Storytelling at Work
August 25, 2020
You Are a Universe of Stories

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Astronomers, in 1996, attempted a very interesting experiment. They pointed the most powerful telescope in the world, the Hubble space telescope, into a part of the sky that seemed to be completely empty, a patch of the universe long assumed to be devoid of even single planet or star. This experiment was a somewhat risky one, since time on the Hubble telescope was quite expensive and in very high demand. Indeed, there were many highly respected scientists, at the time, who questioned whether "looking at nothing" was a wise use of time and resources. Nevertheless, the experiment proceeded.

When the lens of the telescope was finally closed, 10 days later, and the images from deep space were processed, more than 3,000 galaxies had been detected, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions of stars.

Eight years later, in 2004, astronomers decided to perform the experiment again, this time pointing the Hubble telescope towards a different patch of sky -- a section of the universe also assumed to be completely empty.

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At the end of this second experiment, using advanced detectors and filters that allowed more light through than ever before, 10,000 new galaxies were discovered -- each one also containing billions of stars.

As a writer and storyteller, I have asked many people to tell me their stories -- moments of truth in their life... or rites of passage.. or just something interesting that happened to them. Not infrequently, the people I ask look back at me with a blank stare, explaining, in various ways, that they really don't have any stories to share -- that not all that much interesting has happened to them in their life.

Metaphorically speaking, I am directing their attention to a patch of their own night sky and what I hear back from them is that there is nothing there. To them, it is empty.

As a long-time researcher into the storytelling phenomenon, I know their conclusion is not even remotely close to being true. Each and everyone of us, no matter where we were born or what our life experiences have been, contain a universe of stories within us: Memorable happenings... moments of truth... rites of passages... unforgettable encounters... lessons learned... cool experiences ... and a whole bunch of off the grid moments -- small, medium, and large.

And yet, when we are asked to identify our stories, we often draw a blank -- not unlike those skeptical astronomers who assumed there was nothing to see in deep space.

You have stories. You do. Of course, you have stories! If your life depended on it, you could identify at least ten of them in the next few minutes. And if I offered you a thousand dollars, you could come up with a whole lot more.

Why then, are so many of us blind to our stories? Why do so many of us insist there is nothing much to see or say?

Three reasons: First, most of us assume that a story needs to be earth-shattering in order for someone else to be interested enough to listen to it, and because most of our stories are not earth-shattering, we forget them quickly or never see them in the first place. Second, we just don't take the time. Remember, the astronomers who pointed the Hubble Telescope into deep space did it for 10 days, not 10 minutes. And third, most people don't know where to look or how to look. The "technology" we use to detect and unpack our own stories is not very sophisticated.

Consider this: If you look into the night sky with only your own two eyes, the most you are going to see, on a good night, is 3,000 stars. There is no way you will be able to detect that the universe is actually 47 billion light years wide with an estimated 100 trillion galaxies, each galaxy containing hundreds of billions stars.

You and I, my friend, are also universes. We are. Inside of each of us are 7 billion billion billion atoms. That's a one with 27 zeros after it. And while we might not have 7 billion billion billion stories inside us, we certainly have more than a few, each one capable of lighting up the night sky. And not just for our own selves, but also for the fortunate ones who get a chance to listen to them.

If you want to discover your stories (each one, by the way, encoded with its own special kind of light), you will need change the way you look for them. And, of course, before you even begin to look, just like our Hubble Telescope astronomer friends, you will need to become CURIOUS.

One way to identify your stories
Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo #1: Greg Rakozy, Unsplash
Photo #2: Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2020
Words Written to Ease the Passing of My Friend's Dying Mother

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A few days ago, I got an email from a friend of mine, in Denmark, telling me that her mother was dying and would I be willing to email a few of my stories to her that she might choose one to read, bedside, to her mother.

Whoa! This was not a request that had ever come my way before and I was not at all sure I had anything up to the task. Curious, I began looking through my stuff and, after a few minutes, found a few that seemed sort of possible and sent them on their way.

Tina chose this one and read it to her mother on her death bed -- her mom smiling upon hearing it, nodding, and squeezing Tina's hand.

Those three gestures -- the gestures of a 96-year old woman on her way to the Great Beyond -- a smile, a head nod, and a squeeze of the hand -- is probably the most meaningful feedback I have ever received, enough for me to live on for quite a while, indeed, but the next morning, when I woke up, there was yet another message from Tina -- this one explaining that her mother had, at most, only another 30 minutes left and... would... I... be willing to send another story?

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Stunned, humbled, knocked for a loop, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to think of something I'd written, something, that might be good enough for Tina to read to her mom, now only 30 minutes from death's door.

Nothing came to mind. Nothing I'd ever written felt right for the moment. Nothing fit the request. And then... I got it! NOW was the moment to write it. No mussing. No fussing. No time to waste. And so I did. And here it is:

"I know it seems as if you are dying, mother, but there is no such thing as death. What we call death is really just the walking from one room of your house into another -- a room with much bigger windows, fresher air, and an even better view than anything you have seen so far. The only thing that ends is the body, but the soul flies free, forever. As always, you are in good hands, God's hands, the hands of life, what gave you life in the beginning and will guide you on your way. We come and we go, like pilgrims, just for a while. We see, we hear, we think, we feel, but there is even something greater for all of us to experience and that is the journey you are now on. No one stays here, forever. We are guests, wayfarers, and traveling companions. In terms of eternity, you are leaving only a few minutes before I do. Both of us, like everyone else on planet Earth, is on the same journey -- the journey of letting go and waking up to who we truly are -- the love supreme, the breath of life, the gift we have been given and will always have. You have lived a good life. Be grateful for that. Now it is time to fly free. Wherever you go, know this: you will be guided and protected, always held in the arms of love. Always. Trust that. Go to the light. Fly free!"

NOTE: Out of this experience, only a few days old, I've decided to write a book of stories, reflections, and poetry for people about to depart: The Book of Last Days. I feel called to do this and, God willing, I will.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2020
The Last Story of a Dying Woman

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See this photo?

It was taken a few days ago in a hospital room in Copenhagen -- a photo of a story I wrote five years ago about an unforgettable moment I experienced, with my son Jesse, when he was just four years old.

Last week, a friend of mine, Tina Lindgreen, in Denmark, asked me to send her some stories of mine to read to her mom on her death bed. This is the one she chose. Her mom loved the story, squeezed Tina's hand as it was being read, then nodded and smiled. The next day was her last.

In 1998, when the experience I wrote about happened, I had no idea that 22 years later, it would help ease the transition of a 96-year old woman 3,790 miles away. Bottom line, we have very little idea about the impact our thoughts, words, and actions have on other people.

We are all connected.

Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
Or this book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

"Dada, Do You Have Time to Catch My Bubbles?"

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One morning, 22 years ago, I found myself standing in my closet, madly searching for clean clothes in a last minute attempt to pack before yet another business trip, when I noticed my 4-year old son, Jesse, standing in the entrance. In one hand he held a small plastic wand, in the other, a plastic bottle of soapy water.

"Dada," he said, looking up at me. "Do you have time to catch my bubbles?"

Time? Whoa! It stopped. And so did I. At that moment, it made absolutely no difference whether or not I caught my plane; I could barely catch my breath. The only thing that was happening in that moment was my son and the soulful look of longing in his eyes.

For the next ten minutes, all we did was play -- him blowing bubbles, me catching. His need was completely satisfied -- his need for connection, his need for love, his need for knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his dada was THERE for him and everything was perfect just the way it was.

Jesse is 26 now and just bought his own house. He works at YouTube. His bubbles are digital. But his deepest needs -- and mine -- are very much the same: love, connection, and enjoyment of the moment.

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SO WHAT? This just in: In these difficult days of the Coronavirus, it is clear to me, more than ever, that it is the small moments that count -- the subtle opportunities we have every day to really BE there for each other. The business of life is not a life of business. There is something going on beyond cash flow, getting back to work, and government stimulus packages that is worthy of our attention.

Like love, for example. Like kindness. Like caring, fun, deep listening, and being totally present with the people in our lives -- especially those who live under the same roof we are working so hard to make sure remains over their head.

Somehow, along the way, we have forgotten that earning a living is not the same thing as LIVING -- that the people counting on us for survival are more interested in our interest in them than they are the compounded interest we are trying to earn for them.

This is tricky business, especially at a time in our lives when it takes a whole lot more effort than ever to pay the bills.

On that memorable day in my closet, if you asked me what I was doing the moment before Jesse asked me to catch his bubbles, I would have given you a stock answer -- something like, "getting ready for a road trip" or "packing." If you'd pressed me, I might have said something like "building a house of bricks" for my family.

Jesse didn't want to play with bricks that day. He wanted to play with BUBBLES. Bubbles were not a part of his long-term strategy. They were, instead, a crystal clear invitation for me to stop doing what I was doing and BE PRESENT with him in the moment -- the moment he was joyfully living in and I was planning for.

NOW WHAT? Who has been blowing bubbles your way recently? Have you acknowledged them? Given them your attention? Responded? If not, pause for a moment and ask yourself what you might do differently to catch their bubbles.

Excepted from this book

Not excerpted from this book
MitchDitkoff.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2020
Down to the Very Last Breath

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Soon to turn 73 and increasingly realizing, in my bones and my joints, that I am mortal, I would like to take the next few minutes, if I may, to share, just a little bit, about the preciousness of life -- something I've always sensed, but didn't know, for sure, until the moment I almost died at 21.

Looking back to that time, 52 years ago, beyond the massive trauma of it all, I understand, now, what a great gift I was given, tough love from the universe, shock therapy for the soul.

I will spare you the back story and just cut to the chase.

Caught in a rip tide, I was drowning. I was going down for the third time, gulping water as I climbed an invisible ladder to nowhere, gasping. My strength was gone, completely sapped. I had nothing in the tank. Nothing. At that moment -- only one thing was clear. I was just about to die. This was the end.

As that realization entered what was left of my mind, I looked to the shore and read the epitaph a stranger would write: "You will die here and people will remember you as the person who died here." That was it -- my entire life reduced to a single sentence -- me a cautionary tale on the back pages of the local newspaper.

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As I looked to the shore, unhinged, I heard a word I had never heard before in a language I did not know, volcanic, pristine, pure, as if the earth, itself, had a voice.

"EXISTALZ! EXISTALZ!" it exclaimed, symphonic in its resonance -- my life, or what passed for my life up to this point, nothing more than a cartoon.

Only this moment was real. Only. This. Moment -- the one that would soon be my last, every cell in my body awake. What a joke! What a joke! And it was on me! Never before I had been so alive, so conscious, so completely awake, and it was all about to end.

And then? A moment I will never forget, one I will never be able to explain or honor from the sacred place from which it emerged -- a moment that brings tears to my eyes, here, now, as I write these words to you. Something took me over completely -- something far beyond who I knew myself to be -- something absolutely primal and all powerful. If infused me. It shook me, took me, gave me life, breathed me, pulled the strings that moved my arms and legs. I was not aware of it. I had no mind, no thoughts, no plan, no sense of where I was or where I was going. I had nothing, nothing at all. But something had me.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself in water only three feet deep. And so I stood, as if for the first time, and when I did, I stumbled to the shore and screamed the only word I knew. "HELP! HELP! HELP!" And why? Because the friend of mine who I'd been swimming with was still out there, alone... or so I thought.

"HELP! HELP! HELP!" I screamed again.

But there was no one on the beach, no one. I was all alone. It was just me... and the sky...and the sand... and the void.

And then... appearing from who knows where, I see a young woman slowly walking towards me. "HELP! HELP!" I scream in her direction and point to the ocean. But no one is there. No one. Just waves and foam and a lone seagull overhead.

In that moment... in that stark, brutal, incomprehensible, irreducible moment, I died a thousand deaths. Yes, I was alive, but my friend was gone. How could this be?

And then? We saw her head above water. That's when the young woman standing next to me and her boyfriend dove in and pulled her out, alive.

For the next two hours, we could not speak. All we could do was kiss the ground and sing children's songs: Happy Birthday to You... Jingle Bells... Row Row Row Your Boat and whatever else we could remember. That's it. That's all we did. Sing.

As the sun went down, we made our way back to the car and began slowly driving home. Three minutes later, we saw three hitchhikers by the side of the road and stopped to let them in. As they entered, they were complaining, letting us know they had just walked a mile, on this beautiful summer day, without a ride.

Speechless. We were speechless. We had nothing to say. Not a word.

Upon returning home, I made a vow I would never, ever, for the rest of my life, complain about anything -- that I would live the rest of my days in total gratitude, happy for simply breath alone. And that, my friend, is exactly what happened. For the next three days, I lived in a state of absolute grace and gratitude for everything in my life. The air. The breeze. The birds. The ground. The trees. My arms. My friends. The sky. My breath. And everything in between.

And then? On the fourth day of my God-intoxicated state, right after breakfast, I walked outside and noticed that the front right tire of my car was flat. I kicked it. I punched the air. I cursed. That's when I understood just how much work I still had to do to close the gap between my vows and the realization of just how sacred this life truly is. Every. Single. Breath.

Amen.

Photo #1: Ian Espinosa, Unsplash
Photo #2: Li Yang, Unsplash
MitchDitkoff.com
Storytelling for the Revolution
TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:10 AM | Comments (1)

August 11, 2020
Ethan Hawke on Creativity

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August 09, 2020
FEEDING OTHERS

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The following is a guest post from the very soulful and talented Burrill Crohn

The COVID crisis has only increased (vastly) the disproportion between the privileged haves and the far larger population who are somewhere on the scale between hungry and starving (often to death).

While the crisis has seen more hoarder mentality in many, there are others -- individuals and organizations -- who have been able send massive amounts of food to those with little or none. And so can we all, in whatever capacity.

But there is another approach as well, borrowed from the long-time Buddhist loving/kindness meditation practice -- one that breathes in the suffering of others, whether a specific individual or all sentient beings, and on the outbreath sends love and compassion to one and all.

When eating, I do my own variation.

As I eat -- whether snack or meal -- I invite others, anywhere, to come and share in the taste, nourishment and sheer joy of this food. Sometimes it's a blanket, open invitation. Sometimes I focus on a group: prisoners in isolation, someone I read about in the news, or a homeless family I see on the street. Other times I send this energy out into the non-material world seeking specific others or just any and all who can tap into what I'm sending.

One morning, for instance, eating a hearty breakfast, I specifically focused on all the front line COVID emergency responders who might have left home without a nourishing breakfast, or maybe were feeling a mid-morning let down of glucose metabolism and needed a pick-up.

Sometimes I see this like Keith Haring graffiti, lines of energy flowing from me to others; sometimes it's like inviting strangers, as is almost a requirement in many cultures and religions, into my own home (or in this case, body) to share a meal. There are other variations, as well, but you don't need examples from me. As you develop your practice -- if you so choose -- you'll find plenty of your own.

Certainly, facing the horror of pandemic hunger, there are those who will say only action counts. But we also live in a world where we send good wishes to others, offer prayers in houses of worship and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of more than a half a billion people, says, "Think peace".

So I say, "Think food." It can't hurt, it might even help.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Ashkan Forouzani, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2020
FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: The Nourishing Power of Storytelling

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Years ago, in a faraway land, there lived an evil sorcerer who was in a bad mood most of the time. Plus, he smelled bad.

One day, in an especially cranky frame of mind, he decided to work his dark magic in a particularly nefarious way -- he cast a spell throughout the land that locked everybody's arms at the elbow.

The first few days of this massively uncomfortable condition wreaked havoc throughout the land, especially at meal time, because people could no longer feed themselves.

The only way anyone could get food in their mouths was to eat like a dog, an option that was not a popular one to this proud race of people. Indeed, mostly everyone chose to go hungry rather than eat this way.

That is, until the third day of this mass affliction when one particularly bright young girl came up with a brilliant solution.

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"If it is no longer possible for us to feed ourselves," she exclaimed, "then let's feed each other!"

Bingo! Bango! Problem solved! And that's exactly what happened. "Locked Elbow Syndrome" no longer meant people went hungry or had to eat like animals. Now, all they had to do was feed each other. So simple!

Know this: the service you perform every time you share one of your heartfelt stories is very much the same as the service performed by the people from this faraway land. Every story you tell, from the heart, is food for others -- infused with the kind of nutrients that nourish, comfort, strengthen, and sustain life.

You don't have to be a professional storyteller to do this. You don't have to be a hero, wizard, or keynote speaker. All you have to be is a human being and be willing to extend yourself just a little bit.

If you want to share your stories with others, online
What Stories Will You Tell Today?
You Have Wisdom to Share
Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo: The Creative Exchange, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2020
You Tawkin' to Me?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2020
THE STORY UNFOLDS! Zoom Wisdom Circles in September

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"The shortest distance between two people is a story."

Knowing that storytelling is one of the most powerful ways for people to connect and share the very best of who they are, I've decided to launch a series of online Wisdom Circles in September. I've resisted "going virtual" with storytelling for months, attached to my concept that REAL storytelling requires that everyone is the same physical "around the fire" space. And while that is still my preference, the times they are a changing.

Instead of wearing our mask, we get a chance to take off our mask.

If you're interested, send me an email (mitch@ideachampions.com) and I will get back to you with details.

At this point, I'm thinking the ZOOM Wisdom Circles will happen once a week, for 60-90 minutes, and cost $15 per person. People can come to one or the entire series depending on available space (limit of 12 -- committed as I am to the coziness factor).

Here's what one person had to say about his experience of participating in a Wisdom Circle from 5,000 miles away:

"My first Wisdom Circle was a very personal, energetic, intimate experience. I enjoyed meaningful stories in a small group and received validation that we're all connected and can see the me in all of us. And I was 5,000 miles away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Instant connection without visual distraction on a cellular level." - Casey Holt

More info below:

What is a Wisdom Circle?
Testimonials
My 2018 book on storytelling
My 2015 book on storytelling
Who am I?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)

ABOUT THE BLOG

Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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