Danny Mazur is among the lucky few to discover his calling at a young age. Mazur describes himself as having a natural facilitator mindset and a calling “to create a way for people to be seen”. With his storytelling organization, Soul Stories, Mazur has created a way for people to be seen and heard.
Founded at a time when Mazur was struggling to cope with his mother’s addiction and his closest confidante’s early onset schizophrenia diagnosis, his storytelling project offered a place not only for his friends to share their experiences, but also for Mazur himself to find support. Mazur had an intense need “to be seen for his pain”, and it turned out that his friends did too.
In the humblest of beginnings, Mazur held his first storytelling event in his basement. There he shared with twenty of his friends, the story of his mother’s addiction. Following his story, a friend was inspired to share her own, and so the stories rolled on. Before he quite realized what was happening, Mazur had created a bona fide community.
What originally began over four years ago as an informal gathering of friends who wanted to talk more openly about their experiences and emotions in a safe, comfortable setting has grown into a community-based organization that hosts experiential events which seek to unpack the human experience and tackle challenging social topics through dialogue and performative storytelling.
Although the themes and stories vary from one event to the next, Soul Stories constantly encourages vulnerability and maintains a strong message of self-acceptance.
Mazur isn’t afraid to talk about the hard stuff, and he carries that courage into his Soul Stories events. Among the various Soul Stories happenings are “First Sundays”, one of four different styles of events Soul Stories offers. First Sundays focus on exploring the human experience through experiential storytelling and sharing.
I attended and participated in this month’s First Sunday where we faced head-on, the uncomfortable, pervasive feeling of guilt: “What do we do with shame and regret? Looking forward and looking back.”
The occasion began with an icebreaker activity requiring each of us to self-select a stranger in the group as a partner. After a quick introduction, the partners launched into a deep, albeit short, exchange about shared gratitude and individual experiences with guilt and regret. Once warmed up, the group took their place in a circle to hear the first story of the afternoon.
The “sacrificial soul” (the person who begins the story telling) shared a raw and honest, personal account of her failed efforts as an elementary school teacher in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Her story provoked tears, her own and others, but it also provoked smiles and even a few laughs.
At the end of the sacrificial soul’s story, the energy shift among the group was palpable. We went from a circle of mostly strangers, to a circle of people collectively empathizing with the storyteller’s pain and simultaneously opening ourselves up to share our own vulnerabilities. We spent the remainder of the afternoon in varying group sizes discussing not only guilt, shame, and regret, but also what to do with those feelings, how to see them as opportunities to learn and practice compassion.
Without question, my first Soul Stories event was a success. I entered the space feeling unsure, but curious. I left feeling comforted and encouraged by humanity, and based on the feedback from the group, I feel confident that others left feeling similarly supported and hopeful.
There’s something wonderfully peculiar about exposing such personal emotions in such an otherwise public space – once the first story is told, the experience shifts from personal to shared. Suddenly, it is far easier to open up, share, and be vulnerable, and it’s far easier to begin healing when the pain goes from being carried as your own, to being borne by a sympathetic group of strangers.
Soul Stories has regular events to continue Mazur’s mission to improve humanity through connectedness. Check out upcoming creative storytelling events which will focus on topics including gentrification, fresh perspectives, expectations, disordered eating and relationships to food, consequences, consent, and many more.
Join Danny and the rest of our panel for an inspiring film and a discussion on human connection at GoodCinema Inspirations: IAM on January 15!