Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fighting Demons with Compassion

Goddess Durga
18th Century, Author Unknown
Fighting Demons With Compassion
By Gaye Sutton © 2012

It was autumn; the time of year that one of my favourite poets calls the ‘sacred, sensual, significant time of the year’ 1 The trees were blazing colour, the sky grey and the harvest almost over.  I’d been telling stories at the Addictions Centre for three weeks, encouraging the women to paint and draw afterwards.  Some of them loved to paint and some struggled with their confidence.  But they all loved hearing stories.  The mornings were fun; they were an upbeat bunch, the women the Addiction Centre staff called their ‘chronics.’

But that fourth week; the atmosphere was dull and flat, everyone looked morose especially Janie and her mates.   The morning check-in took a long time.  Janie had ‘relapsed’ at work over the weekend. She sat with her blonde head bowed; her small frame huddled into the corner of the couch, her voice almost a whisper as she told us about the temptation, her attempts to resist and the caving in. 

During morning tea in the kitchen, talk turned to the hopelessness they all felt about ever losing the label chronic.

 “They [the staff], don’t expect that we’ll ever leave this group and I’m not sure I believe we will either,” one said and several heads nodded.  I leaned against the bench, remembering my despair about what I thought of as the impending end of the world and our apathy about it. I’d begun collecting re-creation stories, stories of hope to sustain myself and it seemed to me, that this was a moment for one of these.

Once everyone was seated on couches and chairs again I stood and began my story…”The world stood poised on the brink of destruction once before.

Rivers dried up, plants refused to grow. People starved. There was war everywhere.  Slaughter prevailed.  Dancing stopped, even singing was forgotten.  The asuras, the demons, were loose, raging unchecked across the world, drunk with destruction…”2

It’s a myth about the cosmic battle between Durga, who rode a lion out of a column of fire that stretched from the sky down to the top of the Himalayas, and the many, many demons she had to fight to save the world.  A battle so fierce ; “…oceans boiled, the sky stretched thin, the mountains shook…”

A powerhouse tale of an alliance between many of the Hindu goddesses and a reminder that the last fight is one we must win alone.  The atmosphere, when I finished, was electric and the women moved eagerly towards the art materials on the table and worked in deep silence. 

Afterwards, I asked each woman to tell us the story of her images, as I held them up and responded to each story by personalising the image.  Janie’s painting was of black mountains, covered in snow. A huge column of fire stretched from green foothills to the heavens. Durga stood in the flames, but her feet were planted firmly in the green earth.

“She’s got her feet on the ground and she’s in the flames, but fighting her way through, to save her world.” Janie said.  

I held the painting up to her and said, “This is you Janie, grounded in the earth and fighting the fire to save your world.”  It was a powerful moment and one that Janie referred to often in the weeks that followed. 

We moved back to the couches where I told a personal story about my discovery of  Kuan Yin, the Mother of Compassion in Buddhism, which begins with a powerful meditation recorded in Jon Blofield’s book: In Search Of The Goddess of Compassion’.

As the story ended, a discussion began; about spirituality as opposed to religiosity, their antipathy to the Twelve Step Programme because of finding a male God unacceptable.  It was a turning point.  Several of the women joined their local AA groups, taking feminine representations of the divine with them to meetings. It helped them stop resisting notions of the divine.   Some of them adopted Kuan Yin as a mother archetype and used her to make contact with their compassion for themselves.   When my stint at the service finished some had been sober longer than ever before. 

1.  Dinah Hawken.   Writing Home
2.   China Galland, The Bond Between Women :A Journey to Fierce Compassion

Gaye Sutton is a storyteller, Child & Family Therapist and Celebrant living under mountains in New Zealand on a small organic farm with her beloved Michael.  She likes to weave and spend time with her delightful children and grandchildren   She is currently the Convenor of Glistening Waters Festival of Storytelling Inc. and seeking committee members and willing souls to make another festival in New Zealand in the future.

She loves the way mythology; “informs and enlivens our daily lives,” and is always looking ‘for the links. Gaye can be found at  or on her blog .

Gaye Sutton is a guest blogger for Karen Chace and Catch the Storybug blog. All rights to this article belong to Gaye. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without her expressed, written permission. Of course, if you wish to link to the article Facebook or Twitter please feel free to do so. If you would like to be a Guest Blogger contact Karen at for the details.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weaving A Spell With Stories

The Storyteller
by Georg Bergmann, 1819-1870

Superlative Speakers Tell
Spellbinding Stories

by Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

Here's one of the phrases we heard often during our childhood: "Once upon a time."

We liked to hear the phrase, because those words signaled that a story was on the way. The theme of the story didn't matter much. Whether someone was going to read to us about the Arabian Nights, Snow White, or Red Ryder at Dry Gulch, we knew we were going to be entertained.

Now and then the story frightened us, but that was okay, because we were in a safe haven physically. Only our minds had wandered away, lured by heroism, mystical visions, or even romance reaching far beyond our understanding.

Do we ever outgrow our love of good stories? I think not. Novelists know we don't. Movie producers-not all, but the best ones-are aware they have to include more than action and scenery to captivate and hold audiences. An intriguing plot is a must for maintaining attention.

Superlative speakers tell spellbinding stories. Through stories, they awaken curiosity, paint dramatic scenes, and even cause us to laugh aloud-or fight back tears.

So whenever you get an opportunity to speak to an audience, keep the universal affection for stories in mind. True, audiences can endure statistics, quotations, and a litany of complicated material…but not indefinitely. Break up those arid passages with a spellbinding story. Listeners will stay with you, wanting to know the outcome.

A few years ago, a speaker at my civic club portrayed the military careers of five World War II fighter pilots. He recounted their missions. By offering biographical sketches, he made them sound like our next door neighbors. He described how some of the pilots became lifelong friends, and that they still enjoy reunions.

I remember that he got by with inadequate visual aids (too small for all the audience to see) because his stories were so vivid. We became absorbed in the scenes he painted verbally.

You don't hear the phrase much now, but we used to refer to master storytellers as "raconteurs." Though the name has faded, the skill remains valuable. Probably you're aware of some speakers who specialize in storytelling, referring to themselves as storytellers and not as speakers. I vote for abolishing the distinction. To achieve widespread success in speaking, you'll have to include forceful stories.

You can even share stories in a stodgy business setting. Business and industry people love compelling stories. How else could we explain the popularity of "roasts," when even fictional stories enliven the evening? Usually, the true ones amuse us, too, and deepen our appreciation for the individual we are honoring.

Keep in mind the following guidelines for including stories in your speeches:

Stories must be credible. We can stretch an audience's imagination, yet we cannot stretch the truth.

Stories must be ethically acceptable. We cannot ridicule ethnic groups, nationalities, the elderly, or individuals with physical limitations.

Stories must be fresh. Nothing turns an audience off more quickly than a story that has made the rounds too many times. Avoid telling a story you read on the Internet, no matter how good it is, because chances are good your listeners have spotted that story a few weeks ago.

Stories are relevant. They are not told for their own sake, but to reinforce your theme or a specific point. Always show the connection clearly.

Is it all right to share your personal stories with audiences? Certainly-for stories about your life experiences create quick rapport. Keep them in balance, with stories about others taking front and center stage. Also, beware of making yourself too much of a hero in your story. It's fine to tell what you learned from a challenging event or illness, but refrain from boasting.

Now, think about the three most interesting and convincing speakers you have ever heard. They may not share the same style of delivery, level of education, skill with humor, or energy level. My guess, though, is that you selected three speakers who tell stories well.

No, you're not likely to begin with "Once Upon a Time." Yet "An interesting thing happened to me last week" will bring on the same magic we felt as very young listeners.

Bill Lampton,Ph.D., Communication Consultant and Speech Coach, has centered his speeches around compelling stories since turning professional in 1997. He helps coaching clients identify and shape powerful stories. His motto: “Helping You Finish in First Place!” You’ll find his topics, client list, coaching plan, and endorsements on his site:
LinkedIn: . Call 678-316-4300

Bill Lampton is a guest blogger for Karen Chace and Catch the Storybug blog. All rights to this article belong to Bill. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without her expressed, written permission. If you would like to be a Guest Blogger contact Karen at for the details.