|Stories inspire and shape our lives, from the archetypal dramas we unconsciously enact, to the jokes we make about the boss at work. Yet stories also plague us, and this weekend’s lecture and workshop will focus on four such problematic situations.
Lecture: The Friday evening lecture addresses the problem of being stuck in a story, endlessly repeating the same script — a plight dramatize by Dracula, who was compelled by the vampire curse to feed on the living. Fortunately Scheherazade from "The Thousand and One Arabian Nights" shows a way out of stuck stories, by using the psychology of five fundamental genres of narrative — myth, fact, fairy tale, legend, and the favorite tale: transformation results from experiencing each genre in that specific order — a sequence characteristic of initiation rituals.
Workshop: The Saturday workshop grapples with the remaining three narrative crises. First is wandering among stories — after we escape a stuck plot, we must find another to live by, but often do not know how to choose, and so end up drifting indecisively among different tales. The biblical story of Babel and the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty dramatize the relativism and fragmentation of the situation, especially painful at midlife and in our postmodern time. The nine Muses from ancient Greece help here by revealing the logic of stories, which gives us criteria by which we can judge among tales, separating better from worse, true from false. The next narrative quandary is failing a story, and is exemplified by Sisyphus and King Arthur, who both follow specific scripts, but fail to reach their chosen ending. How to transform such failed dramas is the subject of the Buddhist tale, "The Brave Parrot", and the Jewish story, "The Golden Tree," which dwell on what might be called the practice and spirit of story. The fourth and perhaps most difficult narrative dilemma is being wounded by a story. The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Isolde, and the Fisher King illustrate such wounding tales, where a desire or quest can never be attained. Goethe’s "Faust" and a Tibetan story, "The Old Meditator," reveal an unexpected resolution to this painful plight in what can be turned "attunement" to the "soul of story," which closely resembles spiritual illumination. Throughout the lecture and workshop various exercises will help us explore the myths, fairy tales, legends and favorite stories we live by, and how we can use them deal with our stuck, lost, failed and wounding life tales.
Allan Chinen, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in San Francisco, is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of In the Ever After, Once Upon a Midlife, Beyond the Hero, and Waking the World.