Now that I am teaching other people what I do, I am becoming clearer about what the essential elements of this work are.
Probably the core of it all is relationship, an inner relationship and a sense that I am in communication with something that is not limited to my conscious mind, that has a larger context than my own individuality.
I have been in relationship in this way since the stories first started flowing, and there is something about this experience that I feel is so important to name: I feel actively loved, like a wave of love is washing through me. That has been my consistent experience with this relationship, and has a significant effect upon how I see what I’m doing.
I can have all kinds of ideas about this relationship, and I’ve had quite a few over the years. But formative has been the experience of being loved. When I open up to this relationship, there is a sweet response, I can feel it now. My heart glows and fills with love, a sense of expansiveness comes to me and it is as if the context in which I operate widens, deepens.
The experience of being loved has grown through the years in which I have pursued this work, and now is a source of great delight to me. I spend an hour every morning seeking (and usually finding) a pleasurable alignment with it, and once a week I sit and write a “dialogue” with this presence, asking questions and receiving answers. I prize this relationship as highly as those most precious to me; my family, my dearest friends.
And that sets it in context for me. Because, I also have a sense of living my life as best I can, of suffering and getting stuck, and then getting unstuck and keeping on going. This relationship has not transformed my whole way of functioning, but I have travelled so far with this loving companionship that my experience of life is very, very different now from what it was before.
And this relationship has a purpose with me, it comes with a persistent, powerful purpose – to tell these stories. That is what is going on here. That is, in a way, the deal. I feel myself to be a channel, through which this love is desiring to express itself to the world. The satisfaction that I feel when I know that I have been true to this purpose goes very deep. The more people hear the stories I tell and are touched by them, the more that satisfaction grows.
But it’s not quite a personal satisfaction, it’s a knowing, deep down, that this love has found it’s mark, that I have been the channel for this beauty and wonder to express itself in the world.
The stories themselves speak most eloquently of this, what I’m describing here is a recurring theme: personal fulfilment is found in aligning to a greater purpose, allowing the flow of loving service.
When I tell stories now, I am leaning heavily on this relationship. To begin, especially with an audience in front of me, with no idea of what I am going to say, I am trusting that a story will come. And as the story progresses and goes deeper, so too does my sense of inner connection. It needs to because there come moments where I can feel profoundly lost. Then I need to lean heavily into this relationship and trust what comes.
I also employ faculties that I have been developing for almost 20 years. Even before I began intuitive storytelling I was working with the skill of visualising a story inside as I told it, to bring it more alive for my listeners. Doing so made the story fresher each time I told it. When I began telling intuitively, this inner visualising was a key element in the story coming to me. The images roll, like an internal movie, and I am keenly observing what’s coming so that I know what it is that I need to describe next.
Another faculty that I employ is that of inner listening, one that I also began to practice several years before actually telling intuitively. In my mid-twenties I lived alone in a remote village in the South West of England. It was a period of retreat and seclusion that I felt strongly drawn to at that time. After about a year of this I began to discern a clear inner voice. It began by simply giving me practical advice, such as “stop eating, that’s enough,” or “go downstairs, there’s a letter waiting for you”. When I began telling intuitive stories, this inner voice became rather like the Prompt in the theatre – that person who has a full script and sits by the side of the stage, waiting for the moment when one of the actors forgets their lines. I basically don’t know any of my lines, and am in need of this prompt full time! From the moment when the story begins to the moment that it ends, I rarely can guess what is coming beyond the next thirty seconds or so. These days this voice also speaks to me somewhat like a Director, saying such things as “pick up the dulcimer” or “slow it right down now”. At times when I am uncertain of exactly what I’m being instructed to say, usually because the images are unusual or the plot surprises me, the voice becomes more insistent: “the old man pulls a snake out of the bag…. A Snake!!”
And I draw on my twenty plus years of storytelling to make it look like I know what is going on. People rarely notice the moments when I am completely lost as to what will happen next, or am beginning to get anxious about the story. I’m good at bluffing there, because that’s my job – to keep the story, not the storyteller, in the centre of the frame.
This might all sound very wonderful, this intuitive relationship and the work it brings me. Actually, to turn this around, imagine living with such a creative and spiritual urge inside you and not knowing what it wants of you? That was my experience from my mid teens until aged 21, when I found storytelling.
Even so, imagine having found work that is deeply meaningful to you, and yet after some years you find that it no longer satisfies you, as if you are missing an essential ingredient and yet have no idea where it lies. That was my experience from my mid twenties until aged 28 when my intuitive stories began.
Even so, imagine having received such a gift, and then finding that the world isn’t really all that interested in what you are doing, and proves pretty indifferent to everything you work at creating! That was my experience through most of my thirties, and it was pretty wrenching.
Throughout that period I was working at my delivery – whether in the studio recording stories on my own, or setting them to music in various forms, as well as (most exacting of all) seeking to give live performances that were both powerful and entertaining.
In the summer of 2009 I participated in a “grief circle”. This ritual, based on the work of Joanna Macey, aims to create a safe space in which people can face grief that they have lived with, but been overwhelmed by, for years. It aims especially to support people to move from a place of despair about the state of the world to a place of empowerment, moving their gift into action and doing what they can to create a better world.
Mid-way through I felt a pull towards the centre of the circle. I had no idea what it was that I was going to do or say, but as I knelt there, fingering the dry leaves that symbolise sadness, I felt it coming.
In my mind’s eye I saw children of all races, from all over the world. And I saw them ingesting a culture that was like a poison to them: stories from books, cartoons and television. And a grief welled up in me the like of which I have never known before. A grief born of deep compassion, and a thundering urge to give something better to those children. And yet it also did not quite feel personal. In its force and intensity it felt like something quite beyond me, huge and awesome, bursting through me. An urgent, unstoppable intention that children everywhere hear stories that will remind them of this sacred, universal energy of Love that animates the whole universe and is their birthright.
I began to physically shake and tremble with the power of this, and at one point I began to wretch, as if there was something stuck in my throat that I couldn’t get out. I wretched and writhed until I began to moan and then howl. I moaned and howled for I do not know how long, but I had the experience at one point of stepping to one side of myself and watching the whole thing, as if what was being expressed was deeper than what I would call “me”. More passion than I have ever known, and yet it was also in some deep way very familiar.
At some point, words came, although I could hardly speak them. They came out gasping, breathless, barely formed.
I fell over on the floor, heaving and uttering expletives. Later, when the circle had completed, I cried like a baby in the arms of a friend, who held me and said “my God, it’s a miracle you are still alive! To have lived so long with such a passion inside you!” I cried for having been so deeply seen, in how hard I’ve worked, and how hard it’s been, to have lived from a place of such passion without ever fully knowing what it wants of me.
In the year that followed I created Palace of Stories, my website for children, and recorded over 70 stories. I have never been so prolific, nor so purposeful, in my entire life. I put that down to the gift of experiencing, in a way that I could have no longer have any doubts about, exactly what Life wants of me.
This connection to purpose, and the deep longing that comes with it, is what moves me to keep doing this work.