Participants from Iceland, Slovenia, Spain and the UK met up for a week’s training through the Erasmus+ European funded project Once Upon Your Time.
With the purpose of creating ways to support young people at risk of social exclusion, the group went through a wide range of exercises to explore Joseph Campbell’s technique Monomyth, also called The Hero’s Journey.
Surefoot’s participants share their experiences on how The Hero’s Journey works on body and mind, and reflect on what directions to take with the acquired skills and knowledge.
To access hidden treasures within – The technique and training
A group of 23 people got together in Caravaca (Murcia), Spain in the springtime. All the participants were already engaged with teaching or in other ways with a profession supporting young people and learning processes. With the use of storytelling techniques, the training conducted by Juan Pedro Romera focused on methods to increase resilience in children and teachers.
In everyday life it’s easy to get caught up in (over)thinking and letting thoughts running in loops with fixed narratives about ourself and the world around us. To let go of a constrained mind with the purpose of letting the body “speak”, the training was not only based on writing but also included physical games, dancing and drawing self-portraits.
Joana Avi-Lorie, researcher at The Edinburgh University, Story Weaver at Scottish Communities Climate Action Network and a creative practitioner, explains the techniques as a package of creative writing exercises with different length and different prompts placed strategically to allow subconscious thoughts and emotions to emerge through the writing. Combined with the physical activities it opened up for “Working without thinking,” as Callum Arthur, a maths teacher from Scotland points out.
Keeping the pen in flow on the paper without thinking, was a core principle in the writing exercises. Euri Bartlome Vidal, associate at Surefoot where he runs international workshops about resilience and sustainability, explains some of the actual exercises,
“Shorter exercises led up to longer writing sessions. For example, a 10 minutes writing task was based on a card with an illustration of an animal. I got a card with an orca together with three words to incorporate: fertility, strength and power. We didn’t get much time to think, it was all about writing what instantly came to mind. For the final exercise, we had three hours to write a tale with a few guiding elements: The text had to be in a fantasy story, it should be about our own life journey and have a happy ending. I was surprised how many words I kept pouring out. At the end of the training week, I felt more energised and like something within was unlocked.”
The outcomes of feeling energised, unlocked, liberated, unleashed and empowered are some of the benefits echoed by the participants. To reach this point, participants also faced challenging times - mainly to be confronted with oneself. The group activities built a basis of trust to work together even though some exercises could make one feel vulnerable at first. For example, by sharing a drawn self-portrait, or reading one’s text aloud to the group.
Suzanne O’Donnell who is community educator, volunteer at Climate Ed, and from the Climate Hub Wandsworth in London (part of the Climate Emergency Centres) notably felt the inner confrontation, “When writing, things you didn’t expect can come up to the surface. It was a good surprise.” Being in a safe space with the group, to share and listen to others, gave an opportunity to grow stronger by the vulnerability, “I gained self-confidence in speaking to others, and I learned to reflect and respond in a deeper way to what other people share,” Suzanne elaborates.
“While each of the techniques we learned in the week individually helped to unlock some creativity, being able to spend most of a week working through the series of exercises allowed me to express myself in the final writing exercise in a way I have not had the luxury to do in many, many years,” muses Pamela Candea, Surefoot associate. “I used the structure of the Heroine’s journey for my final piece of writing as I feel this model is in line with my core belief that deep connection with nature and service to all beings are crucial to supporting the essential paradigm shift needed to protect people and the planet.”
Expanding the world through cultural meetings
Working with storytelling across countries and cultures adds a depth in how the methodologies work. As Joana expresses: “How who we really are is or isn’t deeply interconnected with our culture, the nature vs. nurture paradigm. It was fun to learn new things about places where I haven’t been before through the stories of their inhabitants.”
The value we put into words via the constructure of our language becomes clearer when exploring stories through multiple languages. As Suzanne illustrates, when we in English say, “I like…” it would be expressed from another angle in Spanish, “It pleases me …”.
As much as differences were explored, similarities also stood out clearly. As Callum noticed, teenagers are facing many of the same challenges across country borders.
The journey further on
Based on The Hero’s Journey training, the project Once Upon Your Time will include the creation of a manual which will be available in all four languages of the participating countries. Also, participants have the opportunity to work further with the subject, to apply and tailor it to each person’s work life.
Joana will look into including the method in the qualitative inquiry from her PhD project and to use it in her practice as a story weaver. She points out the strength of the method,
“Writing around your emotions and thoughts, dressing them with a story, in a safe and gradual way whilst ultimately being able to identify and communicate them. Being attuned with these emotions and thoughts is crucial to be able to self-regulate them as part of building resilience and they are a great fun way of building trust within a group and between children and educator, social worker or therapist.”
As Callum underlined, the method is a different approach from his typical maths teaching. It has provided him with new tools too – both for himself and in the future for his students. The actual shape of how to use the tools is finding its ways as the project progresses including subsequent meetings with Pam and Euri from Surefoot.
Suzanne looks forward to using the new skill set when working with children in Climate Ed on climate change topics, and with people in the Climate Hub Wandsworth. It’s close to her heart to let storytelling become a tool for valuable voices to be heard.
“Some children are scared of putting down words in their homework. They can struggle with hurdles like dyslexia or confidence, which can reach into adulthood. The method is useful to provide people with new ways of expression, where there is no right or wrong. It’s connecting them with the magic they have within themselves,” Suzanne states and thereby sums up a central powerful aspect of The Hero’s Journey. Additionally, she emphasises that working this way moves the participants out of the typical fixed societal context and makes everyone equal.
Euri and Pam will add some of these tools to the techniques and tools in Surefoot’s individual, community and organisational resilience building workshops.
For videos, next steps in the project and access to the future manual, keep an eye on Once Upon Your Time on Facebook and Surefoot’s social media,
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