Drukpa Kunley, called “the divine madman”
Perhaps one of the most underrated tools for a Mindfulness teacher is the power of Storytelling. Because when one is teaching meditation, one is trying to convey, through technical language something that resist being reduced to language above and beyond the usual resistance.
Let’s take something more socially common: the experience of falling in love.
Now, I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but when I was young, falling in love was this experience which was at the same time ill-defined and omnipresent, specially going into my teen years. On one hand, it seemed to be the expected thing to do: young people FELL IN LOVE in capitals, reshaping their world invariably for the better. On the other hand, the…let’s call them symptoms, were…worrying. Fluttering butterflies? Pulse Racing? Shortness of Breath? Was that a pleasant, life-affirming sensation or a stroke?
But with time and patience, one learns to recognize the signals and that they’re exaggerated for dramatic purposes. The same happens with meditation: its a lot of complex signals and experiences, which lack a common language that helps mediate and articulate them.
There’s a short anecdote about Borges, the great lover of language. He travels to Japan and meets a living Buddha (I.e. someone who was recognized to be enlightened). So Borges, the consummate writer and poet asks him to describe enlightenment and the monk says the worst thing possible to him: he cannot. He can talk about enlightenment with another Buddha, who will understand him…but not with Borges.
This, of course, drives the great master of language mad and is probably one of his greatest regrets into old age. But this points out to a great problem with language: we need some kind of bridge, beyond the structures of syntax and grammar, that allows experience to be shared.
Stories are that bridge.
Think back to your teen years. Where there stories about falling in love? Anecdotes from an elder sibling, jests between friends, little talks? If you were in a school, or in a less than totally dysfunctional family, there probably were.
We lack that kind of everyday storytelling with meditation: we usually approach it in a more formal framework. And I think that this hurts our ability to integrate it. That’s why stories can help bridge that gap, create a way for experience to be communicated. Be it the bizarre antics of Drukpa Kunley, the story on how Ganesh became elephant headed or a more down to earth story on how we began to meditate in response to a situation, I think that Storytelling is the tool that will help more Mindfulness teachers to communicate.
What are your favorite meditation stories?