Making sure you show up in your own story

Tomorrow we have our fourth Annual Storytelling Festival for the AmeriCorps programs of Maryland. Our hosts at Casa Maryland and Pablo Blank always provide a warm welcome in their amazing space.

Each year, we try different things and end with the Living Stories, the signature process developed and used by over the past twenty years. Every time we invite people into this practice, we are amazed how much energy is released with the simple invitation for people to tell their own story in their own voice, to respectful and appreciative audiences.

Tomorrow, we will introduce some of our latest work that we call POND, the principles of Narrative Design. Members of AmeriCorps are creating a new story, one that will lead to life long memories of how they dedicated a year of their lives to serve their community. That is a remarkable story in and of itself.

But four months in, the members will be invited to map out the journey as one that goes through the predictable Beginning Middle Ending axis of coherency, where Beginnings hold the creative space, Middles hold the Complication and Recommitment space, and Endings hold the completion space. If you want to have a great story at the end, design it from the beginning. Don’t leave it to chance. That is what POND teaches.

Tomorrow, we will push the chairs aside and open up the room so space has a voice. We will ignore the Power Point and shut off the phones, and invite the members to walk back into the story of their service, retracing WHERE it began, ( not why or when) and then walking into the space that reveals their expanding horizon of possibility. We will ask the magic question “What do you know from here that you did not know from there that will help you get to where you are headed?”

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We get so tied up in the Why or the How. We forget a far more important question- Where? We start with WHERE. Even that word “question” is loaded with the same insight because it contains a “Quest,” which wikipedia calls “a long or arduous search for something.” To ask a question is to be going somewhere.

Our other focus will be to invite stories that go beyond excuse and blame, stories of the decisions and choices that members made to get this far and the decisions and choices that lie ahead. Too often, our lives in the telling sound like experience after experience, “this happened” and then, “this happened,” or as one writer put it, “one damned thing after another.” But this only masks the character in the story who is walking the road and deciding which path to take. Even deciding to take no path is deciding on a path. Decision comes from the same word as “incision” meaning cutting off one option to pursue another. A choice of a path is a choice about what story you will be able to tell.

We may not be the sole creators of our history as we live it, but we are the creators of our own history in how we choose to remember it. Though our lives can be assaulted by enormous challenges, we are a species that knows instinctively that how we tell the story is how we manage to name and tame our chaos, how to get beyond it and how even to transform the most painful memories into moments of discovery.

We will ask members to share in three directions:

1) Go to the place that holds the story of their decisions to serve at the beginning- the Genesis story or origins.

2) Go to the place that holds the stories of their decisions they are having to make every day to honor and deepen that commitment- the Exodus story or passage.

3) Go to the place where this decision might grow into something about the kind of life they are choosing to live, the kind of world they are choosing to create, and most of all, the kind of person they are choosing to become. That is the story of Revelation.

We joke at storywise that before 35, you can blame parents and family and circumstances all you like but there comes a time when you have to grow beyond that and stop only showing up in someone else’s story. Its time to show up in your own- the story of your fateful, faithful choices.

Surely, your choice as a member of AmeriCorps to serve, and to put your other life on hold, and to live on a barely livable allowance, all in the name of a higher good that you are bringing into the world is a story worth showing up in.

See you tomorrow.

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