Attention: The First “A” of Intuitive Storytelling
By David Sewell McCann
My eldest son was sitting stiffly in the dentist’s chair looking a little pale. The hygienist had just ticked through what was about to unfold and my boy wanted no part of it. He wished to be brave, however, and he locked his eyes on me and asked, “Can you tell me a story?”
Within that question were several requests: “Can you help me relax?” “Can you help me be brave?” “Can you distract me for a moment?” “Can you explain why this is happening?” Of course I wanted to help him and to offer the perfect cocktail of therapy, empathy and entertainment that would strengthen and relax him through the impending procedure.
But I had to tell it immediately – and in that moment, I had nothing.
So what to do?
What to do when you have two rambunctious kids in the backseat and another 20 minutes until you arrive?
What to do when you are exhausted and your daughter demands a story before bed?
What to do when the plane hits some turbulence and your son starts to worry?
In these days we are quick to reach for technology. The convenience, the portability, the effectiveness and the variety are all real and true. The TV, mp3 player, cellphone, laptop and tablet will engage and distract. It does work. But it has a cost like everything else. First of all it costs money. You have to buy these things and then you often need to buy content. But the deeper and more enduring cost is your children’s growing dependence on technology to keep their attention. They will grow to desire the immediacy and high level of sensation that technology offers.
The “use technology as a tool” maxim doesn’t really apply with small children. Their sense of what is “real” is not fully developed yet and they depend on the authority around them for instruction. When this environment includes cartoons, computer games and interactive websites – the line between real and pretend becomes blurred. This is a vulnerable place for young children and conscious parents struggle to control the content that their children are exposed to. They sift and surf looking for recommendations and reviews. It is exhausting and seldom worth it.
But another alternative is right under their noses. Storytelling!
Tell them a story. Make one up on the spot. It is convenient. It is portable. It is effective and holds immense variety. Parents have complete control over content and it is FREE! Well almost free. You do need to take the time to tell the story. But the payback is huge. Your children will be dazzled by you, you will offer them some content that is important to you and you might learn a little about yourself or your child in the process. Plus, in my experience, I am filled with rejuvenating energy. Win win.
And finally, your children develop a more powerful and enduring attention. Rather than having the content spoon fed to them in snappy, rapidly changing images and sounds – they can create their own images and drama inwardly. They can be present to the moment and literally attend.
Attention is the first of the four tenets of intuitive storytelling. Attention, Affection, Approach and Allowance – each equally important and powerful when telling a story out of the present moment.
This and the following three articles will address each of the four “A’s” of intuitive storytelling. And June is Attention.
To attend is to be there. When you attend an event, you show up. You are really there – and to have attention is to be fully present. We want our children to have full attention. We want their attention spans to be wide. It is a word that comes up all the time in schools. Attention is often graded and evaluated. And many children are “diagnosed” with a deficiency in Attention. ADD continues to be on the rise in many schools and mediating this “condition” continues to be the focus of many school professionals. We value healthy attentions.
But how are we modeling this for our children? How is our attention? Do we fully attend? Is our attention span wide and full and focused – or are we also deficient in our attention? How often have we not heard our own child because we were checking email? How often have we blanked on someone’s name because we never heard it in the first place? How often have we driven home without remembering how we got there? Attention. If we really value it in our children, then it makes sense to work on our own.
So once again – storytelling to the rescue!
Attention is the starting place of every intuitive story. In order to make up a story on the spot, we need to start. We need a seed. We need a launching pad. And the world is ready to help you. The world will surround you with seeds and a launching pad and all you have to do is attend. Pay attention. Look around. Listen. Smell the air. Taste your food. Feel your feet in your shoes. Be there. Then the magic happens.
When you are about to tell a story and you open yourself to all around you, you will be amazed at what you notice.
You will see things that you never noticed are there. You will hear things that surprise you. You will taste a faint hint of something that reminds you of a distant place long ago. Images will come to you and suddenly out of your mouth will come:
“Once upon a time, there was a bee who hated the taste of honey…” or “There was once a little girl who longed to be as small as an ant…” or “Long ago and far away there was a gentle woodsman who was looking for his mother…”
And then the fun begins. The story gets told before you – with no clear sense of where it is going or what is going to happen. It feels like someone else is telling the story and you are listening along with your children. But then every now and then the story comes to an impasse. There is a crossroads in the story that stops the flow. It always happens – even if only for a moment. Attention can come to the rescue once again.
When you don’t know where to take the story and you are seeming a little lost, then look around. Listen. Smell. Notice everything until something in particular takes your attention. A butterfly. A green mailbox. The sound of mariachi music. The smell of exhaust. You notice and an image comes. And it is the perfect solution to the impasse. Then you continue.
This first tenet of intuitive storytelling will take you amazing places. When joined with the other three tenets (Affection, Approach and Allowance) they will connect you deeply with your child and the All That Is to deliver a powerful, moving and entertaining story you will always remember.
For the month of June, I invite you to tell stories to your child. I invite you to trust in what you see, hear, taste, smell and feel in every moment and let it guide you. Follow it. Then tell me what happens. You can post your thoughts on our facebook page for Sparkle Stories or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Sewell McCann has been spinning stories all of his adult life. Out of his experience as a Waldorf class teacher and parent, he has developed a method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and in collaboration with his wife Lisabeth with their children’s story website www.sparklestories.com.
Copyright 2011 The Wonder of Childhood