"The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King"
Act II, Scene ii
Gillian Stamp recently recalled a telling conversation she held with a miner in Papua New Guinea, after listening deeply to him, the miner said "Thank you for letting me hear my story and giving it back to me as a tool I can use to attend to my future". Listening to our own and each others stories is more than a flight of fancy, the miners response peaks deep into the joy and angst of our human condition.
Whether it was the age of letters, sitting in a circle around the fire, on vacation in the company of complete strangers or making our presence felt in facebook or myspace.com, the need to be heard and to be acknowledged is core to our very being, being heard is our social spine.
Gillian reminds us of our four journeys and the importance of being in "flow" through our lives. The concept of flow was uncovered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly’s research of highly creative people across all fields of human endeavor suggested that happiness is over-rated. It is difficult to be happy because the universe is not built for our happiness.
While religions and mythologies have been created to provide some security against this fact, first-hand knowledge cruelly reveals this truth again and again. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that it is best to think about the universe in terms of order and chaos (entropy), not happiness and sadness.
The key is not to uncover the essence of happiness but to simply listen to our intuition, listen to our own experience without judgement, to examine what is happening around us when we and the people immediately around us are fulfilled or in a state of ‘flow’ .
The state of 'flow' occurs when we are engaged in a creative unfolding of something larger than ourselves; athletes call it 'being in the zone', actors talk about being 'in the moment', lovers talk about 'bliss', the mystics have described it as 'ecstasy', and artists as 'rapture'.
Flow is the illusive moment of truth when we are self aware but not self concious, we are so consumed with a challenge that we allow our magical powers take over to the point that we end up suprising ourselves with the gifts we bear to the world.
During my work at NPR, Dana Davis-Rehm introduced me to the phrase “trusted space”. A trusted space suggests a sacred place that we all share and within which we are allowed and allow ourselves to be completely true to ourselves and each other.
This is another space where we discover flow, when we listen to each others stories without judgment or precondition, when we open ourselves wholly to another person and are completely enraptured in their story rather than their telling of it, we discover flow.
The story telling business is a booming sector, Hollywood and Bollywood consume themselves and us with as many stories about themselves as much as they do with stories from outside the industry, book sales grow at a time when everything was meant to have become electronic, magazines and radio shows flow with the endless stream lives that we can touch and enter in an instant. Flesh that perished many hundreds of years ago becomes our skin the minute we dip our head into their story.
What is a funeral? It is a tapestry of stories that made up a life. What is an anniversay, a marriage, a party? All these are the trusted spaces where we share and discover our story through the story of others. and perhaps if we listen deep enough, we will encounter the Truth inside these trusted spaces.
I was very fortunate meet Mihaly several years ago during a conference at Harvard. Late in the afternoon Francis Fukuyama took to the stage to talk to us about trust. Fukuyama began to wax lyrical about how certain races are more trusting than others, Mihaly’s face turned raspberry red. Then Fukuyama explained that there are only three races that are high in trust, these are the German, American and Japanese race, and this explains why their economies are so strong. Mihaly got spitting mad. He turned to me and asked me “What is this fool talking about?”.
Mihaly stormed out of the hall. I followed him out. In the empty corridor he paced back and forth as the drone of Fukuyama's presentation continued to boom from the hall. Mihaly told me that this was precisely the crazy thinking that had laid bare and destroyed so many beautiful lives in Eastern Europe and in so many sacred places throughout hisory and throughout the world.
These were the eloquent lies that deaden peoples intelligence. But his wrath was not directed at Fukuyama who he described as an "imbicile" but he was angry at the placid audience who sat there, passively consuming Fukuyama nonsense, accepting his rhetoric as if it were a sanctified balm being laid upon their sleepy heads. This was the opposite of flow, this was dead time when no story was being told, no truth was being revealed, time and life were ticking away without consequence.
Our stories are sacred. When we hear the voice of a young American solider, a grieving Iraqi mother or the victim of a far off storm, tell their story on NPR, CBC or the BBC, our hectic lives are put on hold. The pause button allows us to be present in the moment, to be part of a story that is bigger than the petty grief of our daily grind.
Every life is a story that contains many moments of truth, moments of flow.
When we relive our own story through a photograph, joke, video clip or long lost love letter we are in touch with a divine thread that runs through our humanity and connects our experiences as a set of universal, timeless themes.
When we listen to someone elses story, we enrich our story by honouring them with the gift of presence.
"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."
As You Like It
Act II, Scene vii