The Oral Tradition

Oral storytelling as a tradition of knowledge sharing is universal: It provides a venue for communing, listening, being together. But it also represents a powerful channel for the sharing of ancient wisdom and experience: the handing down of knowledge and stories from one generation to another. Collective myth.

Most cultures' storytellers have the custom of repetition: they repeat the same story because they believe that with each time a person hears that tale, they are hearing it from a new place within themselves, and within the context of their culture. The story is perceived anew, reflecting where the listener is now, has been, and is moving towards. The story thus becomes an individual gauge of personal insight, progress, and enlightenment.

It is a source of education for those younger, and self assessment for those with life experience to imbue into the collective.

Listening to the stories can produce laughter, tears, anger, self examination. Listening is always learning: we are poignantly reminded of this regarding racial equality speakers during the movements that are permeating the global landscapes.

Spoken language is a powerful tool for homosapiens. It is what sets us apart and what we owe to our survival. The oral tradition is a powerful and intimate practice, arguably the most important way we are taught, and taught to think. The content of these collective myths can exist within rituals and superstitions particular to individual families, our immigration stories, our ancestor’s recipes, artisanal crafts. Great bodies of healing theory are contained in these shared stories. Life-lessons on the human condition shared around the kitchen table, or within the sanctity of a revered enclosure. Or the stories can include the inherited trauma of our ancestors, ensuring another viewpoint of history. In order to sustain our familial and cultural truths alive and well, we must honor the recounting and the listening by passing knowledge and stories down the lineage. Upholding one’s legacy.

The further American society drifts from the wisdom traditions of our ancestors and the further we drift apart from our histories, the greater the socio-cultural wasteland we create. Especially during times like these when many have been quarantined by themselves, communicating primarily on computer screens and telephones, it is important to hear the community’s news, tales, whispers, needs, and discourses. To culturally and communally engage. Not in the conversations being generated by the media, but in what are the people saying. What are our people saying - our tribes, our communities?

At vedaHEALTH, oral traditions directly affect our practice: Ayurveda is based on ancient texts of wisdom founded on human observation and subsequent story-telling. Dr. Geary attributes much of her healing practices to active listening, from the story telling of her elders, her teachers and her patients. An Ayurvedic practitioner spends as much time in listening to the patient speak, as to the exam. She learned from her thesis advisor Dr. Arthur Kleinman, about attending to the patient's explanatory model of illness within the context of culture. She learned from sages in India about how to nourish those succumbing to cancer. She learned from her mother and great-grandmother secrets of childrearing. It is all a shared rhetoric of healing: the wisdom of life experience intertwined within the teachings of biology.

Though most formal traditions of storytelling are lost, there is an opportunity to revitalize the tradition. Begin new practices of listening to friends and families stories, honoring our own journey, and witnessing the journeys of others. Ask those you love to share their experiences, their myths. Make time to listen and ask questions. Make time to share in healing and history. Honor the oral tradition and discover your collective myths.