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Knowledge Exchange

The Selwyn Institute Ageing and Spirituality Conference

Richard von Sturmer

Storytelling and the practice of resilience

It was then that I realized how my father and I could easily enter people’s imaginations because of our diminutive size. We never talked about our shortness; it was a fact of life that nothing could change. But since we would always be out of the ordinary in the eyes of strangers, there was a tacit agreement that, on certain occasions, we could enhance our unusualness. One day, in the library of Westlake Boys High School, the younger of the Garrett brothers approached me. Unlike his pleasant older brother—a prefect and head librarian—this Garrett had a wild and slightly threatening disposition. But today, instead of eyeing me with disdain, he sat down and said how wonderful it was to have seen me and my father last night. There, in the headlight of his motorbike, along a tree-lined street, two small figures had materialized, walking side by side, dressed in capes. “It was magic,” he exclaimed, “like something out of Lord of the Rings!”

Richard von Sturmer was born on Auckland’s North Shore in 1957. He is a writer, performer and filmmaker. His published books include Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose (HeadworX, 2005), a memoir, This Explains Everything (Atuanui Press, 2016), and Postcard Stories (Titus Books, 2019). He is also well known for writing the lyrics for There is No Depression in New Zealand, which has become the country’s alternate national anthem. In 2004, he and his wife, Sensei Amala Wrightson, founded the Auckland Zen Centre, a Buddhist community in Onehunga. Prior to returning to New Zealand in 2004, they spent twelve years in residential training at the Rochester Zen Center in upstate New York. These combined and varied perspectives have given him an extraordinary platform for understanding and sharing stories of resilience, acceptance and belonging.