The best way to survive an extremely hot summer is to leave home, go to a cold and rainy place, feel miserable and regret it.
But also, in the process, have an amazing experience and come back with a legendary treasure.
This could be the short (unofficial) description for “The Heart of the Story“, which was first and foremost an Erasmus+ training course based on the social and political impact of storytelling.
The course was hosted & realized by Steve, Mafalda, Bara and yours truly, who is here to tell the story.
One of the most fascinating aspects of “The Heart” was the location. We were hosted in Newbold House, a completely restored Victorian house in northern Scotland. An amazing place: just by bein there, many of us felt as if we were in a Jane Austin or a Harry Potter novel.
But that is part of the problem, see?
Storytelling can leave such a permanent mark on our collective mind. Many of us had the feeling we “knew” the place, even before we were there. We were feeling already familiar with it, so it was a lot easier to develop an emotional connection.
And this is what happens with all the stories we love. But what about its opposite? Maybe sometimes we find it hard to feel empathy and connection for a place, person or people, just because we never heard stories associated to them?
This concept is at the base of a very famous TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about “the danger of the Single Story”. Should I post the link to the video? Awww, yes, let’s post it.
It describes very well how the dominant ideas associated to a particular group or culture depend directly on the power of the stories that describe it. What do we know about “Africa”? And why do we know it? Who has been telling the African stories we know?
If the only things I ever heard about a whole continent are civil war, starving children and desert landscapes, Africa for me will be those things, and those only.
(which, by the way, it is NOT: Africa is a big continent, more than 1 billion people living in 54 different countries. So please let’s stop saying “people from Africa”, for starters. We can all do a little better than that!)
Anyway, back to the topic.
The 1-week course was a master class in Storytelling, as we worked on story structures and models,
communication, reading, drawing & comics,
cinema, a bit of poetry,
long walks and activities in the Scottish nature.
We made sure to include a strong phase of “personal challenge” in which participants could decide how to spend a whole afternoon (and possibly the night, or part of it) outside, in complete isolation, exploring their connection with Nature, setting a question for themselves – and waiting for some answers to come. Why? Because that’s how great stories are born. From an unexpected challenge, exotic places, stepping out of our neutral, familiar sphere.
Did the answers always come? Yes, no, does it really matter? People applying for a course on storytelling are not there necessarily for a challenge, or a life changing experience. If it happens, it’s a bonus – but what we wanted to achieve was to develop the capacity to recognize the value of challenges; to understand that inspiration is a kind of magic which often needs powerful emotions (not necessarily positive) as trigger; and to reflect on how stories can inspire us and others to positive change.
What really matters is that the day after the personal challenge we had some incredible adventures to share. Tales of transformation, full of creativity, honesty, courage and vulnerability. We were able to get to “the heart of the story”, and they in turn, were able to reach our own heart.
A strong program element was given to the transfer (“The Journey back home”), and how to apply our learning to the social and political context of our communities. In times like ours, the political value of our work is extremely important, and we invested a lot of time trying to understand the mechanisms behind hate speech and fake news,
and working on how to contrast the narratives of hate and violence, possibly building counter narratives just as strong, or stronger.
The program was very rich,
and included also more than our usual mix of theater activities,
a few memorable performative storytelling sessions,
and a lot of experiential learning.
and of course, sharing a lot of resources.
Ah yes, there was also a wonderful cat. Because no story is complete without a cat.
And this one had something very special about it! Can you guess what it was?
A mention of honor has to go, of course, to the place that was hosting us.
Newbold House is very close to Findhorn, a characteristic village in Moray (northern Scotland) that looks like this:
This fact alone could be enough, but Findhorn is also the location of the famous Findhorn Community (and College), which is – for lack of better words:
a dynamic experiment where everyday life is guided by the inner voice of spirit, where we work in co-creation with the intelligence of nature and take inspired action towards our vision of a better world. We share our learning and way of life in experiential workshops, conferences and events that take place within a thriving community and ecovillage.
It was born in the 60s as a retreat place for
hippies people who were looking for a more sustainable and authentic lifestyle, and over the course of the years it has become the center of a thriving social, spiritual and scientific community.
Findhorn is an incredibly inspiring place in which every corner can reveal surprises, and where many stories of transformation converge and are born.
and hides many secrets, for the explorer willing to discover them:
stories from people willing to share them,
As well as natural places of great inspiration, which offer spiritual (and physical) recovery to all those willing to find them.
And this my friends and readers, is what “The Heart of the Story” has been.
An exploration of what are the core reasons that can inspire our life, motivate us to do our work and have a lasting, positive impact around us.
In other words, “Storytelling”.
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