Stories are used for many different purposes, including diversion, information, to convey moral teachings, illustration, and still among other uses, foci for more real learning. In some classes we attempt to use them for this purpose.
There are some prerequisites to have before beginning story work in this manner. First, there must be a person who can both understand stories and who also can convey that information, understanding, and point of view appropriately to the people doing the work. That includes, but is not limited to, the correct choice of stories which are relevant to the particular needs and development of the people working with them; and the appropriate ordering of the stories. It also includes being able to intercede in the process when needed and to introduce additional elements - all the time working with a conveyance and transmission of certain elements of the story through other, perhaps unseen means.
Next, for both beginning and continuing story work there has to be the capacity within the people who seek to work with the story. That includes the understanding of how to approach it, both individually and in a group setting. It also includes being able to concentrate, be receptive to intuition; be observant, being able to consider multiple meanings; having the intention to examine one's own action, perception, patterns, etc. in light of and in relation to the story; having patience; being able to consider something from another person's point of view; and being able and desirous of then putting what is gained through some understanding into further use in one's life. There are other preconditions to working with stories, but this gives the idea. Fortunately, with ongoing work, all these qualities, abilities, and capacities can increase, in addition to the base of what is originally brought to that work.
The approach to stories in a group setting is generally as follows. It is sometimes, but not always read. A copy of the story is then given to each person to work with later, away from the class. After enough time has passed to work with the story and it is appropriate to consider it, the people meet again in a group (or grouping depending upon certain other factors). At that point, each person will attempt to convey his or her understanding of the story. An attempt is made to not repeat other person's statements.
At this point, there are generally multiple interpretations or understandings of the story. This creates the possibility for starting to perceive from another's point of view; and also to increasingly appreciate the point of view of other people. This is or can be furthered by attunement and the enlargement of point of view from individual to a larger entity. Generally there will be a second going around of consideration and discussion, as further understanding comes as a result of the first.
At any time, the leader may introduce additional elements or considerations of the story. This can take place directly or indirectly. It is also very possible that at this stage it is not introduced. In any case, the process in the class is closed at a certain point and the people take the story away from the class to work with it again. Upon return at a later time, the process is repeated. This may be continued until there is both an appropriate outer understanding of the levels of the story and the people working on it have had the opportunity, inclination, and actually do, apply these understandings to themselves, their own actions, thoughts, approaches, condition, and intention - among other more inner aspects. During this entire process, the story has a continuing influence and unfolding on the persons. This effect is dependent primarily, but not entirely, upon sincerity of the person, as well as their capacity and intention. When the work has generally gone as far as it can for these people, in that setting, at that time; then generally the next story is introduced.
Here are some considerations about story work:
1. It is very easy to get trapped in one way of thinking or perceiving.
2. It takes an effort to experience from more than one point of view.
3. That effort may include more than thought or intellectualism. Actually, to perceive one must actually experience it. Thinking about it or accepting it on a thinking basis is not experiencing it, not is it perceiving it.
4. Attunement requires a suspension of thought.
5. Breath is the connecting link.
6. Heart/feeling leads to knowing.
7. It is valuable on one level to attend to another's point of view as part of one's own.
8. In addition to acceptance of learning from others, there is an increase in acceptance of the value of others.
9. Accepting the value of another point of view is one thing. Seeing from it and including it as part of one's own is another.
10. The heart is open when acceptance is not effort.
11. When one understands that there is another approach, it can be beneficial to find out WHY this was not perceived.
12. It is easy in finding why to stop part way. Acceptance of a blind spot and recognizing that there are additional points of view, level or perception, and a variety of depths of experience is only the outer shell. This is easy to become a trap if you do not explore beyond these outer effects and also seek to know the cause of the blindness and remove it.
13. Attunement is a method of experience. It can be found through following the thread of the expression. It is not the expression as that is limited.
14. When you have found the causes of blindness or limitation, that is only another step. One has to have the desire to eliminate them, and also the means to do so. In addition, one must actually go beyond them to let them go. This may take effort, attention, and work.
15. The story is a means to open up the process of expansion. It points toward process and experience, attitudes, potentials, and more.
16. There are other things that can be said about story work.
Saadi, the Sufi author of the Persian classic The Rose Garden, writes of a visit to the burial-place of John the Baptist, in Syria.
He arrived there one day, exhausted and footsore. But then, as he was feeling sorry for himself, he saw a man who was not only tired, but had no feet. Saadi gave thanks to God that he, at least, had feet.
This story, on the obvious level, means 'be grateful for small mercies' Its teaching on that level is found in all cultures. It is useful to help one to find a greater perspective in his situation if he is suffering from disabling self-pity.
The employment of such tales for emotional purposes to switch the mental attitude, even to make a person content with and perhaps momentarily grateful for, his lot - is characteristic of the conventional type of instruction.
Modern sophisticates say: 'All that Saadi did was to inculcate so-called moral virtues - his work is outmoded.' Traditional, crude sentimentalists may say: 'How beautiful to dwell on the misery of others and one's own comparative good luck.'
But Saadi, being a Sufi, included in his writings materials which had more than one possible function. This tale is one of them.
In Sufi schools the piece is treated for what it is, an exercise. The student may benefit from whatever 'uplifting' moral may be the conventional interpretation. But, without introspection but with self-observation he should be able to say: 'I realise that changes in my mood are dependent on emotional stimuli. Do I always have to be dependent upon "seeing a man with no feet", or reading about it, before I realise that 'I have feet'? How much of my life is being wasted while I wait for someone to tell me what to do, or something to happen which will change my condition and frame of mind?'
According to the Sufis man has better, more reliable, inner sense and capacities for educating them than constant emotional stimulus.
The object of the Sufi interpretation of this lesson would be nullified if it caused people to start an orgy of self-questioning of an emotional kind.
The purpose of pointing out this Sufi usage of the narrative is for it to be registered in the mind, so that the student may in future notice a higher form of assessment of his situation, when it begins to operate in him.