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Narrative Medicine and the Audience

Posted May 21 2008 6:43am
I am in Stony Rapids at the top of Saskatchewan. I just took off the article from Mothering on Hypnosis and Birth because I thought they had published it long ago and it turns out they haven't yet published it! They saw it up on the blog and asked it to be taken down. What amazed me was that someone actually read my blog (e.g., the editors at Mothering). There's an illusion I suppose that no one is out there. I'll have to check with them if it's ok to leave up the original paper from the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 2004, but I suspect that it is. My apologies to mothering. And thanks for giving me the experience that someone actually reads this blog.

That brought my awareness to a message from Renae on Coyote Wisdom discussion group. She was writing about Bakhtin's perspective that all dialogue involves an audience. She wrote about Bakhtin's perspective on our internal, silent dialogue always being for someone. She brought my awareness even further to the importance of the audience in what we do. In our most silent and alone moments, isn't every one of us aware of being watched. Some would say we have created an imaginary audience. Other pre-moderns would say the spirits and the ancestors are always watching us, which is a feeling I have -- of my grandparents and other spirits watching what I do, which, of course, makes me accountable to my perception of what they would think of what I am doing.

So the stories that we perpetually live are being lived for someone. Who is our audience? Who are these "ghosts within" who watch what we are doing and planning. I think what Bakhtin was getting at was the way conversations are memoralized. We don't just store the story. In order to properly store the story, we must store the context in which it occurred and the audience who heard it. Whenever I remember with language, it seems that I am telling a story (silently, of course), but to someone. When I remember without language, then I feel what happened to me, but it seems that there is no way of changing or resolving without language. The non-language parts of the story are immutable without the words themselves which allow us to change the tone. So when I start to tell myself a story, I use words and their associated images and I do imagine an audience. Sometimes it is a friend. Sometimes I have the feeling that my grandfather is listening. Sometimes I imagine some element of the Greatest Mystery being aware of me and my tale. Always there's someone.

So when Renae wondered how changing the audience would change the story, that became central to my meditations today. When a person enters our office, they come not only with multiple stories begging to be heard, but also with multiple audiences who listen as well to these stories and influence their telling. In our interviews and discussions, we need to be more conscious in asking about the audience. Perhaps, we should ask, who do you think about when you are alone? Do you ever have the experience of feeling that you are rehearsing what you will say to someone in your mind? We'll have to be careful because the experience of what actually happens within us sounds psychotic to the conventional psychiatric mind. To me, I suspect voices in part arise from these internally constructed imaginal beings who eventually become able to talk back to us or comment on us. When we lose the story that goes with them, they become "as if disembodied." The voice loses its context and remains to torment the individual. Psychotic voices, by the way, are almost always disturbing and critical these days. Once upon a time, perhaps they were more spiritual.

More later....
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