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Embracing the healing power and cultural importance of oral storytelling

January 9, 2018

Before Instagram, memes, television, and the printed word, wisdom and information were shared through the ancient tradition of oral storytelling. As old as human language itself, oral storytelling cultivates an intimate connection between the speaker and a captive audience. The shared creative process engenders a personal bond in which both storyteller and listener shed their egos and embrace their vulnerability, trusting that the exchange of wisdom serves a greater purpose, strengthening and advancing their community.

 

While the storyteller has the flexibility to incorporate her own personality and style, ultimately, it’s not about the teller. It’s about the narrative being conveyed. The human experience shared in narrative form has the power to transform an audience, as Vyasa states in the beginning of the ancient Indian epic, The Mahābhārata, “If you listen carefully, at the end you’ll be someone else.” That’s exactly how I felt after attending my first Women Grow Boston (now ELEVATE New England) event. I knew I would never be the same. 

 

 

About a week before their first “Women, Weed, and Wellness” event, an attorney friend who’d been proactively incorporating cannabis law into her practice discovered the upcoming event and invited me to join her. I had no idea what to expect, but considering women, weed, and wellness are my favorite topics, I instantly accepted her invitation.

 

The artful construction of the event took the attendees on a journey from one speaker to the next, beginning with cannabis chef and yoga instructor Christine Reed. Christine opened the conversation with simple breathing and yoga exercises that we could easily do from our chairs. Many of us had come straight from work to the event and were still full tension, so the yoga instruction allowed us to calm our minds, release the work-day stress in our bodies, and welcome with openness the information that was to come. 

 

With new balanced mindsets, we were then ready to listen to Carolyn Kaufman’s inspirational journey with cannabis. Carolyn, a health consultant (and natural storyteller), seamlessly wove humor with trauma throughout her presentation about her experiences living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), illustrating her personal experience of coping with the devastating and excruciating symptoms that she and many others with MS endure. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience by the time she reached the turning point in her story: the day her brother convinced her to smoke her first joint. She immediately felt relief from the cannabis, and incorporated it into her daily routine, setting small yet epic goals for herself.

 

As she continued treating her symptoms with cannabis, her goals grew larger, until she decided to tackle a bucket list item: hike Machu Picchu. A once seemingly impossible goal had become within her reach thanks to ancient plant medicine, and without sharing my favorite part of her story (because you deserve to hear it from Carolyn herself someday), I will tell you that she made it. She hiked Machu Picchu.

 

I had barely dried my weepy eyes before Donna Hackett, a cannabis activist and cancer survivor, took the floor and triggered my well of emotions all over again. Donna, a natural comedian, also injected much-needed comic relief, but the injustice laced throughout her story impacted me on a deep soul level. I knew I would never return to a state of being silenced by the stigma. Donna, having been diagnosed with both stage 3 cancer and Lyme disease, attempted the traditional pharma route of treating her symptoms with chemo and radiation. Not only was she not getting better, she’d started feeling worse.

 

 

Looking at countless pill bottles in her medicine cabinet, she turned to her son and told him that she wanted to dump them all down the toilet. He responded that he would roll her one joint every hour on the hour until she felt better. And that’s what he did. She strutted across the room, showing us how cannabis had given her back her body, her hair, and her sense of humor. The positive impact of this plant was undeniable, which is why I became frustrated to the point of tears when she told us about police raiding her home, seizing her medicine, and the legal troubles that followed. Through fearless conviction and stirring storytelling, she instilled within us her activist spirit, which I internalized as a reminder to be the change I wish to see in the world. 

 

Finally, Dr. Uma Dhanabalan, a cannabis therapeutics specialist, spoke shared her heart-wrenching story of losing her mother to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (a lung disease for which the cause is unknown), which to her, as a family medicine practitioner, was a mystery. Her commitment to understanding why her mother, who never smoked, exercised, and never ate red meat, became ill led to her study of cannabis. Through her research, she discovered the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). This discovery shifted her entire career path.

 

 

Dr. Uma felt she could no longer perpetuate certain aspects of traditional Western medicine, which treats symptoms rather than causes. She made it her mission to explore preventative medicine, which includes cannabis use. Through her passionate explanation of what our ECS is and how cannabis affects our bodies on a scientific level, Dr. Uma illuminated why the women who had shared their stories earlier that evening experienced so much success in treating their illnesses. In doing so, she provided her audience with an arsenal of knowledge that we could adopt to educate others and articulate our own truths about cannabis.  

 

We became empowered to share our newly acquired wisdom with our respective families, friends, and anyone else who would listen, confident that we are now authorities on the topic. I personally felt a duty to remain unapologetically vocal about the healing properties of this plant. From that night forward, I would advocate for cannabis use until any lingering stigmas are eradicated. How could I not after hearing such powerful personal narratives?

 

We hosted another “Women, Weed, and Wellness” this past summer, featuring similarly heroic and transformative stories of illness and recovery. Afterward, I asked a friend what she thought of it, and she replied, “It was all about the plant!” Indeed, each storyteller had a personal connection to cannabis, but ultimately, the messages conveyed illustrated the plant’s healing abilities. It felt as though we were participating in something ancient. Storytellers during the Medieval Period were expected to know the healing powers of herbs, and the storytellers of today’s cannabis community are passionately carrying on that tradition. 

 

What has been your experience with cannabis? As we enter the New Year, perhaps you will feel inspired to tell your own stories, spreading wisdom along with holiday cheer.

 

If you find that you feel comfortable in the role of speaker, perhaps you would like to carry on the tradition of oral storytelling at a future Women, Weed and Wellness event with ELEVATE New England! Apply here…

 

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