The other day I outlined Restorying to a longtime friend, whose honest feedback has raised many questions in my mind. I’m so used to this frame — we live by stories, have built our world on them, our current ones are mistaken and damaging, let’s find better ones — that I forget how shocking it may sound to someone who is just trying to get along and live a decent life. I shouldn’t be surprised when confronted with this resistance; I have experienced it many times myself, and it’s taken me to some dark places. My friend admitted that he avoids pulling on that thread, for fear of unraveling the whole sweater.
It’s not hard to understand: once you see that we are in the grip of stories that need changing, where can you possibly you go with that? Within our cultural fabric is woven the sanction to avoid the void, to eschew the unknown. Sure, my friend has his Qigong, his Taoist understandings, and he even agrees that our culture’s denying of the world of spirit is causing harm. But there is a powerful resistance to look under that rock. Why summon the Three Strange Angels of D.H. Lawrence’s poem? Better to go about your business and hope they never turn up.
In such a conversation, it’s tempting to be argumentative by, say, pointing out that it’s all happening right now anyway, no matter what we tell ourselves. The Three Strange Angels have come; they’re knocking on the door of the house of cards that is our modern civilization. Since we cannot fix or change an entire culture, what’s our move here?
I have sworn off evangelism, so in this conversation I just leave it there. I resist pointing out that the sweater is unraveling and we’ll all soon be naked, whether we like to think so or not. This morning, I wonder whether I could have asked more questions, like what does he care about most, what does he worry about? Or, what sort of world does he think his grandchildren will live in?
Or, I could regroup and reconsider my own message and intended audience, even though I don’t really believe in that sort of thing — as if I had any control over either. Who responds well to Restorying now? Activists and former activists, who may be hopeless or burned out and looking for another way. Seekers, caregivers.
The simple fact is that Restorying has brought me great joy. I love the discoveries in creative work, the play of going out into wild places and encountering other-than-human beings, the mystery of it all. The work of our time is not necessarily gloom and doom, although we’re often driven to approach it that way, or else to studiously ignore it. Feeling in my body and heart that we all belong and are welcome has been profoundly healing.
I started Restorying out of an intuition that if any answers are to be found, if any belonging is to be discovered, they will come from two places:
- Turning inside to the vast silence within each of us, listening for guidance, and acting on suggestions, no matter how counter-intuitive or radical, like this one: go out and do what makes your heart sing.
- Entering a forest or wild land or backyard with humility, curiosity, and imagination, seeking relationship, open to whatever happens.
I have allowed myself to be affected by these experiences, on the hunch that any cultural change must start as a seed within my own soul, be nurtured and bloom in my own body and limbs, and reach outward into the world via my heart and mind. A soul purpose animates me literally from the inside out; it uses my body as a tool in the world.
My purpose with Restorying is not to upset the balance, however precarious, that my friend or anyone must maintain in order to function, to keep his family safe and healthy in this world. I am not on a mission to tear down people’s sense of themselves or of reality. If anything, I just want to draw a bigger circle around it all, to include more of reality, espeically that whole part that modern culture has excised: the wonder, mystery, magic, awe, and gorgeous, extravagant beauty of the natural world.
To discover that I belong here has been a priceless gift. I still on occasion touch into my deep, deep longing to feel at ease in the world, a very tender, hurt place inside. I imagine that others may feel this loneliness as well, as deeply.
A fascinating thing happens during a Restorying retreat, even though a lot of our time is spent in solitude. When we do come together to tell stories and share our experiences, we find amazing resonance, as if the spirit of the land is speaking through us all, welcoming us back. Synchronicities abound, as happened this morning when my wonderful yoga teacher Vivian shared this Hafiz poem with us:
Don’t surrender your loneliness too quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
For something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft. My voice so sweet.
My need of God Absolutely Clear.
If you find the word “God” offputting, try reading that verse aloud, substituting “grace” or “love,” “nature” or even “friendship.” It works.
I’m glad and grateful that I’ve made my peace with trying to fix or even change this culture. I choose instead to turn to what I can do, the promptings from within my own heart and mind. I choose, as Wendell Berry counsels, “to be patient in an emergency.” And to place my trust in this: coming back into relationship with the whole Community of Life, as a source of guidance, welcome, love, belonging, wisdom, healing, steadiness, eternity, mystery, silence, and whatever I, uniquely, need, to belong to a place where I can practice and experience gratitude, offering, ceremony, right relationship, generosity, spontaneity, play, and joy.