Via Basel: One Story at a Time

We’re living in a turbulent and critical time. Change has always been around but in the modern era, especially the last few decades, the rate of change has accelerated to dizzying proportions. Anxiety and stress related to our inherent resistance to change has significantly increased among the general populace and in every segment of society all over the world. The results are apparent in fragmentation and instability in many societies as well as conflicts and wars between countries. Historians will probably state this has always been the case, but I believe we are in a precarious phase with multiple converging problems, digital information explosion, disinformation, Artificial Intelligence, along with climate crisis, inequality, lack of social cohesion, and others.

I have suggested in previous posts that Mindfulness would help in alleviating stress, control reflexive reactivity, and provide inner and eventually outer peace. But in today’s environment there is an inherent resistance to this mindset of slowing down and contemplation. Volatile emotions and expediency have taken over. While I still believe in and teach Mindfulness, we also need other tools.

Since I started writing in Escape Into Life and elsewhere I noticed that one genre nearly everyone enjoys is storytelling. We as humans may be genetically wired to this form of communication between us. In our evolution as hunter-gatherers, sitting around fires and listening to stories, legends, and myths may have helped us survive the harsh and brutal conditions of those times. Nowadays they may not be as important for short term survival, but they’re a common thread that can help bind us together. Yes, some are better than others in storytelling but any one of us can be a storyteller and have something to contribute. At the minimum we can be active recipients and share all our stories.   

Education in general is more effective in a story format than didactic lecturing. Indeed, even scientists have found out that the best way to inform and educate the public about discoveries in their own areas of expertise is to present them in storytelling mode as opposed to dry, detailed articles that are hard to digest and resonate with. After all, the heart is easier to connect with than the mind. We need stories coming from the depths of our hearts in addition to facts and rationality from the mind.

A great recent example of information about Iraq, historically, culturally, environmentally, and politically is a book by Leon McCarron titled Wounded Tigris: A River Journey Through the Cradle of Civilization. His story takes him with a small group from the origins of the river in Turkey through Syria and Iraq to its final destination, the Persian Gulf. Reading or listening to it, we gain insights not only about that specific area in continuing turmoil but also implications and applications for the rest of the world in a way that keeps us interested and brings out a mixture of emotions, some, heavy and sad; others, light and joyful. 

To bring light out of the darkness of this winter, amid depressing current events, the author and clinical psychologist Mary Pipher in an article in the New York Times suggests several places to look for this light: nature, family and friends, art, spiritual rituals, and finally what she calls, the light of memory. Remembering and sharing stories of loved ones gone, old neighborhoods now changed, and cultural rituals fading away are not only nostalgic but nurturing. Some will make us laugh, and others will bring tears to our eyes. Personal traumatic memories, however, are better dealt with under supervision of a mental health professional. We spend a considerable time arguing, worrying, and consuming negative print or online news.  To counter that, soothing, gentle and fun activities like storytelling bind and connect us with our common human values. In a world obsessed with accomplishment, productivity, and efficiency, to pause, relax, and share our stories would be healthy and heavenly. 

When asked how she could possibly alleviate the misery of millions and millions of poor people, Mother Teresa famously responded, one at a time. Maybe to cure the dis-ease of our days we can all engage in storytelling, one story at a time.  

Have a wonderful and story-filled New Year.  


Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family; now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, public speaking, teaching, and social engagement.

Wounded Tigris at Pegasus Books

Mary Pipher, “Finding Light in Winter”

Mary Pipher, A Life in Light

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