How’s this for a contradiction: I have an AMAZING imagination and I’m HORRIBLE at storytelling. I’m not even great at telling TRUE stories let alone made up stories. When my kids were wee, I read them hundreds of books, but there was only one story I could tell from my imagination. It was always the same one involving dolphins, a beach, and a castle in Ireland (yes, it was lame, a blight on the great Irish tradition of storytelling).
Some people really do have the gift of telling great tales. They can stretch a five minute incident into a lengthy adventure that has their audience crying with laughter. In elementary school, we had the sheer delight of having Marylyn Peringer, a professional storyteller visit. She wove stories in a seamless blend of beautiful French and impeccable English. My classmates and I sat riveted, holding our breath and hanging on her every word.
Maybe you’ve had the experience where you wake from a dream and you can’t remember any details of the dream, even vague ones, but you’re left with a feeling? It may be fear or dread or delight. There is a sense of remembering, but without remembering. That what it’s like for me when I think of Marylyn’s storytelling – we were riveted, eyes like saucers, barely breathing, simultaneously scared and thrilled. I couldn’t retell any of the stories, but I vividly remember the feeling of being completely captivated, almost enchanted.
Marylyn told stories about the Loup Garou (werewolf) and Feu Follet. In his book Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, Carl Lindhal explains the later,
“Feu Follet is the Cajun term for the glowing apparition known to most Americans as the will-o’ –the-wisp. Usually interpreted in folk belief as a ghost or a spirit, the will-o’ –the-wisp is explained by geologists as a miasma, or glowing swamp gas.”
The only detail I remember from Marylyn’s story is that people would be tempted to follow the Feu Follet, which I imagined to be like a firefly – glowing and floating, growing stronger and dimmer creating this urge lure to follow it. They were pulled off track. Seduced by something tempting but without substance. It was a tale, a made up story. But it is something that can strike us in our real lives also.
Imagine you’re walking through a beautiful forest path. The scent of pine and cedar is intoxicating. Perhaps there’s a faint mist or beams of sun through the dark trees, but then you see a flickering glow and it pulls you off your path, further and further from where you’re going. It leads you into denser, deeper parts of the forest until you’re completely and utterly lost, totally off track.
In our real lives, the feu follet can take the form of fear or anxiety, pulling more and more of our attention until we’re lost. Perhaps you’re pursuing a friend or love that flickers on and off, tempting and seducing but pulling you further and further from who you want to be and where you want to go. We can be pulled off course by blame, rage, self pity, anxiety, and defensiveness. Ruminating over the past can pull us off the path.
Come back to your path. Again, and again. Come Back To Your Path.
I’m not talking about amusing adventures or diversions – that would be another route altogether and I’d strongly encourage anyone to dive headlong into adventure and take the unbeaten path. The emotional Feu Follet pulls us into messy, dangerous territory; bushwhacking through thorns and spiky undergrowth into stinky swamps that make you feel pulled under and dark. Maybe it’s thoughts that tell you you’re unlovable or unworthy. Thoughts can lead us astray, far far away from where we want to be heading.
Find your way back to the path. Back to the best version of you.