“The bones is yours, dad. They came from you!”
Watch that, please. It contains a secret for you. I’ll come back to it in later pieces. For now, just watch and absorb it. Let it seep beneath the skin of your mind, settle amidst its semantic sediment. There, amongst your jumble of impressions and compressed perceptions which form the bedrock of your sense of self, let it sit like a seed.
And like a seed, it’ll begin to quietly germinate; send out questing shoots to twine about what’s already there.
If you’ve read the previous post in this series, then you know this is meant to be a practical way of using storytelling in magical and spiritual work. You already know that this is bare bones; the necessary framework which, when combined with inspiration will enable you to raise an army of ideas which you can press into service to enrich yourself and empower your work. You know that this is being done this because it needs doing, and because people are asking.
But, if you haven’t read that, then please do, because the posts are connected, like the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone. Without reading them all, following may become more difficult than it has to be, and that’s contrary to what you want – quite naturally.
Unnecessary difficulty is something we’ll be dealing with when we begin talking about transformation later on, so for now let’s confine ourselves to saying that difficulty and difference, while looking similar, are not obviously connected.
Note that suspiciously behaving obviously there, and note it well, because it’ll be important to us, both now and later. It may even haunt us, a little.
Right now, obviously, we need to talk about about storytelling, before the magical bit. We need to discuss how to tell stories, and the best way for me to do this is to show you, because contrary to popular belief storytelling isn’t an intellectual thing. This may seem airy-fairy at first, and yet there’s a reason bones are involved. Stories need spines, need frames, need reasons to go on, just like you.
And unlike you, they’re immortal, so killing them is…not easy…
Consider then, a seeker of esoteric knowledge. The kind of person who wanders the earth because of the whispers in their mind; driven by something insatiable which stirs in their breast, something unquiet nests in their gut. That kind of person is the person who visits the sadhus and the yogis, who disturbs hermits with their restless questions, and petitions taoist immortals for their secrets.
That kind of person who calls up angels and demons and commands them to give them wisdom, who strides into Buddha’s grove and begins digging under the bodhi tree.
They travel far and wide to learn the secrets of the mind and soul, the mysteries of meditation. Until, one day they encounter, upon a mountain close to the roof of world, an ascetic. This ascetic is rangy and ropey; sinew and tendon and leathern skin all wind-chapped and burnt by the cold of the highest places.
The seeker comes and seats themselves before the ascetic. “Teach me,” they say. “For I must know all you know.”
The ascetic shrugs. “I am no teacher. I cannot teach, for I have divested myself of all but my practice. Go where you will.”
“Tell me of your practice?”
“I cannot. My practice is all there is.”
“It is said that you can change bodies at will. That you learnt the art from an evil sorcerer who lived only so long as he did not leave the charnel ground. That you may travel faster than the winds.”
“These are stories,” says the ascetic. “And my practice is all there is.”
Imagine the seeker’s consternation! Would you pursue that further? Would you continue to press, as the seeker did, or would you go elsewhere, I wonder? Press the seeker did – yet always the response was the same.
All night the seeker waited, until at last the sun rose and, cold, tired and hungry, they realised with a start that the ascetic had vanished! Where he had been, a pile of rose petals lay.
Yet, as the sun fell warm upon the seeker’s face, they could not help but think that that they had been taught something, even if they had not realised it yet. Carefully, they climbed down the mountain, and by the time they reached its base, evening was drawing in. Seeking shelter at a nearby inn, they enquired of the innkeeper as to the ascetic’s disappearance. The innkeeper pointed over to a nearby table, where sat a man of indeterminate age.
“The storyteller’ll know,” he said. So over went the seeker, and asked the fellow about the ascetic’s fate.
“Ah, that one’s easy,” said the storyteller. “For he was a yogi, trained in the art of yoking his own body as you would yoke oxen to a plough, or a horse to a chariot. He hitched himself to the rising sun, and left the earth behind.”
“How do you know this?” asked the seeker. “I asked him of his practice and he would not tell me anything.”
“Not would not,” said the storyteller. “Could not. There was no room in him for anything but his practice.”
Surprised, the seeker replied. “How do you know this? Did you know him before he took up his practice?”
The storyteller gave a crooked smile. “Yes, though that is not why I know what has happened. I know that because I taught him thus.”
Well, you can imagine the seeker’s astonishment, can’t you?
“You?” the seeker asked in disbelief. “But you are a mere storyteller! He was a master yogi!”
“Precisely so.” The fellow’s grin grew wider. “A mere storyteller, as he was a mere yogi.”
The seeker thought for a moment. “So, it is you who taught him to yoke himself to the sun?”
The storyteller smiled still further. “Buy me a drink, and I will answer you truly, traveller.”
So over to the bar went that seeker, and bought a drink for himself and the storyteller. As it was placed before him, the other said:
“How is it that I have beer to wet my throat, though I have spent no coin?”
“Why, you promised to tell me truly of the yogi, in return for a drink.”
“Just so. Something for nothing. It is you who wished to know – it is your desire which I have manipulated, your body I have moved with simple words.”
The seeker stared at him. “You have tricked me then! You know nothing of the yogi?”
“I did not trick you. I merely showed you what you wanted, and how to get it. You did the rest. I am a mere storyteller, as he was a mere yogi. This is all that I am, as his practice was all there was for him. I taught him many things: I taught him how to change bodies at will. I taught him how to move faster than the very winds themselves.”
“But he said they were just stories.”
“Just so,” replied the storyteller. “And yet, did he not vanish? Was he not a master yogi? Did he not discover that mastery from my stories?”
“So you claim, but I have seen no proof. You could be lying or making things up.”
The storyteller laughed. “I am a storyteller, there is nothing else but that. And as for proof, well, allow me to tell you a story…”
And don’t worry, you’ll get your proof, as sure as that seeker will, for we shall be revisiting those two throughout the series. But for now, let’s consider the simple matter of that free beer, shall we?
The storyteller did something we do every day, he asked for something. Just like our seeker, he wants a particular thing – he has a goal and uses communication to bring the seeker into a situation where their goal and his are the same. To do that, he has to create the conditions for it to occur, has to create a route for the seeker to reach the same place that he occupies – or to use another metaphor, he has to make sure they are on the same page.
To extend the metaphor further, in order for the two of them to be on the same page of the script, there must be a script. Here, the storyteller has taken the other party’s communication, his words, his questions and curiosity, and folded them into the script, so that quite naturally, the seeker follows along. They’ve been very carefully led into the world that the storyteller has created.
And, you might ask, does the storyteller do that? Quite simply, he uses his knowledge and experience, and conveys – perhaps we might even say transmits – that impression using using every faculty he has. This is where the physicality comes in, and you can gain some insight as to how from performing a simple exercise:
For ease, the emotion I use here is anger, because it’s the most easily accessible strong emotion for most – but you can use almost any strong emotion for this experiment.
Think of a time you were experienced that strong emotion. Remember where you were, who you were with, what time of day it was – was it day or night? Were you alone, in public or private?
Really imagine it as clearly as you can – the things you saw, the things you heard, and more importantly what you were feeling in your body at the time.
Slowly, surely, you’ll begin to notice things as you do this, as you’re evoking those feelings. Your body may begin to tense up in a particular way, your breathing shifts, and you can even move about a bit to see how moving feels in that state.
Once you’re sure you’ve noticed how the memory affects your body, let the memory go – relax, do something else, banish or whatever.
A short time later, begin by mimicking the body posture you had earlier in the experiment, and – here’s the important bit – don’t use the memory at all. Instead, focus solely on the body and its sensations. If you find your mind drifting, that’s fine, just bring yourself back to that body, as if your attention was a flashlight playing over your skin, shining through muscle and bone. As you do this, remind yourself that you’ve done this posture before, that you know how to experience this. Because you do.
Note: If you’re using anger and find yourself getting frustrated by your mind moving, by all means use a different emotion like say, lust or joy. To be honest though, that’s actually a sign the exercise is working.
Try this with a variety of ‘embodied emotions’. If you’re really curious, take notes of how your thoughts behave in different moods, and how people react to any given embodiment. Play around, have some fun – notice how some embodied emotions are easier to evoke than others, notice how easily other people’s presence and mood can alter the length of the embodiment. Notice what embodiments you enjoy, and what you’d rather not do – what feels best for you.
Above all, don’t worry if the embodiments last varying times – a few seconds is as good as an hour. The key is to begin to deliberately explore your individual body responses.
So yes, play with it – leave a comment or two if you like. This ties in to the next post, which will deal with the other vitally important part of storytelling and magic – the voice.
Until next week – have fun, OK?