What is your family of origin? In this tapestry of a country with its multi-cultural past, how often have you heard or asked that question? My grandmother used to put it differently, just straight out: “What kind of name is that?” Which, translated, meant: “What is your ethnic background?” Although she had great curiosity and zest for life, in this case, the subtext was less generous. She was a WASP to the core, and a dedicated xenophobe.
At our Restorying retreats, we ask people to introduce themselves by starting with the phrase, “Once upon a time,” and then tell about their birth as if being interviewed by Hans Christian Andersen. I like how it brings people directly into the mythic “everywhen” mind that immerses them in the realm of symbol and archetype. Why does this matter? At the heart of living into the new story of connection and belonging is a reconsideration of our origin stories, both personal and cultural.
At the retreat last weekend, the introductions featured great detail about people’s parents. Often they went past their own births, beyond their parents’ origins as a couple, and farther back to pivotal childhood events. This was fascinating and, upon reflection, reveals an innate understanding that without our parents, and all of our ancestors, we would literally not exist.
Since I was born into this culture, with its stories of competition, control, and hyper-individualism, I can naturally lose perspective and forget to notice who I am. Just as my parents raised me in a close-knit family with rules that were often sourced from hierarchy and control, I was also free to go out to explore and experience the wider world. In that quest, I could reinvent myself and be selective about the stories I told new acquaintances.
“The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit.” ~ Wade Davis
Reconsidering origin stories is an excellent practice to shake up unexamined assumptions and open to the expansiveness of imagination. On the opening night of our retreats, we have become fond of telling a beautiful origin story from the Eastern North American native people, called variously “Skywoman Falling” or “The Earth on Turtle’s Back.” It is the story of a compassionate and heroic rescue, individual will and sacrifice, success through cooperation, and the expression of deepest gratitude through ritual and ceremony.
Contrast that with, say, the Garden of Eden story, which in one interpretation has woman tempting man into disobedience, and the pair of them being thrown out of Paradise. Humans are, in this version, inherently flawed, and therefore deserve our hardscrabble life separate from beneficent Nature and divine love.
“Skywoman Falling’s” description of how the earth got started offers an entirely different perspective on who we are and why we are here. Skywoman, a human, has a direct role in Creation, when her joyful heart urges her to dance and sing her thanksgiving.
Is it any wonder that the civilizations descended from those origin stories turned out so differently? Just as an adolescent leaves home to make her way in the world, though, we can rewrite our origin story to better suit who we are, or aspire to be, in the world: intuitive, creative, connected and interdependent with the rest of Life. It’s a powerful way to live into the emerging new story.