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Moggy's Tale: A Story Coaching Journey
by Michael Williams, PhD,
Co-Editor of Therapeutic Storytelling
Editor's Note from Michael Williams: Story coaching is more than just learning techniques and skills. It's about diving deep into your inner ocean of experiences to discover your dreams, demons, and desires. It's about exploring that inner landscape of story and memory. It's about releasing your inner storyteller and sharing who you really are, telling the stories that need to be told. This story is based on an actual experience although the names have been changed. Over and over I am struck by the courage of people to become vulnerable, to find their voice and become themselves.
A middle-aged woman—a former librarian—stands before us, takes a deep breath, looks us in the eye and begins. Over the next five minutes she tells a story of a cat. The cat once belonged to her, in another place, in another time. Then the cat died. End of story.
Ok, to do her justice there were a few more details but it was more anecdotal than a story. Something doesn't feel right. This, I think to myself, is not the story she wants or needs to tell.
First, I ask her if she would like some feedback. “Yes,” she nods nervously. I then ask the other four members of the group to offer Jean (not her real name) a 'golden moment', a moment in Jean's telling that touched or impressed them in some way.
Silence as they shift about in their seats. Suddenly, Greg says, “I'm not really a 'cat' person but I got the sense you had a strong attachment to your cat.”
Jean looks down at the floor.
“I liked how you looked at us at the beginning of the story,” says Claire.
“Your voice is strong,” offers Jim, “and you don't wave your arms all around like I do.”
A ripple of laughter, then silence.
When it seems there's no more to come I ask Jean what she liked about her telling. She reflects for a long time, searching for something, then says, “I was going to tell a different story, I'm not sure why I told you that one . . . it just came into my head.”
“Maybe it's a story that needs to be told,” I suggest.
“What do you mean?” she asks narrowing her eyes.
I ask Jean if she'd like some more feedback. Maybe we can help her find the answer to her question about where that story came from and why now.
The essence of story coaching is to create a safe enough space for tellers to share their story, to reflect deeply and to find the inner resources which will allow them to answer the questions thrown up by their story and their performance.
I've worked with dozens of men and women over the years—from beginners to professionals—and never ceased to marvel at the wonder of storytelling and its deep resonance with who we are. Jean's attempt to tell a story about her cat was an opening, a glimpse into her soul, but it also revealed a block, something out of reach. However, now that the door was open, it was time to see if we would be invited in.
Jean welcomes my offer of feedback and I begin by sharing my observations and intuitions. I point out that at no point in her story did she describe her cat in detail – what colour was the cat, what gender, how big – details that would allow us to picture her cat more clearly. Also, she never mentioned the cat's name, an odd omission when telling a story about a much-loved pet. She nods and murmurs curiosity. I'm curious too and have an idea which I offer her.
“Jean,” I begin, “are you willing to try something?”
“Yes,” she replies.
“I want you to retell the story but this time I want you to begin by holding your beloved cat. Stroke him, call him by name. Make a connection. Show us, don't tell us.”
Jean begins retelling the story, cradling her cat in her arms, this time calling her cat by name – Moggy – stroking him affectionately and whispering her love for him. She describes Moggy in detail, his colour, his markings, his habits, how he would jump into her lap at night and comfort her. The story is funny and touching. The group leans forward, captured by her tale. As she nears the end of the story, she reaches that part of the story when Moggy became sick and died. The words catch in her throat. She pauses, closes her eyes. Then the tears come.
Jean's grief is released.
Understandably, the group move forward to comfort their colleague. I motion for them to sit, to hold the space for Jean, to allow her to find the inner resources to meet the pain, to grieve for her lost friend.
Jean takes the time she needs and finishes the story. There's not a dry eye in the room. The story has touched all our hearts.
Jean's story of her beloved Moggy was a tale that needed to be told. Jean explains that until now she feels she has never grieved for his loss. Life had been too busy. She was alone and afraid of the pain, felt that it would weaken her, maybe consume her so that she couldn't work.
She thanked us for giving her this opportunity to grieve, to be held in a space where she felt respected and accepted. “I also want to thank you,” she adds, “on behalf of Moggy, for no one might have known about him if you had not given me the chance to tell his story.”
Jean's story is just one example of the scores of tales I've had the privilege of witnessing. Story coaching is a journey, a deep exploration of your psychic landscape, filled with many encounters – with departed friends, past selves, ghosts, demons and dreams – as well as connections with a myriad of story characters, themes and narrative patterns. Most of all, it's an invitation to meet your “inner storyteller”, acquire and practise skills and techniques, gain the knowledge and appreciation of one of humankind's oldest art forms. The story coach is an ally, a guide, a soul friend on one of the most exciting journeys one can make – the voyage to becoming an authentic storyteller.
© Michael Williams 2013
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About the Author
Michael Williams is a professional storyteller, story coach and narrative consultant. He works with individuals, small groups and organisations using storytelling to improve communication skills, literacy, leadership, health and well-being and community building. Michael is the host of the popular radio programme "The Teller and the Tale" on Blues and Roots Radio (www.bluesandrootsradio.ca). He is also the co-founder and facilitator of the “Narrative Approach to Transformational Leadership” programme for the Aberdeen Leadership Forum and co-editor of “Therapeutic Storytelling”, part of the All Things Healing online community. Michael is available for workshops, trainings, 1-to-1 work, talks and performances. He currently makes his home in Findhorn, Scotland. For more information, go to http://michaelwilliamsstoryteller.blogspot.com or contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.