December 10 – Questions Put to the Sick – IV – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
“When was the last time you listened to the stories of others?” Question put to the sick by a Native American Medicine Man
I found myself in a psychodrama group that met every other week for two years. I didn’t have any idea what psychodrama was and would never have tried it, except that the man who led the group was a sage to me. I knew he had more to teach me, and I had vowed to myself to participate in whatever he was doing.
It turned out that psychodrama was a process by which we each took turns bringing to life a part of our inner story in the hope that by acting out dreams or current conflicts or unresolved pieces of our past, we might with each other’s help unfold some wisdom that would help us live our lives.
I didn’t want to go first, and it was several weeks before I found the courage to take my turn. At first, I thoughtI’d just wait on the perimeter and watch how this would all unfold. But unexpectedly and with great gravity, I began to see that each person’s story, no matter how different from my own, would suddenly be about a part of me that I’d never given voice to.
I discovered that taking part in another’s dream or conflict or unresolved past was just a deeper way of listening, a deeper way of being present. The reward for such deep listening was the incredible honor of first witnessing a living model of human courage, and then finding comfort and healing in the surprise that our stories are really all the same.
It seems the ancient Medicine Men understood that listening to another’s story somehow gives us the strength of example to carry on, as well as showing us aspects of ourselves we can’t easily see. For listening to the stories of others—not to their precautions or personal commandments—is a kind of water that breaks the fever of our isolation. If we listen closely enough, we are soothed into remembering our common name.