Imagine you are a pilgrim on a long journey, gathering stories as they appear and stashing them like rocks into your backpack as you go.
Sometimes you pull the stories out, dust them off, and share them with fellow travelers. Sometimes you keep them to yourself, afraid that other travelers will find them ugly or unsavoury and you will feel shame. Sometimes you roll them around in your hands, re-shaping them to better fit with the other stories they share space with.
The stories in your backpack don’t look like those in any other traveler’s backpack. They have been shaped by the journey through which they’ve been carried, by the way you’ve used them to define yourself, and by your assumptions of how other people are judging them.
Now imagine you’ve been invited by a kind and supportive fellow-traveler to sit down on a comfortable park bench along that journey. Your new companion invites you to open your backpack, promising that he will be gentle with the stories inside.
You’re a little reluctant at first, but the stories are getting heavy and you’d really like to be free of the weight for awhile. Your backpack hasn’t been fitting very well on your back during the last few miles and you wonder whether it might be a good idea to take some time to rearrange the things that are poking you.
Your companion is very good at making you feel comfortable and safe, and it doesn’t take long for you to recognize that you trust him. Finally, you sit down and take a few deep breaths. Your companion waits patiently.
Slowly you pull a story out and hold it tenderly in your hand, glancing up to see what response it will elicit. Surprisingly, your companion holds no judgement in his eyes as he gazes down at the story. He simply asks you kind and energizing questions about it, helping you to define it and see it through new eyes.
Before long, you’re pulling more stories out of the bag and lining them up on the bench. Your companion doesn’t say much, but he asks just the right questions for you to know which stories are important for this discourse. He helps you see the patterns arising as you line the stories up. Sometimes when you shift the story and line it up with another story, it takes on a whole new shape. Sometimes a story shrinks in importance once you pull it out and expose it to the sunlight.
Through your companion’s questions, you begin to see brand new things in your stories that you never saw before. There are new colours and beautiful patterns emerging. They light touches them differently, and some that looked like lumps of coal now begin to reveal the diamonds underneath. You see how they fit together, and sometimes you could even swear that you see them dance. The new shapes offer new possibilities for how you will continue on your journey. They’re even helping you define yourself in a new way that feels deeply right and true.
When the conversation draws to a close, you pack your newly shaped stories back into your backpack. You brace yourself for the weight as you put it on, but now it feels lighter and fits the groove of your back in a much more natural way. It no longer feels like the heavy burden you placed on the bench when you sat down. You look at the path ahead of you, and though the rough spots aren’t gone, you can see a clearer trail through it with a backpack that will offer you tools rather than a burden. You have an intuitive sense that your steps on the path will now feel more sure and bold.
That companion on your journey is your narrative coach. He or she has been trained to help you examine your stories, re-shape them if necessary, and use the ones that help you take the next step in your journey with more confidence.
I use narrative coaching as one of my tools for personal growth coaching, along with creative practices and other tools. To have a conversation about how I can support you through coaching, contact me and we’ll set up an exploratory call via phone or Skype.