“We need a new story” seems to be coming out of more and more people’s mouths these days. From Thomas Berry to Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein, to David Korten and Duane Elgin. Each of these deep thinkers and actors has their own unique spin on the diagnosis, as well as ideas for what we might do to begin changing the story. One of my personal favorite pieces of writing about this is “Dark Ecology,” by Paul Kingsnorth, the co-founder along with Dougald Hine of the Dark Mountain Project. At the end of that essay, he cautions:
“If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.”
He then goes on to ask what activities or ways of being would not be a waste of his time, and gives five answers that he freely admits could be construed as talking to himself. While they are personal, they also have universal appeal—things like getting your hands dirty, preserving non-human species and withdrawing as much as possible from participating in the insanity that is modern culture. I think what he’s getting at is that our choices, sourced as they are from our own hearts, may not appeal to many other people. Then again, they might.
As oriented as most of us are towards doing, it’s a rich and fruitful exploration to inquire into being as well. Welcoming new cultural stories means living an embodied life and experiencing “Interbeing,” as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, that knowing that we are all part of one amazing, living, breathing, conscious organism. This is not a rational knowing; it is a deeply mysterious truth that can only be known via the body: the heart, the senses, the gut and emotions.
Living into new stories involves delving as deeply as possible beneath surfaces, which includes suspending our modern mind’s insistence on rationality in all things. In this way, our Restorying retreats are a nested set of homecomings. Meditation, breathing, yoga and dance are ways of coming home to the body; solo time on the land is a way of coming home to the animate earth; and gathering for ceremony, council, ritual and storytelling is a way of coming home to each other, in community.
Recently, my retreat co-creator, Jim, and I had a dialogue about how we want to develop and shepherd our upcoming Restorying retreats. As much as I love a good intellectual discussion, I’ve been drawn toward experiential learning for myself and offering it as much as possible in the retreats I lead. As Jim pointed out, the choice goes farther than lecture or experiential. It is between being centered in ideas, in linear thinking, or being centered in the unknown, perhaps the unknowable: probing the other-than-rational, mystical, and emotional realm, the animate world around us.
From the beginning, our Restorying retreats have been experimental, and they have been evolving, as we have refined, added and removed components, always asking how we can deepen the experience for participants. How our time together can best serve their growth, their work and renewal, as well as support them in living on the threshold between stories.
As we play that edge of going into the marginal places, into mythic time and space, we seek to develop a higher sensitivity to the group field and to what Mystery is trying to do with us. Can we be aware of what wants to happen, instead of just pushing a preconceived agenda? What will we notice and allow ourselves to be surprised by? What is seeking to emerge, having been summoned by our gathering and ceremonies?
This is what I love about Restorying: it is bringing me, and others, along for the ride, to co-create and midwife a more intuitive, connected way of being. When the idea first came to me, it came complete with gentle but explicit instructions not to push too hard, but instead to explore, put out feelers and see what comes easily. From the moment I answered that call, Restorying has been guiding me to practices and insights that immerse me not in intellectual conversations, but give me the experience of living into new stories.