“Story is for a human as water is for a fish – all encompassing and not quite palpable.”
– Jonathan Gottschall
Theater. Books. Radio. Television. Internet. We are constantly creating and consuming stories. Human beings are storytelling animals. It is in our nature to create meaning, or stories from what we see and experience.
Neuroscientist, Michael Gazzaniga pioneered a series of experiments that made use of the isolated hemispheres in patients who due to serious health issues, had the connection between the hemispheres of their brains cut. The body is wired so that the majority of the right side of the body is controlled by the left brain and vice versa. A picture that is seen by the right eye goes into the left side of the brain and can be interpreted as well as articulated. An image that is seen by the left eye goes into the right brain and is recognized but cannot be interpreted or spoken of until it crosses over into the left brain.
In these experiments, split-brain subjects were shown images so that they were only visible to one or the other eye. They were then asked to choose from a series of pictures and explain why they had chosen each one. The right hand chose a picture and the subject was able to clearly state that they had seen it. The left hand chose a picture that was related to the scene that the right eye had been shown. As the two hemispheres of the brain could not transmit information to each other, the left side, which was responsible for communicating with the researchers, had no way of knowing what the right side had seen. When asked for an explanation, the left brain readily and confidently created one.
This storytelling mind is constantly at work in all people but the split-brain surgery allowed researchers to isolate the phenomena. This tendency to impose the structure of a story can also be seen in the results of Heider and Simmel’s (1944) experiment. 114 people viewed a simple film consisting of geometric shapes moving around the screen. They were then asked: “Describe what you saw.” Only three of them reported seeing geometric shapes. The other one hundred and eleven, created stories that interpreted the movements of the shapes.
Our bodies are also telling us stories, if we are still and have the patience to listen, we can benefit from their wisdom. Breath-work, guided imagery, shamanic journeys and meditation can facilitate our receiving the messages. Each cell tells its story to the cells close to it. When the stories flow freely from cell to cell and across systems, then the body has the capacity to maintain an ebb and flow within a range of balance.
When I was studying shamanic wisdom in Seattle, often my classmates received teachings from the natural world. The eagle as well as the oak would speak to them, bringing insight into their current questions. I sometimes felt a bit broken as this had never happened for me.
While reading David Abram’s – The Spell of the Sensuous, this flashed into my mind:
If the planet is a living being, then it stands to reason that the cells in its body communicate with each other just as they do in our bodies. And if the Earth is alive, then we are all cells within her body. It stands to reason then that each of us has the capacity to communicate with every other being, especially those near to us. The cell that is the hawk has told me a story. I am certain of it. The cell that is “me” has heard it. Now to allow my brain to catch up….
What stories are you telling yourself?
What stories are you listening to?
*All science information was found in this great book:
Gottschall, J. (2013). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. New York, NY: First Mariner Books