When we believe that our biography is not special or flawless enough, when we reject our narrative because we feel we don’t fit, or sublet to someone else’s story to relate and belong, we run the risk of losing connection to ourselves, the eco-system we’d inherently belong to, and the land we inhabit. For many, the resulting lack of depth and interconnectedness leads into loss of meaning. And maybe it does so especially for the sensitive, complex, and existential among us. Fabienne Wydler explores how gifted & neurodivergent people can learn to uncover and follow their song of creation by unpacking their narrative.
by Fabienne Wydler
THE POWER OF HEALING THROUGH STORYTELLING
Carl Gustav Jung says that every person comes into this life with an inborn story and no person can live meaningfully unless they learn to live and grow that story. Without knowing much about Jung, or myself for that matter, I quite unknowingly started my quest to do just that when I got to the initiating age of having to choose a career. As a gifted multipotentialite, this seemed mission impossible, at least at first. Oh, how I envied those who knew what they wanted to become and had a clear vision of how their life would unfold! I only knew that I wanted to learn as much as possible about the world and humanity, but I didn’t know how to do that without having to bend into the tight container of social expectations. I decided to postpone the whole task and instead travel from my native Switzerland to West Africa. With a backpack full of naivety, adventurousness, and mosquito spray, I set out to find something that would give meaning to the prospect of now being an adult in a world that I didn’t know how to belong to.
After a few weeks of travelling the coast, I ended up in a small town in Mali. Exhausted from malaria and the hardship of travelling alone and on a shoestring budget, I coincidentally arrived in an old town’s neighbourhood of storytellers, the Griots.
The Griots are an ethnic group of professional storytellers, poets, and musicians. They are the narrators and keepers of oral tradition. Well respected by their tribes and for their knowledge, they are often called to mediate and help resolve conflict. They are believed to have a deep connection to spiritual powers and the wisdom of healing through story.
I felt like I had come home. I spend days and nights listening to drums that accompanied the stories of birth, death, battle, marriage and the inherited suffering and joy. I soon realised how everything is story, including our identities, our selves, how we see the world and what we give meaning and purpose to. And as the world and our lives are so much more complex than we can imagine and process, we have the ability to synthesize these complexities through narratives and to explain it all in ways we cannot articulate otherwise (at least not outside limiting linear structures).
The Griots’ storytelling art was in many ways a memorable demonstration of the power of healing through storytelling. As human beings, we all undoubtedly face trauma and loss in our lives. When this happens, we attempt to explain it in a story and give it meaning and purpose. This allows us to maintain a sense of continuity and empowerment. The Griots assist these processes by being the keepers of their people’s stories and traditions. And with their stories of human and other-than-human wisdom, they help people understand life and what it means to be human amidst suffering, joy, and choice. “Stories are the language of the heart”, I recall my Griot-teacher, Dieudonné, saying. “And the catalyst of change”, I would add today.
Dieudonné is French for “God given”; a name that felt intimately true considering the sacredness this initiating moment of connecting to my inner Griot held for me. Honoured by the experience and gifted with a gris-gris, a voodoo amulet for protection and good luck, I returned to Europe to embark on what became my own journey of professional storytelling.
THE NEED TO REMEMBER
What followed was a zigzag cruise through various forms of journalism. I got into reporting, some analytical and then editorial writing but what I enjoyed most, was a form of feature writing with deep journalistic inquiry called intimate journalism. The innermost glance into other people’s lives, their struggles and fears, joys and hopes was to me a great privilege to witness. The sharing of these stories was vulnerable indeed, but equally empowering for both the protagonists and the audience.
For many, living in silence is a burden to their body and soul. When we feel, remember, and tell our stories, we lift that shield of invisibility and build a bridge to reach a compassionate heart. This is a very empowering act that helps us to consolidate our experience and own our narratives. By connecting our stories with others, we infuse communication and offer an arch for learning and empathy for the world’s incredible diversity.
A relevant component here is the workings of our brain and hormone system when we hear or read a story. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter and hormone released in the hypothalamus region of the brain when we’re told a story. The “love hormone”, as it’s sometimes called, is generally helpful when it comes to empathising and creating deeper connections with others. It acts as a key signal to social creatures that it’s safe to interact. By doing so it stimulates teamwork and collaboration, which is essential to our social species for survival and happiness. But stories do not only teach empathy and keep us connected in social networks, they also give cognitive and emotional significance to experience. Telling and hearing stories is part of how we make the world. We learn about and form our belief system and truth through story. We discern how our inner value system correlates with the convictions of others and expand our own understanding by exploring how others see and understand the world through their lens. C. G. Jung suggests that through storytelling individuals are able to form a unique identity in a larger cultural and societal structure. And stories boost our creativity and help us to think beyond what we know; they give us a new venture point from which to contemplate the possible and eventually create it.
Sadly, intimate journalism was an art of human-interest writing that hardly got featured, and I had to work in other forms of storytelling to make a living. Though Public Relations and Corporate Storytelling secured my rent and pension, things started to feel thin and lacking and my soul eventually withdrew her approval of what I was doing.
By then, my inner landscape had turned into what felt like a dry desert. I found myself running in a seemingly ever-turning wheel of not feeling welcome and connected, of not feeling heard and seen. What was my life’s calling as a gifted… well, twice-exceptional, individual? I had already reasonably circled this question (and admittedly rather inclusively) when physical illness started to howl through my body. I realised that I had been walking outside my story for quite a while and that from here, it felt, I had only one choice left to move forward: I had to remember.
THE SACRED ACT OF ENTERING OUR NARRATIVE
When we begin listening to our own gifted stories, and when we give space to remembering, we offer narrative medicine to our soul. This medicine is best applied layer by layer. Think of archaeological work as we start digging through the sediments of our recent history. The uppermost layer holds our present individualised self and the masks we have tried to wear believing they would protect and connect us. This layer reveals our internalised narrative and how we show up in the world. As we spend time at this layer, we might find out more about our intentions and motivations that mirror the way we live and think. If you are new to giftedness, this might be a good place to reflect on how giftedness presents for you. If you have already looked deeper into how your giftedness manifests, you might be ready to find out how your life reflects the wisdom of your unique cognitive and creative identity.
In the context of this article, identity may be defined as the story we tell ourselves and share with the world. We have started to develop this identity in early infancy (if not before) as we heard and internalised stories about ourselves. And we continue throughout our life span to refine that life story as we tell and retell that narrative in our different phases of our personality development.
When we begin to think and feel about our childhood experiences and as they relate to how we perceive and process the world today, we reach the layer of our childhood tenderness. This level provides a wonderful opportunity to meet our inner gifted child and to explore what it has been waiting to share with us. We can think about how we relate to basic trust, gifted identity, and autonomy-building as well as our religious and spiritual experiences as highly sensitive and complex children. Here is also the place to remember the seeds of our creativity, our self-efficacy, and inborn generative initiative. The collection of sensual memories is among my favourite activities while digging here. My fabulously smooth stone collection, the hot chocolate after a day out in the snow and my soft furry friend waiting for me to return from school. The remembrance of these small, yet so memorably positive sensual experiences later helped me to re-connect to exiled parts of my differently-wired sensory gifted autistic system. These memories were the closest I could get to remembering my instinctual and undomesticated sides which tightly relate to what I call intuition. This discovery subsequently helped me to re-enter my story. But before we get there, let’s look at the next layer.
As we continue to unearth, it’s the cultural and historical context that we’ve been born into that waits for our exhumation. Culture holds all the stories ever told and is the guardian of our remembering. Our culture’s stories teach us morality and wisdom and help us create relationships with one another. And just like an individual, a culture has its own narrative and identity that is formed of all its lived and shared stories and connected to the manifestations resulting from these stories (books, buildings, religious sites, and so on). “What is my culture’s narrative?”, you may ask while digging this layer, “How does it foster specific values of (neuro)diversity and how does it regard giftedness?” Equally, it might be interesting to get curious about how your culture’s identity and tapestry has changed throughout historical time.
Quite inevitably, this leads to more questions to answer in the next layer as we continue further rooting into the ground. As we start to realise that we are not isolated variables swirling alone in the cosmos, we might want to dig a bit deeper to learn about ourselves as an integral part of a living web of current and past knowledge. Who was here before us? When we enter our ancestors’ narrative arcs – to learn about their gifts, their struggles, their legacy – we might not always understand these stories by cognitive force. Yet, I believe that these stories live in us. They live in our bones and in our blood; they are part of our cellular memory. And they are accessible. As we apply our narrative medicine to the bones of our ancestors, we’ll get to learn about their personal, cultural, and historical heritage and how it relates to us. What, individually and collectively, do we carry? What are the concerted wounds of our domestication and how can we, if we wish, re-wild our gifted selves while honouring who has walked before us?
As I am writing this, I look down on my keyboard, following my fingers to find the keys. My eyes linger for a moment on the ring I am wearing. It’s a gift from my Austrian grandmother whom I never met but often talk to. When I look at my only yellowed black and white photograph of her standing tall in trousers and heavy boots among Alpine rocks, she tells me of her younger years, when she was still healthy and strong enough to climb some of the highest peaks. Other mountaineers came to join her in her quest. From all over the world they came, she shares, and some received world fame for it, while she did not. She ended up guiding soldiers through the Alps in World War II and soon after died too early of a malignant disease. Lost in thought, I turn the ring on my finger. She was such a gifted woman, but perhaps born in the wrong type of body to receive the acknowledgement she might have deserved? I feel her bitterness penetrate my heart. Yet she kept her wildness and instinct as her soul’s medicine for me to remember.
HOMECOMING IN OUR STORY
The quest of tiresomely mining through such old, dark soil might be daunting. But we will be greatly rewarded when we arrive at the deepest layer of our archaeological journey, enthusiastically awaited. Here, in Mother Earth’s layer of story, waits the story of our homecoming.
“And we have begun to follow our longing, which reaches to us through our ancestral lines, right from the soul of the world,” writes Toko-pa Turner in her book Belonging – Remembering Ourselves Home. When I started my ancestral retrieval journey, I could have never imagined the changes this would bring. I got to discover so much intergenerational wounding embodied in my life! And I was offered so much to remember that had been forgotten or hidden out of necessity. “There is a wilderness in every person. A way of walking, a set of spots, an inclination, a blinking impulse that silently draws us forward,” Toko-pa Turner says. “It is through this instinctual nature that our soul’s medicine for the world flows. For many for us, however, this wilderness within has been so domesticated and harnessed for its resources that we barley recognize its call.”
When my grandmother passed her story on to me, she also gave me the remedy to heal. Her love for nature, her ability to live with the elements and the perseverance of that spark of instinct and wildness form such an important reference to my present understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings, my extended sensory self and what it means to belong. And I found out and can attest, that when we are here, in Mother Earth’s layer of story, in this freedom of non-separation, in touch and connection with all life and now with so much more grace for our story, it gets considerably easier to hear our soul’s calling. And as we summon the courage to answer this call and set out to create and tell that story, we let our song of creation unfold.
If “looking back to move forward” and finding your own songline is something you’d like to do for yourself, you are invited to join me in narrative coaching where we’ll set out to remember to assist your regenerative gifted story to emerge.
I am grateful to the following storytellers whose work informed and nourished my journey and this blog post:
Toko-pa-Turner, Lecture “The Knower in You”, Comox Valley C. G. Jung Society
“Belonging – Remembering Ourselves Home”, by Toko-pa Turner
“Insights at the edge”, Sounds True podcast with Jungian analyst and author Dr. James Hollis. “What is wanting to find expression through you?”
“Sand Talk”, by Tyson Yukanporta
“How to be Animal”, by Melanie Challenger
“Storytelling, Illness and Carl Jung’s Active Imagination: A Conversation with Dr. Rita Charon of the Narrative Medicine Program”, by Kelly Goss
“Healing the Mind through the Power of Story, The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry”, by Lewis Mehl-Madrona
“The Healing Power of Storytelling, Using Personal Narrative to Navigate Illness, Trauma and Loss”, by Annie Brewster with Rachel Zimmermann