Keep your Spirit Level: a Mindful Use of Subliminal Stories

By Simon Bell

At the Bayswater Institute we make use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. We find that stories provide a powerful means for self-examination. The fictions engage a kind of back-door to the things that concern us. They can provide a powerful means to start a conversation with yourself about the things that may be upsetting you or just causing you angst.

Here is an example for you to try.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the Subliminal Stories process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready, let your mind wander over the issues of your day, the thoughts of the moment and your main concerns. Try not to hang onto any of these elements, just try to let your mind wander, like a bird flying over a great landscape of trees and mountains. All of it is important but it is all below you. Stretching out. No single element is necessarily more important than any other part.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story below, The Walk. Read it carefully and try not to judge the content too quickly. Let the story seep into your mind.  and then, look at the questions which follow:

The Walk

“You regularly walk. You like to walk and there is always a good reason to indulge yourself. A walk can be for a variety of reasons. You walk maybe to work or to see friends.

Today the route is well known to you, held in muscle-memory and repeatable almost with your eyes closed. Parts of the walk are really pleasant. Vistas of park, trees, well-thought out housing developments with good combinations of different kinds of dwelling. The people you see seem to belong and to know that this is ‘their’ place. You do not feel like a stranger. You are sharing their neighbourhood, but it might as well be your own. A walk among familiar homes.

But, parts of this particular walk are more mysterious. At times your leisurely pace quickens. In some parts you walk a little quicker. In these districts you have not looked around, tending to keep your eyes in front. You have not looked down all the side streets, but you have glimpsed dark and curious buildings and there are shops which seem to have no obvious purpose. There is one shop in particular.

It is on the corner of a particularly shady side street. Is it even a shop? Well, when it first caught your attention you noticed it because it stood out in strangeness, darkly against the shadow. it has a shop window and a shady, glass door but there is no writing above the window and the interior is so dark it is hard to make out anything in the dim light.

You don’t know why but one day you are a little ahead of your schedule and your curiosity is peeked. Deliberately turning down the side street you stand in front of the glass frontage. Now you are here you notice that there seems to be a blue flickering light deep inside the interior and, as you shade your eye to look more intensely, you can see weakly lit the outlines of mysterious shapes. Statues of curious design, mirrors reflecting back the blue light onto paintings or hangings, tables littered with un-guessable objects and stands providing space for shadowy curios. You would like to go in but you are not even sure it is a shop let alone if it is open. You hurriedly retrace your steps back to your habitual path.

Each time you pass you ask yourself if you will be brave enough on this occasion to stop and enter, each time you don’t.

Then, one particularly dark and dreary day, when the rain is saturating, as you pass, you see that that the shop door stands open. Without thinking you turn from your usual route and enter.” 

Now, take a moment to breath and reflect and, with the story still fresh in your mind, read and consider your responses to each of the following questions:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story? – What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold? There may be many meanings which occur to you but, for now just think of one.

When you are ready. Read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you? How does it impact on your life and your challenges right now. Why is it important? Again, give yourself time to think of your response and, when you are ready try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are ready try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you? Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

When you have considered what you might do next, spend a couple of minutes just breathing and thinking about nothing at all.

See what changes this day as a result of thinking about the story.