When a Story is Heard

By Lani Peterson, Sharing the Fire 2016 Intensive Workshop Presenter

Headshot_Lani-Peterson-2015“There wouldn’t be stories to tell unless someone listened first.”

I call myself a StoryTELLER, but the more I immerse myself in story work, the more I realize that I am a StoryLISTENER who works hard to understand, integrate and re-tell what I’ve heard and now know.

As storytellers, before there is ever a story to tell, we begin by either listening to our own internal experience or finding an external tale to tell. There wouldn’t be the magic of telling that story unless there was someone there to listen to us. And finally there is the potential-filled transformation that can happen when the listener becomes aware of the internal stories that another’s story is eliciting. Stories prompt stories. Opening with curiosity to long forgotten memories now remembered, or new connections made, there is the possibility of entering the glorious ah-ha moment of realizing something we didn’t know we didn’t know about ourselves or another.

Each of these experiences rests heavily on listening first.

So, I have become a storyteller who spends much of my effort evolving the craft of storylistening. Here’s a small glimpse into some of the insights I have discovered:


The importance of Storylistening to ourselves:

We are telling ourselves stories all the time; making meaning out of everything that happens to us and filing it away in our inner story archives as personal truth. Change can happen when we listen to ourselves in a different way. Neuroscientists tell us that it is a different part of the brain that hears our words when we speak out loud than when we are quietly thinking to ourselves. When we pause in our assumptions to wrestle with a prompt that invites us to explore our guiding stories, or challenges the meaning we make of them, we are offered an opportunity to walk around ourselves and look at who we are from a different perspective. If we are also open to hearing others’ thoughts and feelings in response to our stories, we have an additional opportunity to expand our understanding of who we are.

In a storytelling workshop I ran at a homeless shelter, I challenged the participants with story prompts to explore the unconscious stories through which they filtered their world. As they confronted some of the constraining meanings they carried about themselves, they began to formulate stronger stories that they wanted to live in, stand on, now use to show others who they really are.

Change can be achieved through allowing our stories to evolve as our understanding of the world and who we are within it shifts or expands. The beginning of this growth or healing starts with listening to ourselves and choosing the stories we want to focus on and tell.

Being truly heard by another:

In the workshop I gave participants the prompt to write down 10 things that they know are true. I am always moved by the depth of personal wisdom each of us carries and the immensity of pain experienced when a personal story is not acknowledged, valued or at least honored as one’s truth. For people whose story has been marginalized, judged or silenced, the process of finally being heard and validated can be life changing. As fellow humans on the journey, a gift we can is to be present for another as they find the courage to tell a story that is true for them.

Storylistening to another:

Similar to how telling a story and listening to oneself or being heard by others can lead to change, the act of listening to another can be just as impactful for the listener. During our storytelling workshop, everyone took turns telling their stories. Realistically, each participant spoke only about one eighth of the time. The rest of the time was spent listening to others, and that’s where most of the growth work happened. Through listening generously, particpants became aware of their own meaning and emotions. They explored their judgments about themselves and others. They were empowered to re-frame their own stories within the context of what they heard and choose how they wanted to tell them in the future.

So I have come to find that storytelling is daring to listen and daring to be heard. The ensuing gifts are there for anyone with two ears, a curious mind and an open heart. Come learn more with me at Sharing the Fire’s Healing Story Intensive, When a Story is Heard, on Friday afternoon, April 1st. I’m thrilled to be joined by David Arfa, Lee Ellen Marvin and Elisa Pearmain sharing their own experiences, wisdom and reflections on a summary panel. Feel free to call or write me if you have any questions about what will happen there!

Want to explore this crucial issue with Lani Peterson and her colleagues, David Arfa, Lee Ellen Marvin, and Elisa Pearmin?  Register for the pre-conference intensive, “When A Story Is Heard,” 1:00-5:00 pm, Friday, April 1 at Sharing the Fire 2016. ! Learn more about Sharing the Fire.

Learn more about Lani and her work at lanipeterson.com

What thoughts do reading Lani’s words—and listening to them in your mind’s ear—inspire in you? Leave a comment.






When a Story is Heard — 2 Comments

  1. I love your thoughts about how listening to other stories helps us re-tell and integrate what we have heard and know. I imagine one of the biggest roadblocks in listening to other stories is finding them! It would make sense to me to spend some time researching compilations or groups of stories in order to add to my own abilities and experiences.

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