Attend an evening of soul-fed storytelling in State College

FEBRUARY 18, 2023 7:00 AM

It was a cold, rainy night two weeks ago when ten people arrived at my house and began mingling around the snack table. After 30 minutes of small-talk we moved into our “relaxing room”— what most people call a living room. Some of us sat on chairs, others on the sofa, and still others preferred the floor. A few of us knew one another, but no one knew everyone.

We were gathered for the first of several group coaching sessions to prepare for an evening of storytelling about grief that will take place on Monday at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe. This year’s theme is “Grief Surprises.”

As one of the coaches, I gave a brief history of the purpose of this get-together. Then, coach Beth McLaughlin invited each of us to share a one-sentence description of something others might not know about us. Next, she described the process of crafting our stories together. Beth emphasized the confidential nature of what was going to be spoken. And then, the first story was told.

The room was silent except for the speaker. It was a liminal space. The storyteller and listeners were all that existed. Then others took their turns. We heard stories about losses of parents, children, siblings and spouses. Heartfelt explanations of grief and some of what it entails. We cried, we laughed, and we connected in a deeply human way. I felt fully alive.

In his book, “The Power of Myth,” Joseph Campbell wrote, “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Storytelling and listening can catapult us into that “rapture of being alive” and that was what this coaching session was about. We were embarking on a process of uncovering stories for a live performance and feeling alive.

This group met three more times to continue crafting their stories. Beth, Jacki Hunt and I served as the coaches. We held the space as the storytellers courageously told and retold their stories, received feedback, made edits and opened to the encouragement of using their own voices and owning their own stories. We all had a part in each of the stories. Even so, we made it clear that every story was about personal experiences and belonged to the individual storytellers. There was no judgment. This process took those experiences and formed them into a story.

And this process was magic. It helped the storytellers go deeper and discern meaning they hadn’t seen before. As I left each coaching session, I knew my soul had been fed.

In his book, “The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery,” Richard Stone writes, “Representing our world to others through story is innately human, as crucial to our soul’s survival as breathing is to the survival of our body.” The four nights with this group helped my soul survive and thrive. From comments I heard from others, I wasn’t alone.

Soul survival through storytelling isn’t just for the storytellers. It’s for the listeners as well. Thankfully, the public is invited to listen to these very stories on Monday at 7 p.m. at Webster’s, 133 E. Beaver Ave., State College. This performance of seven storytellers and music is a collaborative effort between State of the Story (SOTS) and Learning to Live: What’s Your Story? (LTLWYS?)

SOTS is a Moth-like story-telling group and performance series. Moth-like refers to the organization, The Moth, a New York City based nonprofit organization that presents various theme-based storytelling events around the world. Some of The Moth guidelines are: the story must be true, on theme, have actions with consequences, the storytellers’ own story to tell, and told without notes.

LTLWYS? is a group that facilitates various opportunities, like this column and upcoming storytelling performance, as ways for individuals to share their stories of how they are learning to live with loss. Community members and Koch Funeral Home provide support.

Together, SOTS and LTLWYS? have coordinated this yearly loss-themed performance since 2016. Tickets are available in advance and at the door.

We hope you join us for a fully alive and soul-fed time!

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA, is a spiritual director, celebrant, and end-of-life doula who facilitates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program through Koch Funeral Home in State College. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

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