Once upon a time two people got married and lived happily ever after in the place of their dreams.. Going to the wedding of two friends in the Findhorn community in north eastern Scotland was the start of my contact with the Findhorn Foundation New Story Summit as Naresh and I were invited to sit with a group still dreaming the event. That was back in May 2013. Today is the first day of the Summit, and an amazing, international group of human beings who are acting to create the New Story in their lives are assembling.
Findhorn – an intentional spiritual community for over 50 years – has set a strong intention to “live the New Story” in its organisation of the event, bringing principles of the gift economy, and creating a structure with a lot of unknown in it. There are at least five film crews here, and a team dedicated to web-streaming and publishing recordings of the event – so if you want to join in you can register to be part of it at http://newstoryhub.com/ for a contribution of £10 or more.
The design for the six day event is to have three prime movements.. After the opening and welcome today, Sunday and Monday are dedicated to “Sowing the Seeds” – naming where we are now, and what is already happening in the world that is seeding the New Story. Tuesday and Wednesday are for “Emergence” – some workshops, open space, discussions, who knows what?! Thursday and Friday we will attempt to “Weave the Threads” into narratives, projects, actions, a closing ritual, a story to tell the wider world..
Last night Naresh and I sat in a very global circle of storytellers at the conference, which brought together people from around the world (you can see some of the people who are bringing their stories here). I felt how different it is to think of the state of the world, and to set an intention to dream something new together, when those who are most on the receiving end of our system of injustices and exploitation are sitting in the room along with those of us who benefit the most in terms of economic privilege and living peaceful healthy lives. There are people here who work with women who have been raped as part of the violence and war in theCongo, who look after children orphaned by HIV and AIDS, who are part of indigenous communities fighting for their lands and heritage and many more.
Two weeks ago I sat in another international circle inDenmark, as part of the Transition International hubs gathering. It was wonderful to have a voice from the global south present – two women fromBraziland a man fromMexico– bringing very different perspectives from the white mainly European rest of us.
During an Open Space session I sat with a group of women talking about Inner Transition, next to a table of all men talking about Macro Change (how can we get our big systems to tip or shift?). I’ve been deeply involved in both conversations within Transition Network, and was really struck, and unsettled by this gender divide. I later went and joined the Macro Change group and afterwards realised why I find it problematic to have a group of all men talking about our models for change.
It links back to what is here in the space at Findhorn. Our system creates dynamics between social groups where one group feels less of the pain and another group feels more of it. I think it’s interesting to look at “managing unmanageable pain” as a key driver in the creation of dysfunctional dynamics of our culture. That is, at a deep level, we create structures, systems and collective habits, which are shaped by layers of pain that we believe to be overwhelming, and cannot directly express.
There are many ways we avoid feeling pain – here’s my current list (you can find most of our destructive habits somewhere here)
- Distract ourselves with busyness, entertainment, work, gambling, information;
- Numb it with drugs – prescribed, illegal, and legal – nicotine and alcohol;
- Soothe it with other addictions – shopping, sex, food, sugar, fat, travel;
- Turn it on ourselves with self-harming, self hating patterns;
- Get someone else to feel it – through power over structures, bullying, colonialism, extremes of wealth and poverty, unfair trade agreements, wars and so on.
It’s probably worth saying that these patterns are both individual and collective – most of us will use some as individuals, and we are also part of a collective culture which uses them all. I’m not going to talk about what causes the pain in this post, my intention is to name it as a major part of our current, failing story.
My first degree was in engineering, and in systems terms the pain in a human system is simply the negative feedback signal. “If this hurts do less of it!” If poverty hurts, make less of it. If bullying hurts do less of it. It enables the system to stay on track to create healthy, happy and thriving ways of living together. In a system which avoids the expression of pain these signals are lost – felt by some, who are no longer in relationship with those most responsible. And the people who generally experience the least systemic pain are those with the most privilege – white people feel less than black; rich less than poor; men less than somen, able bodied less than disabled and so on. So the educated, white, affluent straight, able bodied men experience the least of these systemic arrangements of managing pain..
When I look around I see that this group dominates the landscape of how our reality is described to us – in every kind of media and as leaders of all our major organisations. We do get doses of painful images – of far off places (foreign wars or violence), extremely unusual occurrences (stranger child abduction or murder) and imagined futures and stories (dystopic science fiction). We don’t get a steady report on the ongoing suffering of women on the receiving end of domestic violence, people living below the poverty line struggling to feed their children and themselves, the frustrations of disabled people trying to be part of a culture designed for the able bodied. If we are analysing the current system and looking at what change is needed, we need to hear and listen to the voices of those on the marginalised side of these social groups.
I can feel my own resistance to writing about pain in this way. There is a tension within Transition between creating spaces to acknowledge, feel and honour our pain for the world, and being part of a movement which has a positive feel. I personally believe this tension dissolves once we really understand what pain is – the flip side of everything that makes life meaningful, and makes us worthwhile as human beings. Our sadness at the destruction and suffering of others speaks of our desire for right relationship, our interconnectedness, our natural and inevitable empathy for landscapes and animals as well as fellow humans. Our fear reminds us of the courage it takes to act when many may criticise or even punish us for speaking and acting against those with immense power. Our anger expresses our passion for justice in the world, and gives us the strength to act.
Many will recognise this re-framing of pain as coming from the Work that Reconnects of Joanna Macy, whose group processes are specifically aimed at enabling us to feel our natural responses to our global and personal situation (her book describing these processes is being republished this year!)
I’m starting to be more courageous about opening spaces for feelings with groups I’m with. I appreciated someone on a workshop recently saying the Truth Mandala (from Joanna) was a “missing piece”, having felt the need for a strong and deep process for expressing emotions with his groups.
This story started with a wedding, and this morning I was honoured to take part in a sacred pipe ceremony of the Lakota people, calling for help for this New Story gathering of over 300 people, and asking the pipe to gather our prayers and our wisdom as we go through the week ahead. The putting together of the pipe represents the coming together of the masculine and feminine to make a container strong enough to hold all our dreams and longing, and all the wisdom and help we need. This theme of balancing archetypal qualities of masculine and feminine, will and love, doing and being, has working in me for some time – so I’m really appreciating seeing it embodied in time-honoured ceremonies.
And I’m with the impact of hearing so many voices that I rarely hear spoken live. It leaves me with a question – can we bring the voices of those involved in Transition in some way in Africa to our next international hubs meeting? What impact would that have? And Asia? And more from South America? I’m seeing the effect of the commitment to include these voices in the Global Ecovillage Network – to find and support people who are doing wonderful work in their communities.
We’re just a few hours away from the start of the conference so I’m going to stop here! If you’re interested I hope you can find a way to join in this gathering, or at least pick up some of the pearls that people will be sharing here.