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Storytelling for the Classroom 4
by Michael Berman

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As much as we rant and rave about the burdens we carry, the fact of the matter is that nine times out of ten they are largely of our own making, as the following Georgian folk tale illustrates:


It happened or it did not happen - in a certain land there lived a cattle-breeder. He was honest, hardworking, and he never offended anybody. All his animals grazed contentedly without being watched, and neither beast nor man hurt them, since he had no enemies.

In that same land lived a certain lazybones and idler. He did not do anything. While others were working, he was sleeping, so that he lived in poverty and only blamed it on his fate.

So one day that cattle-breeder met him. He greeted the poor man and asked, "how's life with you, friend?"

"What sort of life do I have?", he began to moan and groan, "I'm dying of hunger".

"Let's go to my place", said the cattle-breeder. "Work for me for a year and I'll give you a pair of good oxen. Then you can plough and sow your own field, and you'll be satisfied".

The idler thought, "Why work for him to overstrain myself for a pair of oxen? I might as well help myself and just take whatever I want. They say that the cattle even graze without being watched; so who's going to stop me?"

He climbed into the mountains, and he saw the cattle scattered across the land, but of herdsmen, there was none. He looked at this wealth, and his heart became just sick with envy. He had just got close when suddenly something began to ring, and all the animals started to run to the other side of the meadow where they gathered together in one place.

The idler also approached. He saw, standing in the middle of the cattle, a tiny little man. And the cows and sheep were gathered all around him. Some licked his face, some his hand, and he caressed them and stroked their hair.

The idler was surprised, and he asked, "Who are you? What sort of creature are you? Where have you been and where did you suddenly appear from?"

"I'm the fortune of the master of this herd", says the little man. "However, I also look after all his cattle, and I don't let anybody disturb them".

"And where then is my fortune?", asked the poor man.

"Your fortune can be found on such and such a mountain under such and such a bush", says this little man.

"And will I find my fortune if I go there?"

"Why ever shouldn't you find him, certainly you'll find him!", said the little man.

Somehow the idler got to the mountain indicated. He searched and searched for his fortune, but no way could he find it. He got tired, and he lay down in distress under a tree and dozed off. He slept through really soundly and when he woke up the sun was already setting. Suddenly he heard somebody sighing. He got up and looked: "Who is it sighing like that?" He saw, lying under bush, a little man: just skin and bone. He was lying there, groaning, and sighing.

"Who are you? What sort of creature are you and why are you lying about here?", asked the idler.

"But I'm your fortune", said the little man.

"Ach, you, lazybones!", the idler said angrily. "Whatever sort of fortune are you to me if all you do is lie here and groan? I'm dying of hunger, and you make a habit of lying down; and as for thinking about me, you don't think at all."

"You're a good man", said this fortune. "You lie down and sleep, and I lie down and sleep. You sit and do nothing, and I do even more so. Get up and make some effort! Do some work, and I'll reward you. And your life will change for the better"

So the poor man finally got the message and began to work. And for the first time in his life he stood on his own two feet. He got married, started a family of his own and began to live free of cares.

The last tale in this section comes from Germany and helps us to appreciate everything we have to be thankful for. You might like to use the opportunity to introduce the Guatemalan tradition of using of Worry Dolls to deal with problems. A different problem can be assigned to each doll before you go to sleep at night and they can be placed under your pillow while you sleep to deal with them. You are allowed a maximum of five!


There once was a woman who had so many problems and so many worries that at times she felt she had more troubles than anyone else in the world!

Well… there was one friend she knew who had quite a large share of troubles herself. But this friend seemed to be able to move through her troubles and come out the other side with her head still held high. The more the woman thought about her friend, the more she began to think "I could ask her to tell me how she deals with her problems and then I'd know how to deal with mine."

The woman became convinced that this was the answer - so one day she knocked on her friend's door and the friend invited her in. They sat down and chatted together while they had a cup of tea. By and by the visitor told the friend why she had come to visit.

"Oh, but I can't tell you how to deal with your own problems" the friend told her, "only you know the right choices to make for yourself." The visitor's face looked so crestfallen that the friend added "But I could tell you some advice that someone once gave me that helped…"

"Oh would you? Could you?" the visitor encouraged her.

"Alright" the friend answered. "Why don't you let that part of yourself (gesture to self) that is connected to all that is (gesture to above and beyond) take over caring for your troubles?"

"Well… alright."

It wasn't the kind of advice that she had expected. The visitor stayed a bit longer chatting, then she said goodbye to her friend and began walking home. On the way home she thought "I really have tried everything else I can think of - so what have I got to lose?"

So that night, when everyone else was asleep, she shut her door, got into bed, sat there and said "That part of me (gesture to self) that is connected to all that is (gesture to above and beyond)… please - help me with my troubles. I don't know what else to do…"

Then she supposed she must be done, so she turned out her light, pulled up the covers and fell asleep… and that night she dreamed a dream… She found herself in a vast candlelit cavern, surrounded by gray bundles of all shapes and sizes, as far as she could see. Walking towards her was a woman with flowing long white hair and dressed in a long dark cape. "Who are you?" asked the dreamer "and what is this place?"

"This is the cave of the bundles of troubles and I'm the Keeper of the cave."

"Bundles of troubles?"

"Yes," the Keeper explained, "each person who walks the earth carries a bundle of trouble on their left shoulder." The dreamer turned to look and there was a grey bundle on her left shoulder - it had been there all this time and she never noticed! "If you wish," the keeper continued, "you can take your bundle down and exchange it for another."

"Really? I can?" The woman lowered the bundle from her left shoulder. Oh it felt so good to put it down. Then she began picking up different bundles, feeling their weight and trying them on for size. She did this for hours until finally she said "Can I take this one? This one feels just right."

"Certainly" the Keeper said, "but first, why don't you open it up and look inside?"

So the woman put the bag down, pulled on the grey drawstrings and looked inside. "But these are the same troubles I brought in here!" The Keeper of the cave smiled softly and nodded. "That's usually what happens, but don't despair, for there's another bundle on your right shoulder that should help lighten your load."

The woman turned and saw another bundle on her right shoulder. It had been there all this time and she never noticed! Only this bundle was woven of silver and gold threads and it sparkled like a diamond in the sunlight. The Keeper spoke - "Why don't you take down that bundle, and look inside?" So the woman did. The bundle was light as down. She pulled the silver and gold strings and looked inside. And there were all of her experiences and all that she had learned. There were her talents, her gifts, her hopes and opportunities yet to come. The woman felt her heart fill with joy and she looked up to thank the keeper of the cave. But the Keeper of the cave was gone. All the grey bundles were gone. The cave was gone. And she found herself sitting up in her own bed with the morning sun streaming through the window, shining in her face.

Notes for teachers:
Pre-listening: The story is about someone who has a lot of problems and doesn't know how to deal with them. What techniques do you have for dealing with your problems? Now listen to the tale to find out how the person in the story learnt how to deal with hers.

While-listening: Pause after the line "So the woman put the bag down, pulled on the grey drawstrings and looked inside" and ask the listeners to predict what she found in the first bag.
Pause after the line "She pulled the silver and gold strings and looked inside" and ask the listeners to predict what she found in the second bag she opened.
Allow each of the listeners to take a moment to imagine what would be in their bundle of blessings and take turns sharing whatever they feel comfortable to tell is in their bag. If people list only other persons in their life, you could invite them to look again for a moment and notice the personal attributes and possibilities that are in their bag as well.

Once a travelling monk agreed to carry a woman across a rushing river despite his vows not to look at or touch women. He set her down on the far side and continued along the road with his fellow monk. After a good distance his companion could no longer contain his anger, "How could you break our vows and carry that woman?" He asked. The monk replied, "I put her down way back there, but I see that you're still carrying her."

This story is a helpful metaphor for looking at how to manage stress and can be used to reinforce the massage in Bundles. It can allow us to call into question the "vows" by which we judge ourselves and to be more forgiving. Then hopefully, like the monk, having done his best in the situation, we can let go of the past and move on.


Michael Berman is currently a research student at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and working part-time as a teacher at Oxford House College in London. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House Publishing and The Shaman and the Storyteller for Superscript. Michael has been involved in TESOL for over thirty years and has given presentations at Conferences in Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the Ukraine.



To Storytelling for the Classroom 1

To Storytelling for the Classroom 2

To Storytelling for the Classroom 3

To Michael's article 'Warrior, Settler or Nomad?'

To 'A Beginner's Guide To Storytelling lesson plan'

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