Survival Story: Why Story Matters
by Esther Wane
For all of us the story of our lives took an unexpected turn over the early part of 2020. As I write this over 2.5 billion people are in lockdown (or on an unexpected exclusive retreat, as I prefer to think of it) as a viral pandemic moves across the globe. Many of us are in shock, or caught in one or more of the various stages of grief as the life we knew before the virus is lost to us.
Given the importance and extreme nature of this event, why am I writing about story – isn’t that all a bit frivolous right now? I’d agree that one of the purposes of story is entertainment. We all love to hear a good story, and our friends who tell the best or funniest stories are often held in a very special place in our hearts. But stories are more than that. Neuroscientists have shown that humans are story-making creatures. We use stories to make sense of our world, our life and even to transcend the everyday into a place of eternal purpose and meaning.
The Story Starts
When we enter into a story, there is an event or catalyst at the start that creates a change: a hero is called to action, asked to step out of what they know and into a new environment for something or someone that they love. By crossing the threshold, taking the leap of faith and going into this new place, they know they will be tested and face challenges. In fairy tales this is often described as going “into the woods”.
During these challenges they will need to draw on all their resilience and resources to achieve the outcome they desire. But they will not be alone. They will have a spirit guide pulling them towards what they care about, other heroes who are also navigating their own challenges, and they will discover inner wells of capability they didn’t believe they had.
Eventually, through trial and error, facing the edges of despair and finding the determination to continue in spite of their fear and pain, because their goal really matters to them, they will prevail. They will walk out of the woods reborn and remade by their adventure, and are then charged with telling others of their struggles overcome.
The Hero’s Journey
This is, in summary, the hero’s journey. It is the map of how we learn and grow as humans, set down in myth for thousands of years and used extensively in movies, books, and even songs that we devour hungrily. It is how we as humans not only survive, but understand how to thrive in even the most difficult of circumstances. And it is how we will overcome this current crisis.
We are all being called into a hero’s journey by the COVID-19 crisis. The world as we knew it has changed, shifted on its axis, and what is required of us has also shifted in turn. Some of us are working from home, some unable to work, some pulled out of retirement to return to caring professions, some trying to encourage children to learn at home, some volunteering to help the vulnerable in their local communities, some wondering how they are going to manage 12 weeks of isolation as they are shielded from the virus, some suffering at home or in hospital.
We Are All Heroes
All of us have crossed the threshold. We all find ourselves thrown into the woods and needing to find a way through it. We are all heroes now, and a hero comes in many shapes and sizes, from Thor to Nemo’s father, from Anna in Frozen to Elphaba in Wicked. We do not have to feel heroic to be heroes; in fact most heroes feel terrified for much of the time they spend in the woods.
Love Overcomes Fear
But they are not beaten by their fear. It does not stop them taking action towards what they love, what their heart truly desires. Our greatest question and our greatest discovery is this: what love do we have that is stronger than our fear? Of course we will have times where we want to fight, run or freeze because it all feels overwhelming, but those feelings will subside and there will be a flicker inside us, a light that glows, a small voice that says to us there is something we can do to make things a little bit better and grow that glow.
That is, then, what we can do. Guided by love we can create our own story of the crisis. Step by step we can use our resilience and resources to improve things for those we love. There will be times when we are absorbing what has not worked, held back by our sense of failure or worry, but then we can regroup and reconsider our next step, ready to continue on our journey.
Repeating this as we go, we can create a path for ourselves out of these woods and into the bright meadows of our future selves, heroes one and all.
About the author:
Esther Wane is a Creative Coach, Storyteller and Voice Artist.