(A fascinating book on my bookshelves – ORIENTAL STORIES AS TOOLS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY)
A Book Review
An Eastern merchant owned a parrot. One day the bird knocked over an oil flask. The merchant became very angry and hit the parrot on the back of the head.
From that time on, the parrot, who had previously appeared to be very intelligent, could not talk any more. He lost the feathers on his head and soon became bald.
One day, as the parrot was sitting on the bookshelf in his master’s place of business, a baldheaded customer entered the shop.
The sight of the man made the parrot very excited. Flapping his wings, he jumped around, squawked, and, to everyone’s surprise, suddenly regained his speech and asked the baldheaded man, “Did you, too, knock down an oil flask and get hit on the back of the head so that you don’t have any hair any more?”
This is a story called The Merchant and the Parrot from a delightfully interesting book in my bookcase called “Oriental Stories as Tools in Psychotherapy” by Nossrat Peseschkian. I bought this book on 12 October 1998 from the International Book Service at Deccan Gymkhana in Pune and love to delve into it from time to time.
The book features a fascinating compilation meaningful oriental Teaching Stories– the psychotherapeutic function of stories is the theme of this book. The author, a physician and psychotherapist, emphasizes the fact that long before the development of modern psychotherapy, stories served as instruments of folk psychotherapy and highlights how stories are effective transmitters of messages. He avers that stories have a lot in common with medication and, like medicines, used at the right time in the right form stories can lead to changes in attitude and behavior, but, given in the wrong dosage, told in an insincere and moralizing way, the application can be dangerous.
You can study, scrutinize and critically analyze this book if you are a serious reader and want to go deep into the subject; or like me, you can enjoy and be illuminated by the lovely teaching stories in the book. Teaching stories have a special quality – if read in a certain kind of way they enlighten you. There are three ways to read teaching stories:-
• Read the story once. Then move on to another. This manner of reading will give you entertainment – maybe produce a laugh; like jokes.
• Read the story twice. Reflect on it. Apply it to your life. You will feel enriched.
• Read the story again, after you have reflected on it. Carry the story around in your mind all day and allow its fragrance, its melody to haunt you. Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning. Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain. This will give you a feel for the mystical and you will develop the art of tasting and feeling the inner meaning of such stories to the point that they transform you.
A good teaching story has several levels of meaning and interpretation and offers us opportunities to think in new ways. At first you may just have a good laugh, but as you think and reflect, the significance becomes more and more profound. Each story veils its knowledge and as you ruminate, the walls of its outer meanings crumble away and the beauty of the previously invisible inner wisdom is revealed, and you begin to identify yourself in the story, and to acknowledge that you too could be as foolish or as lacking in discernment as the characters in these classic tales.
Here is a story called “Fifty Years of Politeness”:
An elderly couple celebrated their golden anniversary…while eating breakfast together, the woman thought, “for fifty years I’ve always been considerate of my husband and have always given him the crusty top of the bread roll. Today I want to finally enjoy this delicacy for myself.”
She spread the top part with butter and gave the other part to her husband.
Contrary to her expectations, he was very pleased, kissed her hand, and said, “My darling, you’ve just given me the greatest joy of the day. For over fifty years I haven’t eaten the bottom part of the bread roll, which is the part I like best. I always thought you should have it because you like it so much.”
I love and cherish this book which has enhanced me in all aspects of my life and browse through the stories quite often; and as I reflect and interpret I feel refreshed, enlightened and wiser. Whether it’s your work, marriage, relationships, children, or any situation or facet of your life, there’s sure to be an apt story in here for you which will put you on the path of self-discovery.
I’ll conclude with a quote from this exquisite and unique book: Occasionally we can’t avoid science, math and erudite discussions which aid development of human consciousness. But occasionally we also need poetry, chess, and stories, so our spirit can find joy and refreshment.