Storytelling Traditions

Q When I was growing up in India, my mother and grandmother always told my siblings and me fables to teach us about life. That oral tradition seems rare here in the United States. It seems that science and psychology have replaced the role of storytelling in family traditions.  I wonder if there is a way to include more of the wisdom from other cultures, passed down orally? Is western science not compatible with this way of learning and teaching?
A This is a relevant question for our lives today. In much of the modern world, science, technology, and school-learning have replaced more traditional and indigenous approaches to education and fostered growth. This scientific-material-rational viewpoint is simply one of many perspectives that is needed. However, it has unfortunately become the dominant paradigm through which we look at almost every problem in life. This is a bias that needs to be examined and re-balanced.

Transpersonal psychology is a form of psychology that emerged after Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism, and the more popular humanistic approaches in psychology of the 1960s. Transpersonal psychology incorporates these perspectives, but adds the mythological, cross-cultural, and spiritual dimensions and teachings relevant to human struggles and growth.

The Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, incorporated many stories, myths, and scriptures, both Eastern and Western, into modern  depth psychology. He also visited people and sacred sites in India and East Africa as part of his understanding of universal psychospiritual themes in various cultures. Jung shares his experiences in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Jung, a doctor and mythologist, remains a central figure in bringing varied philosophical and spiritual understandings into depth psychology.

All cultures, including the European and North American, have their own stories that speak to the issues of the time and society. Some even point to the particular challenges facing a culture as it transitions into the next era. The mythologist Joseph Campbell has a wonderful video series called “The Power of Myth.” In this work, Campbell explores various myths, symbols, and rituals from many cultures and offers commentary on the psychological and spiritual themes as they unfold in these rich stories.

If you miss the stories from your childhood and that wonderful and mysterious way of learning, you ought to find more ways to incorporate such experiences into your life. Reconnect with those texts; talk to the elders in your community. Today there are also conferences by people who tell archetypal stories and lead groups into powerful inner processes. Sometimes they are accompanied by music or dance to more deeply evoke the characters, themes, and feelings of the particular story.

Two American authors who translate cross-cultural stories are Angeles Arrien, author of the The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary, and Lorna Catford, who wrote, The Path of the Everyday Hero: Drawing on the Power of Myth to Meet Life’s Most Important Challenges.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393.


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