the story can penetrate the listener’s heart and release long pent up energy. Through the storyteller’s art, the listener can receive healing of their own.
It’s one thing to write this as a description. It all sounds so easy–just find the story, grit through the fear and resistance, share it, and acupuncture all of the souls.
It’s another to go through it.
The first time I shared a ‘sacred’ story, I was absolutely terrified. I’d been telling stories publicly for a couple of years at this point and had developed a certain amount of facility with storytelling. I knew how to get the audience on my side, entertain them, elicit a few ‘awws’ or cringes in the case of some of the spicier stories, and go on my merry way.
This was different.
I’d felt it in writing the story, a tale of ill-fated love and a doomed marriage proposal. As I’d put the story together, old emotions had come up. I found myself fidgeting, frequently getting up to do the dishes or just pace around my apartment. My dreams were odd and sometimes discomfiting. Memories I hadn’t thought of in the ten years since the incidents in the story occurred returned in force.
Thought it all, I knew on a gut level that I had to tell this story.
On the night of the performance, I felt tight, stuck in my throat, and clammy. I tried to warm up, but mostly just succeeded in ratcheting up the nerves and nausea. When I took the stage, I looked out at the audience, took a deep breath, and simply started speaking.
Within moments, I could feel the room lean forward. They engaged on a deeper level than I’d ever felt before. Their laughter came from a sense of recognition, from seeing themselves in my experience. At some moments they gasped, at others they cried out ‘NO!’ It was amazing.
Even more amazing was the response afterwards. People approached to thank me for the story and to share stories of their own. In excavating my own experience and delving down to the core, to the soul level, I had freed something with them and given them permission to share themselves in a new way.
The end result made all of the discomfort worth it. There’s no better feeling than revealing a part of yourself to the world that has been a source of fear, shame, or has simply been buried for years and having it be embraced by a group of strangers. In that moment, the strangers become community, they become family. In that moment, the story becomes acupuncture for the soul.