Thursday, July 24, 2014

Stories From the Tribal to the Universal: An Authentic Process to Create Peace on Earth

Watching the escalating violence in Gaza and Israel these past weeks has been devastatingly painful for all of us who are connected to our hearts.

Hopelessness can be easy to succumb to in the face of such an overwhelming violent conflict that carries the history of tragedy that spans not only decades, but centuries. The issues of these two tribes, closely related, but with marked differences, is the archetypal stuff of legends, stories and unfortunately, ongoing conflict.

The issue of tribalism and tribal allegiance really does play out on the world stage. So many shake their heads and wonder, why does cognitive dissonance and lack of critical thinking run rampant through communities of otherwise compassionate, intelligent, progressive people? How do people get so polarized? How do we bring empathy for the perceived "other" into the conflict?

This is a theme and process I have been exploring for many years as a storyteller, coach and originator of a therapeutic monologue process. When I began doing this work, I was drawn primarily to stories of deeply personal matters like those of my late mentor, Spalding Gray. Spalding was obsessed with the minutia of life and his own inner process. He was a brilliantly entertaining storyteller who was able to turn many events of his life into engaging stories.. He spun stories of his life from a most intimate vantage point. And, he did let us in on some of his own family stories, namely, his Christian Scientist upbringing and the suicide of his mother.

His inspiration was my starting place. My first and third solo shows, Honeymoon in India and Pregnant Pause were confessional and intimate, both stories of archetypal personal journey's. They were both well received and as I embodied and released my own narrative, through the act of being witnessed in performance, I found my self expanded and more concerned with other's narratives. In essence, as I had honored and released my story, my own capacity for empathy and concern for others grew. I guess you could say, my soul expanded.

I have seen the process happen with other solo performers as well. Often, once the deep personal story is embodied, told and released, a desire quite naturally arises to offer the space for others to have that experience. As we are generous to ourselves in the expression of our own stories, the generosity moves into the world.

After this, I began working with groups of people to support them in sharing their experiences and claiming them onstage. These early groups were mostly people with cancer, though this shifted to include many others over time. When people share their personal and familial stories onstage, the audience becomes their tribe, encouraging, bearing witness, empathizing, crying, laughing and loving.

This in itself shifts the limitation of tribal experience to one religious, cultural or ethnic group. This begins to expand the concept of tribe to humanity, whether the individuals personally know each other or not. And, the performing, opening his soul to share the true story with the audience, offers the audience a similar experience. Their notion of tribe moves from the familial to include all they are sharing the stage with and the community of the audience bearing witness.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to work with Israeli, Arab Israeli and Palestinian teens who came to a peace camp here in New Mexico. When they arrived from their conflicted homeland, where all of their tribal conditioning had taught them to see each others as enemies, I knew that this work could be used in a more powerful way than ever. As the girls went through the writing and performance process together, tears were shed and once hardened opinions about each other were softened. A tremendous amount of trauma was processed as well. 

Interestingly, much of the trauma was not the girls own , but the trauma of their families. Jewish girls wrote of the trauma of their grandfathers and great-grandmothers who perished in Auschwitz or survived and made the journey to what was then, Palestine. Palestinians also told stories of their ancestors, including ones of having their land simply taken and being moved off it unceremoniously by Israeli soldiers.

The girls moved through their own tribal pain and listened to the others tribal pain, including the Arab Israeli girls stories of being torn between two worlds and cultures, never knowing how they fit into the equation.

By the night of the performance, they had each others backs, literally and figuratively. As they stood, with roses in hand at their standing ovation together, there were all the tribal stories represented and yet no tribal domination.

The very human tribal experience, as it had been seen, heard and honored, shifted from the emphasis tribal into the Universal.

As I directly experienced it, in the moment I cried and got chills. Right there, I understood viscerally,  that I was being shown an authentic path to peace.

For others interested in StoryHealers work ( here are the orders of healing necessary for true deep and sustaining transformation:

1) The personal story is told in an emotionally connected and embodied way. It is honored, shared and released.

2) The family story is told in an emotionally connected and embodied way. It is honored, shared and released.

3) The tribal story is told in an emotionally connected and embodied way. It is honored, shared and released.

4) Now, we can move into the Universal story. One which not only recognizes oneness among all people, but which knows it as it's own. This is a place which transcends the trauma and pain of ego based tribal separation and knows itself AS the other. Ultimately, it comes to know that there actually is no other.

From this place of both vulnerability and great strength, one can step up as a leader in the quest for peace.

And, any person who has experienced this transformation will speak out, no matter what the consequence, when violence, trauma and injustice is being unnecessarily instilled in ANY one tribe over the other. They will not be swayed down tribal lines where there actually is no genuine free will. People in this state often use rage, name calling, bullying, hate and victimhood to distract from their deep terror that they do not matter. Or that their families and tribes suffering do not matter. Underneath all the revenge patterns lies the same wounded heart that needs support to be set free to love. The patterns will continue to play out on the world stage, as long as there is an attachment to the tribal beliefs over the Universal experience of oneness and love.

When I began working with stories through solo performance and storytelling over twenty years ago, I had no idea of their actual power to change circumstances. First they changed my life, by empowering me in finding authentic expression of my experiences and learnings from those experiences. But then, I found that they not only changed me, but shifted beliefs in both audiences and the performers.

No matter how long it takes, I believe that creating spaces for individual and collective healing to happen is the only way long term peace and emerge. That is the place where our hearts can move beyond the rage and violence that keeps repeating itself as a default, the place where old traumas have not had the chance to heal and the place of pain and separation for billions on the planet.

Please join me in holding the space for the disparate stories in ourselves and others so we have the opportunity to transform toward peace in our souls, embodied on earth~

In love to all~

A footnote: If all goes well, I will be taking the StoryHealers process to the West Bank and Haifa to work with theater artists on both side of this tribal story unfolding. With the escalating violence in the region, I ask you to hold everyone there in your hearts with good will toward all people. My team and I will be keeping you posted on the progression of the project and if the circumstances make it possible for us to go be in service to the stories....every human life matters.