SHORT NARRATIVE: FLOATING IN QUICKSAND
When you are floating in quicksand, survival becomes your goal, and all your efforts are focused on that goal. You know that the "rules" of quicksand dictate that you not thrash around and that you lay still on your back, in order to keep your head above water. You float there and wait for someone to come throw you a rope. You might float a long time and become frustrated as no one comes by to help you.
Survival tactics are only a temporary solution when you are floating in quicksand. You will inevitably fail to thrive, and you are unlikely to notice that there is a rope ladder right behind you, there the whole time, waiting for you to grab it and climb out.
If you are floating in quicksand, barely keeping your head above water, expand your view and perhaps you will find a way out.
STORY: DIVE DEEP
TARGETED AUDIENCE(S): Anyone "fighting hard" against a "life storm" or feeling weak and powerless.
The mermaid had heard that a storm was brewing off the coast, but she thought she had plenty of time before it hit. She had ridden out many storms before, so the talk of a "big one" did not faze her. She was a strong swimmer and not afraid of a little wind and rain. Earlier that day, the sky had been blue and clear and the water had been calm and refreshing.
The mermaid hadn't been paying close attention as the storm approached, but now she could no longer ignore what was happening. The wind was picking up, and the clouds were turning dark. The waves grew choppy, and it became a real effort to keep her head above water. "I better head to shore," she said to herself a little reluctantly, and she began her swim.
"I wonder where everyone went?" she thought. Her friends, including four rainbow fish, an octopus, a starfish and a dolphin, had been swimming and playing with her earlier, and had urged her to get out of the water before the storm hit. Now they were nowhere to be seen.
The mermaid was still pretty far from shore when the storm hit. "Wow, that wind is very strong!" she thought as loud thunder boomed and lightning bolts lit up the now dark sky. "It's amazing how fast things can go from good to bad," she reflected. The mermaid got more and more tired as she swam through the large waves. She had a tight feeling in her chest and could hardly catch her breath. She redoubled her efforts and kept the shore in sight. "I have to keep going," she said, "It's me (alone) against the storm."
"HEY MERMAID!" It was her friend the octopus, his voice rising above the sound of the howling wind. She swam over to him and exclaimed, "I'M SURE GLAD TO SEE YOU!" He asked, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHY ARE YOU SWIMMING IN THE STORM?"
She replied, "DUH, I'M TRYING TO GET TO SHORE. I'M TRYING MY HARDEST, BUT IT'S REALLY HARD TO SWIM IN THE BIG WAVES WITH ALL THE WIND AND LIGHTNING."
Her friend paused. A long pause. And he asked, "HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN THAT YOU'RE A MERMAID?" There was another long pause.
The mermaid answered, "I THINK MAYBE I DID. WHY?"
Octopus answered. "YOU DON'T HAVE TO SWIM AGAINST THE STORM. WHEN A STORM COMES UP, BE A MERMAID. USE YOUR TAIL AND DIVE DEEP. GET OUT OF THE STORM. FOLLOW ME."
Octopus headed into the depths of the ocean and Mermaid, with a flip of her powerful tail, followed. Deeper and deeper they went, until they reached a calm, quiet, peaceful place deep in the sea. No waves. No wind. No struggle. In no time at all.
"NOW LOOK AROUND YOU," Octopus said.
Mermaid looked around and saw what lay beneath the ocean's surface. There was abundant life in the ocean depths, a colorful world under the sea. There were coral, plant life, all sorts of fish, sea creatures of every shape and type. Her panic ebbed and somewhere deep within, the calm and peace she discovered began to restore her.
I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE IT," she said. "JUST A MOMENT AGO I WAS FIGHTING THE STORM. I WAS TIRED AND DISCOURAGED. NOW I FEEL CALM IN THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE UNDER THE SEA. "
Octopus nodded his head in understanding and said, "LOOK UP." Mermaid looked up. Way up above their heads was the storm, still raging, the water churning.
Octopus noted, "STORMS COME AND GO. THEY ARE PART OF LIFE. SOME PEOPLE SAY, 'FIND THE CALM WITHIN THE STORM.' I SAY GET OUT OF THE STORM. NO ONE SHOULD TRY TO SWIM IN A STORM."
Mermaid commented, "WHEN I WAS IN THE STORM, ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT WAS KEEPING MY HEAD ABOVE WATER, TO SURVIVE. SURVIVAL. NOW THAT I AM OUT OF THE STORM, I CAN SEE MORE CLEARLY."
"YES," replied Octopus. "YOU ARE A MERMAID, SO WHEN STORMS COME UP, REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE, AND DIVE DEEP. GET OUT OF THE STORM."
Like the Mermaid, we will each face storms in life. Don't forget who you are when you find yourself in the midst of a storm. Dive deep.
STORY: THE HUNGRY HEART
- Adults who grew up with loss, rejection, abuse or neglect, including emotional neglect
- Abused and neglected children and those that care for them (teachers, parents, guardians, foster parents)
- Adults or children with trust / attachment issues
- Children experiencing loss or rejection
To improve parental empathy and attunement
Re-framing child behaviors / symptoms
Psycho-education about the impact of trauma
- Help children identify and communicate feelings
This story is an excellent lead-in for child or family play therapy with abused or neglected children and their parents / foster parents / guardians. It is especially useful for educating parents about the nurture needs of children who may be placed out-of-home and engaging in obsessive compulsive rituals, stealing, hoarding, or rejecting care. For the child who is isolated, withdrawn or attachment disrupted, the story reframes behaviors that can lead to shame and low self-efficacy. This is a great story to help overly critical parents understand the roots of child trauma responses and to increase attunement with and empathy for the child.
The Hungry Heart
“What are you doing?” said Owl to Sammy Squirrel. “Your nest is overflowing with nuts and you are trying to stuff more nuts in there?”
It was true. Sammy’s nest, a large hole in a comfortable oak tree, was overflowing with nuts. They were crammed in there tight, like sardines in a sardine can.
Owl added, “In fact, there are so many nuts in your nest that there is no room for you.”
“Yes,” said Sammy, “that’s true. I sleep outside under the tree.”
“It’s not safe to sleep outside under the tree,” said Owl. “There are dangerous animals that might hurt you, not to mention thunderstorms and hunters!”
Owl continued, “There are enough nuts in there for TEN squirrels, and you are only feeding yourself.”
Sammy looked at Owl with a slight smile and rolled his eyes as if to say, “Silly Owl, you don’t know what you’re talking about”. He insisted, “I need them when I get hungry and I am hungry all the time. I need them to survive the winter. And I need them just in case.”
“Just in case what?” asked Owl.
“Just in case someone steals the ones I have collected. Just in case I run out. And just in case my mom comes back.”
Ah… There was more to squirrel’s story. Owl prompted, “In case your mom comes back?
Sammy had not really meant to say that, but it was on his mind and just popped out. He looked down and was very quiet for a moment. He did not like to think or talk about his mom. It made him really sad.
But Owl was his friend and Sammy trusted him, so he decided to tell Owl about his mom. “When I was a really little squirrel, before I knew how to take care of myself, my mom went away. I don’t know where she went. But she never came back.”
Sammy went on. “Sometimes I dream about her. In one dream I see her playing with a handsome squirrel and running across a telephone wire. In my favorite dream she cuddles with me in the nest, and I fall asleep with her warm fur wrapped around me.”
“Maybe that’s not a dream,” said Owl. “Maybe that’s a happy memory of your mom loving you.”
“It could be a memory,” said Squirrel. “That is a nice thought.”
He looked down. “In my bad dreams a hunter shoots her or she gets hit by a car. Maybe I’ll never know.” There was a long pause.
“How did you survive without your mom?” asked Owl.
“It was really hard that first winter,” said Squirrel. “I was very lonely and cried a lot. I ran out of nuts and nearly starved. But somehow I took care of myself and survived. I learned how to collect nuts by watching other squirrels.”
Squirrel looked up. “I know it’s silly but I sometimes dream about her coming back. In that dream I never run out of nuts and I am safe and happy again.”
Owl gently wrapped one large wing around Sammy’s shoulders and gave him a big hug. “It’s not silly at all,” he said. Sammy rested his head on Owl and sighed.
“Sammy,” said Owl. “That is a very hard story to tell. Thank you for trusting me with your heart.”
Then Owl asked, “So where did you get all these nuts? Surely they did not all come from this tree?”
Squirrel said, “I can’t tell you - I’ll get in trouble.”
Owl replied, “Telling the truth is usually the best thing.”
Sammy had a guilty look on his face. “I know it’s wrong, but at night when everyone is sleeping, I go out and gather nuts from under the largest trees where plenty of nuts fall. I doubt the other squirrels even miss them.”
Owl replied, “Yes, those nuts do belong to other squirrels, even if you think they won’t miss them.”
“I know,” said Sammy, “It is a bad habit and I can’t seem to stop myself. I worry about going hungry or think about my mom, and I just HAVE to go out. ‘Just in case,’ you know.”
“You know,” said Owl, “You do not have a hungry tummy. It might feel like that, but you have a different type of hunger. You have a HUNGRY HEART.Your heart is lonely and hungry for love and comfort.
Sammy had a sudden “aha” at what Owl said - his tail flipped up in excitement.
Sammy exclaimed. “Why didn’t I see it before? I have plenty of food in my nest, but it never seems to be enough. That is because I have a hungry heart! My heart is hungry for love and comfort.”
It made so much sense. At a very young age, Sammy had to take care of himself and survive in a sometimes dangerous world. He did not need more food. He needed more love and comfort.
“Sammy,” said Owl, “Let’s return the extra nuts to where they belong. We’ll keep enough nuts to get you through the winter and leave some space in your nest for you to sleep. And if you ever get low on nuts, tell me and I’ll be sure you never go hungry.”
Sammy agreed, and that night, while everyone else was sleeping, they returned the nuts to the other squirrels’ trees. Then they returned to Sammy’s nest.
At the foot of the tree was a great pile of things: a stuffed toy that looked and squeaked just like a squirrel, a nightlight, a machine that made a sound like the ocean when you pushed a button, and a large very soft, fuzzy blanket.
“Where did those things come from?” asked Sammy.
Owl replied with a smile, “Those are for you, from others in the neighborhood. They didn’t know you were living here alone, and they wanted to help. The sound machine can block out scary nighttime noises. The nightlight helps when you are scared of the dark. The toy is to cuddle, and the blanket is from me.” Owl added, "There are many squirrel families that have 'room for one more' so they will invite you to play and eat with them if that is alright with you." Sammy agreed that it would be nice to spend time with other squirrel families.
“Also,” said Owl, “There is a grandmother squirrel down the street who just lost her husband - a hunter shot him. She is feeling sad and lonely. She did not like the idea of you being alone in your nest, especially at bedtime. She would like to tuck you in and cuddle with you until you fall asleep.”
Sammy agreed to let the grandmother come tuck him in. After all, she was going through a sad and lonely time, and Sammy understood what that felt like.
Owl, other friends and neighbors and his adopted grandmother helped Sammy fill the spaces in his hungry heart. He found out that a hungry heart is a lot like a broken heart. He learned to be patient, because trusting, and healing, takes time.
The urge to take nuts did not go away – it came back now and then, as every bad habit does, but Sammy resisted it by seeing the nuts in his nest and knowing he had enough. Sammy learned he would never go hungry as long as he paid close attention to the needs of his heart.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Feed your hungry heart with love and comfort!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How are you like Sammy Squirrel?
Who in your life reminds you of the Owl?
What is your heart hungry for?
What can Sammy to do when he feels like taking nuts from others?
Describe a time in your life when your heart was hungry.
When do you feel loved, safe and comforted?