In my training and work as a storyteller with the international school of storytelling, we talked about awareness of what exists in our ‘backspace’. The backspace can include our heritage, our background, and our connection with those living and dead who inspire and encourage us. It can also include our relationship to the extra-worldly—the divine or spiritual realms—if they have meaning for you (they do for me). To allow us to experience the feeling of a group supporting our back space, storyteller Ashley Ramsden led us in an exercise. One at a time, we moved at the front of a small group. The seven or eight people following us spread in a V behind us, and synchronised their moves with whomever was the leader. Perhaps this is what it is like to take the lead in a migratory group of geese, our wings beat into the future but we are supported by those who fly behind us.
I focused on my backspace this week when I was asked to be a funeral celebrant. It was my first experience in this kind of ‘story work’ so a little nervousness arose. As I drove to the funeral parlour, I summoned up those in my backspace to support me: loved ones, friends and mentors, those in this world and beyond—the entire cheer squad. I reminded myself that they are only too willing to offer me support if I’m receptive. As I recalled their support, I relaxed, the way you do when someone (maybe even many someones) ‘have your back’, as the saying goes.
When I moved into the room and stepped up to the lectern, I also used a little trick that I learned from the writings of Patsy Rodenburg, acclaimed voice teacher. At least I think I learned it from her. I often have a hazy memory of exactly where an idea emerged. Frequently, I collapse one idea to incorporate several different sources. So, it may also have been an exercise in Robert Sardello’s book ‘Freeing the soul from fear’ which inspired this strategy. His example described how we can stand on the edge of a chasm and yet subdue our fear, whereas Patsy Rodenburg was describing nervousness or fear in front of, not a chasm, but a group of people. But enough whittering on about sources, I’ve done it not to emphasise my vagueness but to recommend the work of wise folk.
And the trick? Well, it’s simple and it’s also powerful. Before you begin speaking to a group (or as you’re standing on the edge of a precipice), you gently breathe in and out as though your breath would fill the whole of the space. Take in all of your audience and let them take you in. (And, hopefully, smile at the same time, a look of blank terror may not work as well).
So, I did that. It was a well-attended funeral for someone much-loved, so my breath had to extend beyond the chapel to the reception space at the back, and then make a perpendicular turn to the left to include people watching on a screen in the reception room. Yet it only took a small breath and we were together. I was relaxed. All was well. I could feel my back space, my invisible supporters. I felt comfortable with everyone in the room.
There are lots of carpets of trust, it seems. One for each of us.