Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maximizing Our Minds

Tahir Shah writes with great feeling of the role of storytelling in our lives. Here is an excerpt from his book In Arabian Nights (Bantam, 2008.) I highly recommend it and him and of course his illustrious father, Idries! For more from Tahir, visit his blog:

"By their nature, most tribal and nomadic societies have had no writing system. And they are blessed as a result. They depend on each other for entertainment, for stimulation. Huddled around the campfire, the storytellers pass on the collective wisdom of the tribe. Their oral tradition is perfected and sleek, like stones in a river, rounded by time. The information has an extra dimension because it enters the body through the ears and not through the eyes. Listen, stare into the flames, and imagination unfolds.

I have seen storytellers casting their magic in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon, and in teahouses in Turkey, in India and .Afghanistan. I have found them, too, in Papua New Guinea and in Patagonia, in Kenya's Rift Valley, in Namibia and Kazakhstan. Their effect is always the same. They walk a tightrope, no wider than a hairsbreadth, suspended between fact and fantasy, singing to the most primitive part of our minds. We cannot help but let them in. With words they can enchant us, teach us, pass on knowledge and wisdom, as they had done to Marwan.

Stories are a communal currency of humanity. They follow the same patterns irrespective of where they are found. And, inexplicably, the same stories appear in cultures continents apart. How is it that similar tales can be found in Iceland and in pre-Columbian America? How come Cinderella is considered European, but is also a part of the folklore of the American Algonquins?

My father used to tell me that stories offer the listener a chance to escape but, more importantly, he said, they provide people with a chance at maximizing their minds. Suspend ordinary constraints, allow the imagination to be freed, and we are charged with the capability of heightened thought.

Learn to use your eyes as if they are your ears, he said, and you become connected with the ancient heritage of man, a dream world for the waking mind. "

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