“My love for storytelling began as a child,” Andrew Fraser remembered. Andrew is a world traveler, a yoga teacher, and currently director of a rock climbing gym called Movement Climbing and Fitness in Denver, Colorado. Throughout his life, Andrew can point to moments where stories changed him. From being a child at the front of the class, enamored to hear other peoples’ life experiences, to a college student confronting his own ignorance of the violent history affecting his indigenous friends, to an adult seeing his own experiences reflected in the stories of his mentors. Andrew knew, inherently, that the real impact and connecting power of these moments came from hearing the personal experiences, the stories, of others.

Early on in his journey to become a yoga instructor, he met a male instructor who he initially thought was completely out of place. “He was covered in tattoos, but then he started to share that he had been in a metal band in the past and had found yoga which had provided a lot of healing and reflection for him. In one particular class, he was talking about the practice of heart opening in the form of backbends, and shared his own hardship and struggle with his relationship with his father. And so by feeling a little bit of insight into his life experience. By hearing about how he went through a hard time of depression and drug abuse, and later self-love and healing through yoga, that cracked me open.”

After being impacted profoundly through personal testimony, Andrew knew he wanted to bring that same type of connection to the classes he taught. He experimented with a class mirrored after Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey wherein he led students through the stages of this archetypal story while sharing his own struggles with a mental health, “I found that by sharing my story, which was quite vulnerable for me, community strengthened inside of that space. And it gave permission for a lot of other students to share the battles they were going through that they had been hesitant to share with anyone.”

When Andrew found out about the Certificate in Community Storytelling Training, he was most interested in learning how to become a story catcher: how to draw stories out of others who didn’t think they had one to share. “I was particularly moved by Mark sharing examples of how in the aftermath of a school shooting or in the wake of a wild fire or in a community that was divided by political or ideological differences, that instead of hosting a debate, he could utilize community storytelling events to facilitate understanding and empathy and healing between those people. And so I wanted to go beyond learning how to hone and tell my own story, I wanted to become more proficient at asking good questions that would draw stories out of other people.”

For Andrew’s project, he gathered a group of seven strangers around a fire, both literally and figuratively in the mountains of Colorado. He requested they put away their technology for a full 24 hours in order to start off with a common ground of unfamiliarity and presence. “I began the retreat by asking each participant to bring an object that was sacred to them and share why it was sacred.” In this sharing, Andrew noticed that the moment someone pulled out an object and said, “Let me tell you a story about what this means to me,” everyone leaned in, became more engaged. “I chose to utilize this opportunity to have people literally sit face-to-face with with others that they didn't know, who they might disagree with on various topics, but with whom they could find common ground.” By inviting participants to share stories around loss, rites of passage, and other elements of the human experience, Andrew watched the group create strong connections.

Afterwards, Andrew heard from participants that there was a lasting effect to the short time they spent together sharing stories in the woods. Folks would recognize their own reflexive judgements about a person and then pause and say, “Wait, I actually don't know anything about where this person comes from, and there's a good chance we have more in common than I thought.” In a time of increasing polarization and division Andrew noticed “Story sharing had reminded people to be curious, not judgmental.”

When asked how story has impacted him, Andrew noted how the training increased his empathy for others and decreased his own feelings of loneliness. “It has pumped the brakes on snap judgments that I might have about another human before taking the time to ask about their lives, why they hold those values or how they form their opinions. And I think most importantly, it's really positively impacted my mental health because during a couple years of the pandemic, at the depths of my anxiety and depression, there was this persistent feeling that I was the only one going through this and that it's never going to end.” This crippling feeling of isolation was countered by stories of others going through similar experiences.

“What I've learned through participating in the training was when done intentionally and compassionately, stories have the capacity to be quite medicinal, healing and connecting. The greatest benefit that I've gotten from this work is actually taking care of my own mental and emotional well-being and feeling more connected to other humans in the process.” Andrew contemplated. “I think having learned to become more adept at asking good questions and thereby reflecting to other people their own importance and self-worth has been a real gift to those around me.”

Andrew graduated from the online 2023 Certificate in Community Storytelling Training.

Learn more about the Certificate in Community Storytelling Training here!