Once upon a time, there was a kingdom, where there lived a very serious Queen. She had served her kingdom quite well and fulfilled all her duties quite respectfully. She was loved and admired for her somber and steady hand. Her laws were well-thought and fair and her villages were run in the most meticulous fashion. After all being Queen was a very serious business.

Yet for all her dedication and diligence, on most days, the queen sat, sad and sullen as she watched her end hours creep to a close. At night her dreams were filled with mocking nightmares of her dancing foolishly while people laughed at her. As you can imagine, these dreams made her mornings miserable. Getting out of bed, her feet felt like heavy weights that caused her to creep about the castle. The corners of her mouth appeared to be weighted as well as she moved through the ritual of the day with a grave and resolute expression.

I must never be foolish, she warned herself. Being queen was an extremely important job. One needs to be somber and meticulous to be respected and revered. So she instructed her staff to be impeccable in all things. Not a hair out of place, not a crumb on a plate, not a spec or a string to be found out of sorts. Her dedication and devotion to rules and regulations were astounding and she was seen as a woman of great power.

However, the one place that the queen had no power at all was at night. Her dream life ruled her in a ruthless way. Taunting her with insults and plaguing her with images of her dancing like a fool around her kingdom, looking more like a jester than nobility. These terrifying fears of foolishness would wake her with a hot and heavy, haunting feeling. “What a terrible thought to be seen as so silly!” She whispered to herself while wiping the worry from her brow.

One morning after enduring another sleepless night she summoned the wise men of the kingdom. I am haunted by foolish dreams she confessed. Dreams of dancing and delusions. The wise men nodded thoughtfully and offered her a few deep questions and riddles, to ruminate on. Though the queen racked her mind for the reason, and root cause for her ailments and anxieties, her spirit was left unlifted.

Next, she called on the doctors of the kingdom. I am taunted by terrible thoughts, she confessed. The doctors gave a knowing nod and came slathered her with prescriptive creams, tinctures, and tonics and still, her dreams held her hostage in a prison of despair and dread.

Next, she summoned the healers who arrived, waved their rattles and ranted their prayers and yet still the sad queen sat grumpy and glum.

I can no longer bare such a painful position she moaned. I will begin to pray for an early exit from this world. She called her family who had not been to visit for some time for they were a messy and merry lot who seemed to leave crumbs and strings and chaos in their wake.

Upon her invitation, her dutiful daughters came from all corners of the kingdom and brought with them their rag-tag tribes of grandchildren, those crusty nosed, cookie crumbling, chaos causing children. They came in the night and filled the castles with the sounds of giggles and chatter and silly song and lunatic like laughter. A soundtrack that had been long absent from the kingdom. The queen woke with a start and began searching out the cause of the commotion. Who were these villains and vagabonds running about the palace? What jubilant gypsies were disrupting the peace?

After following the noise, the queen arrived at the main hall where she was shocked to find children! She had forgotten how small and energetic they were. She had forgotten about the sticky-fingered, saliva dripping, shifty soled nature of these little ones. The pandemonium caused the queen to waver and rock back on her heels, as her gaze grew wide and weary.

They were dancing like hoodlums and singing like stage girls! Prancing about as if there was not a care in the world. And it seemed contagious. One would start a song and the rest would rattle out the words clapping their hands to the beat, stamping their feet and laughing.

This sight took the queen’s breath away. As she stood there watching the children, she noticed the oddest thing began to happen. The invisible sandbags that had been steadily securing either end of the queen’s smile, seemed to come untethered. Then a small but sincere smile seeped across her face! An honest to goodness smile. She tried to contain her expression by biting down on either side of her mouth, but she could not seem to fight the smile off. Then just when she thought she had lost all control, she found herself starting to hum! Out and out humming, like a warm little tea-kettle, like a happy old cat, like a loose cannon of a lunatic, she thought!

And try as she might, she could not stop herself. Her humming pressing against her silly smile and bubbled up and out all over the Kingdom floor. As unsettling as all that was, it was only the beginning. What came next was swaying, like a sailboat, like a swing set on a windy day, like silly little penguin navigating the ice. It surprised no one more than the queen! Though she did her damndest to stay stately and serene, but her disloyal feet began to tape and then slide and finally they took flight. Moving across the floor like popcorn in hot oil, like a freshly melted brook, like a happy bunny on a Spring morning.

Within a few minutes, the queen was swirling, then twirling, strutting, spinning, whirling, and before she could contain herself, the queen lend back, got a good running start, and with one strong and solid step executed the grandest and most noble leap of her lifetime. This leap was not just any old leap, this was a royal leap, a leap that carried with it the spirit of unbridled enthusiasm that rattled in the queen’s bones and spread joyful sensations throughout her entire body. She looked like a shooting star, like a proud flag waving in the wind, like the happiest of hot air balloon! From out of her mouth sailed the word, Weeeeee!

When her feet finally meet with the floor again, everything had changed. All her riddles had been unraveled, and her weight had been lifted.

There was a slight moment of silence where all the eyes of the kingdom fell on the queen in awe. She settled herself and searched the little faces for signs of snickering but instead what she found was awe… and them delight and then full on appreciation. The ruffled haired, wrinkled nosed, children were laughing, but not at her, but with her.

And this laughter … oh! This laughter rippling through the kingdom, it lite up every room and illuminating every hallway. This jiggly giggle sent out the sweetest message. That said, the sad spell had been lifted and the queen had been healed.

From that day forward, whenever the queen felt that things were getting too serious, she simply began to sing. When she felt her feet feeling weighted, she would start to dance. When night came she no longer worried about bad dreams. Instead, she drifted into sleep with the silliest of smiles spread across her face having made a serious commitment to her own foolishness. And because of this, she lived happily ever after.

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence? Where we have stopped dancing, singing, being enchanted by stories, or finding comfort in silence is where we have experienced the loss of soul. Dancing, singing, storytelling, and silence are the four universal healing salves.”

Maureen Muldoon is a writer, published playwright and author who spent twenty years working in Hollywood as an actress, writer, and director. She is the author of the children’s book, The Life Of A Sand Castle. Her poetry, personal essay, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in The Sun, Story Lab, Lit Up, Booby Trap, Story, Actors Access, Voice Box, and Risk. She is a sought-after speaker and teacher and the founder of Voice Box stories, a platform to support storytelling and storytellers. Maureen is also the founder of SpeakEasy Spiritual Community. SpeakEasy is an organization focused on empowering people to live their most authentic and audacious lives through the use of spiritual truths and creativity. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and children.