Story-telling has been an important spiritual element of every culture and civilization throughout human history. Although we no longer sit together in small groups, sharing our stories and using the transformative powers of oral narration to teach, explore and reveal otherwise hidden aspects of our inner worlds, the tradition remains—albeit, in a diluted form, within such contemporary medium as films, books and television.
Despite the lessening in popularity of one-to-one story exchanges, there are some spiritual teachers in the World today who use the medium of storytelling to initiate change and transformation in the psyche of their listeners.
Laura Simms is a spiritual teacher and advisor who has dedicated all of her professional life to telling stories within the intimacy of a close listening circle to powerful effect.
In her book Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytelling she describes the role of the storyteller as
the medium who reconnects us to the dreamer within ourselves.
This is an important categorization of this once universally understood principle that
The storyteller is a mnemonic device to remind us that, all day, we are constructing tales of how we would like to see our past, what we think we are doing in the present, and how we fantasize it will be in the future.
Clearly then, the role of the storyteller is important to the general health and well-being of those caught up in its magic and mystery.
It is this perhaps more than any other aspect of storytelling that emerges from the pages of Our Secret Territory.
The book begins with an account of how the storyteller guides us into an unseen realm. This may develop as a natural consequence of the story being told but invariably is more of the result of the narrator’s vocal skills.
The story of how the author was drawn into the world of storytelling—worthy of a book in its own right—is followed by a look at the mythical and mysterious world of dreams—that rich and fertile area of the psyche where the theme of any story resonates.
Laura Simms’ talents as a storyteller have taken her all over the World. In the chapter of her book, titled ‘T’Boli Dreaming’, she describes a visit to the Phillippines and tells of the many rich traditions of the occupants of the islands—all of which were clearly maintained as a way of protecting their sacred knowledge. Their stories are recognized and credited with being a vital part of this process.
In a notable contrast, the author then describes her use of the story in the more contemporary setting of a school classroom—though, she openly admits that, generally speaking, the social structures for the joint sharing and enjoyment of transformative storytelling no longer exists in our hectic world. This is sad for, as the author correctly states,
In telling stories, we nourish ourselves and our world.
Over a number of subsequent chapters, Laua Simms reveals some aspects of her personal life and the difficult times during which she invoked the mythic spirit of the story as a resource for healing herself as well as the souls of others caught up in the horrors of Israeli bombings in Jerusalem in 1994, high school students caught up in violent racial conflicts in Chinatown, New York and during the civil war in Sierra Leone.
Given the horrors of the world of which the author has been witness, it is perhaps not surprising that the importance of listening… of connecting to the ideas and thoughts of strangers and perhaps even enemies… should figure in the book as well her therapeutic work with youngsters, many of whom she taught to listen through the use of sounds.
In closing, Laura Simms completes the tale of the Hen and the Rooster, which weaves a thread throughout the book. It is a story that eventually reaches a point of resolution and explanation as the publication arrives at a conclusion.
As a narrative Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytelling gives the impression of being a book that was breathed into life rather than having been written in an orderly and pre-formulated way.
Is this the hallmark of a skilled storyteller? I suspect so for the book itself operates more as a commentary on the life, loves and experiences of its author than an exposition of storytelling as an art-form.
Personally speaking, I thoroughly enjoyed this approach to the subject. With the personal reminiscences of the author as a storyteller, the examples of how powerful an impact that storytelling can have upon the listener as well as the frequently interwoven examples of stories used to illustrate the book’s more more salient points, it is an engaging read throughout.
Despite the fact that the book is so autobiographical, it contains no sense of anything other than humility, compassion and a genuine appreciation of the power of storytelling.
Other writers may strive to make great capital out of their humanitarian achievements but Laura Simms gives the impression that she realizes the World is a grander and more fragile place than her own egotistical concerns.
Thus, the issues that she raises appear more pressing and significant when expressed through her own distinctive writing style than might ordinarily be the case.
As she herself might say: the story is always bigger than its teller!
Our Secret Territory is a comforting reminder that the transformative power of the epic tale is alive and well and safely contained within the secure hands of storyteller Laura Simms. Her own take on the subject, as well as her dedication to improving the fortunes of her fellow man, radiate magnificently through its pages.