Follow the Yellow Brick Road from Old Stories to New Insights

Follow the yellow brick road… This phrase is so familiar that it’s become a part of our modern day conversation. We all know what it means. All we need to do is follow the obvious path, which will lead to the desired destination.

The Wizard of Oz story is about following the yellow brick road home. It’s a symbolic map of an unfamiliar inner terrain. The destination is the heart. This old story provides fresh opportunities to generate new insights and to help us navigate challenges with greater ease and grace.

I did my practicum for a counseling degree in suburban Philadelphia. The alcohol and drug rehab center was located in an upscale neighborhood. It was a nondescript red brick building, surrounded by lush green lawns, trees, and landscaped with shrubs and flowers. It was the kind of place you might drive by a hundred times and not even notice it was there.

My supervisor handed me two books on my first day. I glanced at the covers. The books on drug and alcohol abuse looked less than interesting. You might keep them on the shelf as a reference, but not actually read them. They were the kind of books with statistics, names of drugs, and how they are abused. I thanked her and quietly put them in my bag. She gave me a tour of the place and then left me into a big room to hear the daily “talk” given by one of the counselors.

The counselor was a big burly man. He looked more like a boy’s high school football coach than a counselor. He talked about probabilities. How slim the chances were that any of them would succeed in finding a way out of their addictions. I remember that talk from the first day of college. “Look to your left and right, only one of you will graduate.” I guess it’s supposed to inspire you to work hard, but I walked out of the talk and felt disheartened for the residents. It seemed like the counselors had lost faith. My advisor informed me that afternoon that I would give the talk on my next day of work.

Most of the people in the center were not from the area. They lived in places where crime and poverty were a way of life. They spoke of rape, murder, and the loss of their children in group sessions. They believed what they heard in the talk because that was their reality.

I did not read the book, because I wanted to remain optimistic about their future, and picked the Wizard of Oz for a topic.

I first discussed symbolism and gave them a general sense of how to understand the story  symbolically. Then, I wrote the four main character names on the board, asked what each was searching for, and had them pick a character they most identified with. Each group went into a different corner of the room to talk about what their character would say about their addictions.

I stood in the middle of the room at the podium with about fifty people scattered around the room. I looked at the groups and realized each character group was similar in appearance. The Lion group was soft and a bit heavier. You could imagine talking to one of them for a few minutes and then wanting to give them a hug. They were more interested in feelings. The Tin Men were the work out guys, all muscle, with rolled up sleeves, and trim haircuts. They were the tough guys and their interest was action. The Scarecrow group was taller and thinner. They were more likely to be wearing glasses and focused on insights. Then there was the Dorothy group of two. One young guy was an African American of medium build. The other was a young slim white woman in her early twenties. I found them to be the most fascinating and hardest to categorize.

Each group picked a spokesperson, returned to their seats, and presented their findings. It’s been too many years since this happened to remember the details of what was said, but I remember the excitement in their applause. The Tin Men hurried out, the Scarecrows continued talking among themselves, a few of the Lions came up for a hug and thanked me. The two Dorothy’s were lost in the crowd.

I hoped that the people were able to connect with their character in the story and leave the talk with more faith in themselves and their future. I didn’t want them to believe they were statistics from a worn out alcohol and drug rehab book, but were living breathing characters in a fascinating story, able to generate fresh new insights into their situations. I hoped they saw that the home they were searching for in a bottle or pill was right there inside them all along.

Which character would you choose? What insights would that character offer to you about your situation? Your life? Are you living the fascinating story that is your life? Have you made the journey to discover your inner home? Or are you still looking for it in the world?

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