Story as Medicine
Great, wonderful, marvellous…
So, that means what exactly?
Renowned Jungian Analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in the book she is probably best known for – Women Who Run With the Wolves (more on this another time), titles her afterword Stories as Medicine, which is where I myself first came across the phrase but she talks more about how not to work with story and the responsibility of the practitioner (again, more on this another time), rather than what she means by the term.
The rise in popularity of shamanism has meant that more and more people are familiar with the use of the word ‘medicine’ outside of the doctor’s surgery or chemist’s queue, but it still doesn’t really help us with a clear definition as to how something that isn’t served up in a small coloured capsule or swigged from a dark brown bottle can do us good.
Ah, perhaps now we are getting somewhere!
Is something such as a story used as medicine about what can make us feel good? Make us feel better? If so, then in what way? What symptoms is it alleviating?
Still I feel this is jumping ahead a little, we are not done with what medicine means are we?
I read a great online article, about something else entirely, on the website for the School of Lost Borders (which in itself is such a great name) by John Davis PhD, where he said he wanted to work with the term medicine in the context of its original Greek usage which was as
‘guidance towards wholeness’.
Now it starts to make more sense, how something intangible like a story, or dream or shamanic vision can be a medicine for us. But hang on, how then did it get to mean a pill our doctors prescribe us to fix our problems?
The more I deepen my shamanic based practice, the more I realise that this is perhaps where we go wrong, we are not here to fix ourselves, there is nothing fundamentally at odds that needs mending. We are not faulty washing machines. But have we perhaps been conditioned to think that we are? It’s not a new thought to say we live in a society heavily biased towards making us think exactly this. If we are not pieces of machinery that need fixing, if instead we are wonderful, complex beings that have got a bit lost along the way then the idea of being guided back to our whole state makes much more sense.
Do we want to get bogged down here with more definitions, more analysis of what medicine means?
Maybe, or maybe it can wait for another time. Maybe like anything it’s good to just have a dip of our toes in the water before we dive straight into shifting our world views completely. Because this is in no way to say that conventional medicine, as most Western prescription drugs are known nowadays, do not serve a very important function, have a definite purpose. I am simply asking if perhaps there might be another way, how would it all seem different if we did not in fact need fixing but were mainly, mostly, just a little bit lost in the woods?
And now we find ourselves suddenly in the middle of a fairytale.
Because mainly, mostly, the prime character will find themselves in just this situation too. A little bit lost in the woods.
Because by closing our eyes, by hanging on the cloak tails of this prime character as it navigates it’s way around the menaces that lurk in the deep, dark forests, we can learn from them, be guided by them.
Maybe that’s where we begin to meet Stories as Medicine, maybe that’s where it starts to make sense after all. Maybe we were looking at it the wrong way around, it’s not about pinning down and defining the medicine, it’s about welcoming the stories as they speak to us, allowing them to guide us to our whole selves without overthinking what they offer.
Stories as Medicine is not about a rational understanding so much as a felt experience and a soul language so much older than our intellectual reasoning. It doesn’t want to necessarily be put in boxes, categories, neat containers for it is the container, the story itself is the structure that brings us, no offers us, a chance to heal.
Story doesn’t ask for our clever words or witty retorts, story just asks for our daring, our courage to step into the nest story offers. Story recognises where we are our most hurt and vulnerable and doesn’t question it’s belonging for a second, story understands all of what we are. All of what we have witnessed. All of what we try to lock away in a forgotten room in the dungeon.