Story telling as medicine: Best-selling stories offer glimpse of light within darkness

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In many cultures, shaman and healers use story-telling as medicine.

It makes sense. The idea of creating imaginary tales to inspire and heal also appears to work in this contemporary world, as many seek out stories depicting hidden elements of eternal light beneath the world’s chaos and uncertainty.

Over the last 50 years, there have been a handful of books that have been a balm of sorts to the souls of readers around the globe, weaving compelling plots around the messages also told by the greatest sages and spiritual leaders—such as that we create our lives with our thoughts, that we are so much more than we currently understand; and that there is someone or something looking out for each and every one of us. Most importantly, in these books, is the message that the answer to every question seems to be “love.”

Several such stories have been especially embraced by seekers of the “Baby Boom” generation yet continue to gather younger fans around the world as the books are made into movies and authors continue to blog and connect with fans on social media.

“Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” a New York Times best-seller was written by Richard Bach in the 1970s, and tells the story of a young seagull who wanted to fly higher, farther and faster than anyone in the flock ever dared.

Jonathan is driven by his mission despite the disapproval of the other birds and when he is finally able to break the speed barrier, he is banned by his flock for not conforming.

The story was created by Bach as a simple parable about transcending the laws of the earthbound and finding freedom through consciousness and love.

Here’s Jonathan’s reply when a young student, Fletch, asks how Jonathan can forgive those in the flock that betrayed him.

“Oh, Fletch, you don’t love that! You don’t love hatred and evil, of course,” Jonathan replies, adding “You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”

After “Jonathan,” another little book captured the attention of spiritual seekers across the world, one which people are also still discovering today called “The Alchemist.”

In his introduction, author Pablo Coelho says he was as surprised as anyone by the global reaction to “The Alchemist,” a story about a young shepherd from Spain who travels to Egypt to find a hidden treasure.

“People continue to ask me if I knew ‘The Alchemist’ would be a big success. The answer is no. I had no idea. How could I. When I sat down to write ‘The Alchemist’ all I knew is that I wanted to write about my soul. I wanted to write about my quest to find my treasure. I wanted to follow omens, because even then I knew omens were the language of God.”

Coelho’s success, with copies published in more than 63 languages, may allow impartial observers to get a pulse of the deep desires of readers across many nations, clearly also inspired to consider finding their own personal destiny.

The book, written in 1987, has reportedly caught the attention of Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood website, deadline.com reports a movie is said to be in development, with hopes of shooting to begin in 2016.

Another one-time best seller that is still selling hotly is “The Celestine Prophecy,” written by James Redfield, who originally self-published his book in 1993 and sold thousands of copies from the trunk of his car. The story was eventually picked up by a major publisher and went on to sell millions of copies and create a loyal following for Redfield’s other books in the series, the last of which was “The Twelfth Insight: The Hour of Decision,” published n 2011. It was also made into a movie, an experience Redfield explores in his non-fiction book. “Celestine Prophecy: The Making of the Movie.”

The plot revolves around a disenchanted narrator whose life unfolds into danger and intrigue when he is drawn into an adventure to find prophecies that point the way to a global spiritual unfolding.

A character in Redfield’s “Twelfth Insight” notes that “the universe is filled with all sorts of fortuitous encounters, intuitions, and mysterious coincidences, all pointing to a higher purpose behind our lives, and in fact, behind all of human history. The only question, then, for the seeker who wakes up to this reality is how does one begin to engage its secrets.”

Another best-seller, which a far grimmer plot, is called “The Shack.” Published in 1990, it’s about a man whose young daughter has been kidnapped and murdered during a family camping trip. It would seem to be a story seeped in sadness, and as the book begins, the main character is mired in overwhelming grief when he receives a postcard from God, inviting him to meet at the cabin where the girl was murdered. Arriving there, he meets three entirely unexpected versions of the divine, including a beautiful black matriarch who calls herself “Papa,” an airy, loving wisp who shows him all the beauty of which this life is capable, and an affable, warm-hearted version of Jesus, who walks with him on water.

“The Shack,” is also being made into a movie slated for release in November, and its author, Wm. Paul Young, has just written another book exploring the back story of the creation, called “Eve.” On his website, where he blogs and oversees an active digital community, he writes that his newest book opens a conversation about “the equality of men and women within the context of our beginnings, helping us to see each other as our Creator does — complete, unique, and not constrained to cultural rules or limitations.”

There are certainly other inspirational fictional tales from the last five decades not mentioned here, but which have their own devoted fans. However, when taking a look at some of the best-selling spiritual tales of this generation, it’s easy to see that many around the globe— like each of the protagonists in the stories above — wish to be the heroes in their own lives and are valiantly seeking a better way.

Michele DeLuca is a journalist working for a daily newspaper in Western New York. Her recently published first novel is called “Forever More: A Love Story from the Edge of Eternity.” Read an excerpt from her book on her blog, “Joyride” at www.micheledeluca.net.

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