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Storytelling for the Classroom 1
by Michael Berman

The Burden Basket

In the Native American tradition, the Burden Basket was hung outside the Tipi as a reminder to guests to leave their personal complaints or problems outside before entering. The custom was honoured or the visitor was permanently barred from returning again because entering another person's home with a black cloud of worry or neediness was considered to be very bad manners.

Being in the present moment and being willing to be a welcome guest requires strength of character. If everyone considered the Sacred Space of others before speaking or acting, balance would more easily be maintained in all communal living conditions.

Having compassion for the burdens of others and yet not taking those burdens on as our own, requires strength too. Inner strength is created through trusting our own personal knowledge and only seeking help when we have exhausted all other paths. The symbol of the Burden Basket teaches us not to dump our problems on others and this is what the tales in this section are intended to deal with.

As we get older we moan and groan about becoming more forgetful. Sometimes, however, having a selective memory can be something positive as in the traditional Chinese tale that follows:

Loss of Memory

Hua Tzu of the state of Sung suffered from a loss of memory in his middle years. Whatever he took in the morning was forgotten b y the evening and whatever he gave in the evening was forgotten by the morning. On the road he would forget to move ahead and indoors he would forget to sit down. Here and now, he has forgotten then and later he will not remember the here and now.

He consulted an astrologer, but divination provided no answer. Then he sought the help of a medium, but prayer could not control the problem either. Finally he visited a doctor, but once again the treatment brought no relief.

In the state of Lu there was a Confucian scholar who claimed that he could cure the disease, and Hua Tzu's wife paid him half their estate to do it. "No sign or omen," said the Confucian, "can solve this. No prayer can preserve him and no medicine will work. I must try to transform his mind, alter his way of thinking, and then there may be hope." The scholar stripped Hua Tzu, and the naked man demanded clothes. The scholar starved Hua Tzu, and he demanded food. He locked Hua Tzu in a dark room, and he demanded light.

"This illness can be cured," the Confucian advised Hua Tzu's son. "But my remedy is a secret handed down for generations, a secret that has never been revealed to anyone outside our family. I must ask you to dismiss all your father's attendants so that he can live alone with me for seven days." The son agreed.

Nobody knows what methods the scholar used, but Hua Tzu's ailment of many years miraculously cleared up. When Hua Tzu realized that he was cured, he went into a tremendous rage. He chastised his wife, punished his son, and drove off the Confucian with weapons. People seized Hua Tzu and asked him the reason for his strange behaviour.

"In my forgetfulness I was a free man, unaware if heaven and earth even existed or not," said Hua Tzu. "But now I remember all that has passed, all that remains or has perished, all that was gained or lost, all that brought sorrow or joy, all that was loved or hated - the ten thousand problems that have plagued my life. And I fear that these same things will disturb my mind no less in times to come. Where shall I find another moment's peace? That's the reason why."

Notes for teachers
Pre-listening: The story is about a man who suffers from loss of memory Who do you thinks succeeds in helping him overcome the problem - an astrologer, a medium, a doctor or a Confucian scholar? Now listen to the story to find out if your predictions were correct or not.


Now for a contemporary tale. Our fast-paced daily lives make it difficult to be fully present at any one moment. We are always thinking about what is going to happen next and there is no time for quiet or reflection. But sometimes we need to step outside this web we weave ourselves into and to reconnect with our inner resources and that is what The Clock is all about:

The Clock

It had been his grandfather's - a battered old travelling alarm-clock that had to be wound up every twenty four hours and always lost time, a regular ten minutes a day. And although modern replacements were available cheaply that were clearly much more convenient to operate, there was no way he could bring himself to part with it. The clock was the one possession his grandfather had left him that Daniel felt he could make use of and that's why, despite its obvious limitations, he chose to hang on to it.

So whatever time he set the clock for, the bell would ring ten minutes earlier. The problem was exacerbated by his own in-built clock, which conditioned him to wake up ten minutes before the bell actually went off. However, this suited Daniel just fine as he had a fixation with time.

Daniel had an answer for just about everything except the one question he always dreaded - when people asked him if he was happy. How can anyone truly say they're happy given the state the world is in? This would be his stock reply. However, in reality, the concept of happiness was beyond his comprehension. For Daniel's only concern in life was not to waste any precious time and nothing else really mattered.

Being a born worrier, he was in constant fear of being late and not making the most of the time he had. Even at weekends he could never manage to lie in like other people seemed to do. On Friday nights, to please his long-suffering wife, he would break his weekday habit of setting the clock. However, he knew that only too well, his in-built clock would never fail him and that he would still wake up the same time as usual.

In reality, the policy was counter-productive as most of the time he was so overtired that he was unable to produce any work of value or to appreciate the extra time that he did have. In fact, the problem got worse and worse, until eventually his nerves became totally frayed and it was apparent to all around him, and even Daniel himself, that he was in desperate need of help.

That's when the clock decided to take over. One morning despite the usual preparations Daniel had made to wind up the clock and set the alarm the night before, it chose not to go off. Moreover, his in-built clock chose not to operate too. It was as if the two clocks were in league with each other. And so Daniel slept blissfully on until lunchtime. And instead of waking up guilt-ridden and in a panic, he woke up refreshed and revitalised.

As far as Daniel was concerned, it was the first morning of spring. And the first thing he did once he'd got dressed was to go outside into the garden and to dig a hole. There he buried the clock, which had served its purpose, and from that moment on he never looked back. For Daniel had rediscovered his birthright - how to truly enjoy the life he'd been blessed with. And from that day on Daniel had no trouble answering the question that had previously so perplexed him. For the sound of the ticking that had so plagued him had finally stopped.

Notes for teachers
Pre-Listening: The story you're going to hear is about a clock. What sort of clock do you suppose it is and what's special about it? Now listen to the tale to find out whether your predictions were accurate or not.

The story deals with a person who suffers from stress. As a follow-up activity you might like to make use of the questionnaire below.

How stressed out are you?

1. How do you react when something upsets you or winds you up?
a. You think about it for a day or two.
b. You can't get it out of your head for a week or more.
c. Your thoughts quickly turn to other things.
2. How do you feel when you think about all the jobs you have to do during the day?
a. You usually feel you can cope well despite the pressures.
b. You feel wound up but expect to get through it.
c. You feel overwhelmed and think you'll never be able to do them.
3. How does your body feel on a typical day?
a. Tense across the neck and shoulders.
b. Relaxed. Your breathing is always easy and slow.
c. Very stiff in the neck and shoulders and you're prone to frequent headaches.
4. How do you react to the situations you find yourself in feel during the course of an average day?
a. You tend to lose your temper over unimportant things.
b. You get more irritated by things going wrong then you would like.
c. You cope calmly with life's usual setbacks.
5. What's your sleeping pattern like?
a. You have no problems sleeping.
b. You wake up frequently during the night and often feel tired the next day.
c. You get odd nights of bad sleep but can usually make up for them.
6. How do you react when you think of what other people expect from you in life?
a. You panic and feel inadequate.
b. You can keep a sense of perspective. You know there are lots of things you can't do, and that's fine.
c. You take their opinions seriously but you don't lose any sleep over them.


Check your scores

1 a-2 b-3 c-1
2 a-1 b-2 c-3
3 a-2 b-1 c-3
4 a-3 b-2 c-1
5 a-1 b-3 c-2
6 a-3 b-1 c-2


What your score means:

11 - 18 You clearly feel stressed out and need to do something about it. Make sure you do some regular exercise or take up meditation or yoga.. Reduce your intake of stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine. Eat non-fatty, wholesome starchy foods and avoid sugars. And, most important of all, learn how to say no.

10 - 14 Your stress levels are about average, but you should do what you can to lower them so read the tips above.

6 - 9 You're doing well and have nothing to worry about. We live in a stressful world but it's obvious you can cope. You can set a good example for those around you to follow so they can learn how to keep their stress levels under control too.

To part two of the article

To Michael's article 'Warrior, Settler or Nomad?'

To 'A Beginner's Guide To Storytelling lesson plan'

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