The New Story Summit
At the end of September, 325 people from all over the world convened on the Findhorn community to participate in a one-week conference called ‘The New Story Summit’.
The idea behind it was that the stories we all hold in our head determine how we see the world – how we think and act – and that many of our old stories, such as, for example, those about war and famine being inevitable or that the purpose of life is to ‘make it’ and get to the top ( of what?) are not only becoming increasingly anachronistic but are responsible for much of what doesn’t work in the world. The aim was to discover what the new story or rather new stories are, so we may instead touch into what will inspire us and move us forward, help us to think and see the world in new ways, engage in our relationships in new ways. Above all, what we wanted to discover was not just a new story but one at a higher level. After all, we can buy a new iPhone with more gizmos on it but it’s basically still at the same level. No real shift. We need new stories that will shift and ennoble us, help us realise that as Jean Huston once put it, ‘We are born Stradivariuses and must stop believing in the story that we are plastic fiddles.’ Were anyone present still to have subscribed to this myth, I feel that this week at Findhorn will have eradicated it for once and all.
The beauty of this conference was that it succeeded in giving us the experience of such a level shift, as its organizers wanted to create a structure that not only enabled us to theorize with our minds about new stories, but also to explore tangibly what putting them into practice might imply. One way it did this was to create a ‘gift economy’, whereby instead of everyone paying a flat fee, each of us paid what we felt we could. Those with more money paid more than those with less, which allowed for scholarships to be available for the low waged and to pay for air fares so that many indigenous people could fly over and grace us with their presence. The conference also moved away from the traditional model of ‘teachers lecturing students’ – the former telling the latter how to be or what to think – to one where all of us could be students and teachers for each other. After a couple of structured days, the organisers felt we were ready to create our own structures whereby those of us who felt they had something to offer, could advertise their wares. The result was that many concealed sages emerged from the woodwork and not only revealed to us that they knew just as much about the new story as the so called ‘experts’, but were also beautifully embodying it in the way they lived.
What we clearly saw was that the old story was about giving our power away to authority figures, those whom we believe know what to do – viz., our bankers, politicians and doctors etc. – and then complaining or blaming them for the various messes they get us into. The new story, on the other hand, we realised, is all about our claiming much more responsibility, not only for how we choose to live, but also for the state of the society around us. We learned that if we want to see change happen in some area, then we need to take a stand, speak up, make our own voice heard. And this is what happened at the conference. In particular, I was reminded of the incredible power of the creative arts to make a difference and that the new story is not simply something to be told but it also needs to be sung and danced and painted and clowned into expression. Speaking as an ‘oldie’, one of the most encouraging things was to see the awesome wisdom and contributions of many of the younger people present which made me long for them to come into power in the world as they were not burdened by the same limitations and conditioning that has burdened us. For me, they were my teachers and it was a total honour to be in their presence.
We were very privileged to have the mayor of a large town in Senegal come and say a few words to us about community living.’ I am from a country,’ he told us, ‘that is very rich, not because of big banks, but because in Africa we share things. We share our joy and our pain. Community is something that can include people with least capital and cultural resources. Through community, we can learn to live together in a new way. It is a remedy for the global disease of loneliness and separation and it will help us learn to trust one another and so wean us off our many consumer addictions’. Yea.
Perhaps what most moved me was encountering some incredible women warriors reconfirming in me that the Feminine principle had truly come of age, all of them beautiful wise goddesses showing us men that fierceness and strength can be aligned with compassion and tenderness. Some were activists for human rights, others for children’s rights, others for abused women, some confronted the evils of ‘big business’, others were peace activists. All were awesome human beings. One woman who described herself as an ‘Earth lawyer’ reminded us that we were all earth lawyers and that ‘when human law aligns itself to higher law, harm moves to harmony’. A mother suggested that ‘We women need to raise our children so that they are never able to kill another woman’s child’ and a political activist reminded us that ‘at all times we need to use our voices at the edge of our comfort zones in order to penetrate the edges of power’.
What we all got to see so clearly was that most of our old stories, birthed as they were by the egoic us which believes we are separate from other people and from our world, all revolve around the idea of separation. This is why, both as individuals and nations, we have behaved so selfishly never considering the wider implications of many of our actions and have regarded our planet as a lifeless entity whose resources we can plunder for our own gains. And for the ego, difference equals separation. In that domain, what is of paramount importance is what class, race, colour, religion or culture we belong to, how rich or poor we are, how influential we think we are, what tribe we belong to, whether or not we think we have ‘made it’ and ‘know the right people’! In that world, we need to be right and others wrong. And of course, all these divisions lie behind so much of the inequality and violence all around us.
For me, the great gift of the conference was spending a week in a culture where none of these old divisions existed and where differences could be celebrated. Despite all of us coming from many different walks of life, there was nonetheless a spirit of deep respect for one another, a powerful awareness of our shared human unity and with it, the sense of how powerful we were as a unit. I felt that in the same way that we might visit the ashram of an enlightened Master in order to have our spiritual vibrations accelerated, so we need to go to gatherings like these and be in an energy field like this in order for our social and cultural horizons to be similarly expanded. I felt very empowered to relate to everyone with the love and respect with which they related to me and in this new space I found that I learned something from everyone present as well as being synchronistically drawn to connect with particular people whom I needed to learn particular lessons from.
New stories require new behaviours. Remember Gandhi telling us that we needed to be the change we want to see happen? Well people at this conference were the change. I had the profound sense that the days of individuals going it alone – i.e. stories of the old heroic macho myth of our needing to have dragons to fight to prove how strong we are – needed burying, and that we would succeed in our mission to create a healthier society for ourselves only if we all joined forces and moved forward as a collective. Yes, I thought, if each of us takes responsibility, realises we are part of a larger planetary consciousness, we really can make a difference, we really can create a world that works for all concerned, and that very possibly the days of our being in thrall to the corrupting or rogue forces in the world may well be numbered. They are, after all, only as strong as the power we ascribe to them. Sadly, our media is still, on the whole, enmeshed in the old ways and loves pushing out the same old scare stories, telling us that if Ebola doesn’t wipe us out, terrorists, floods and storms or total economic collapse will! This sells newspapers. I realised, too, that from the perspective of the old story, scarcity abounds everywhere – there’s not enough food, water, money, happiness, love, etcetera.
From the perspective of the new story, however, abundance reigns supreme, and when we feel abundant – this being born out of a deeper connection with our hearts leading in turn to a recognition of our integral wholeness – there is no longer the need for us to act out all our many ‘pain games’ centred around the myth of insufficiency. (For example, if we didn’t spend our money on weapons of mass destruction and organised things more effectively, everyone in the world could be fed. Similarly, if fear and greed did not predominate, the financial system could be made to work for all concerned.) From the perspective of the new story, we are all conscious agents of evolution and being there to help and support those less privileged than ourselves is not going out of our way; it is our way. From the new perspective, we don’t always have to be striving all the time – ‘working till we’re wrinkled and grey’ to have bigger houses and bigger cars, for we can see what a futile game it is, what a huge price we pay and we know it doesn’t make us happy. If we are connected to a self that is more than our egoic self and that exists at a higher level of consciousness, we can live simply and genuinely and no longer need to be consuming all the time to fill our inner emptiness. Why? Because the new story is one that recognizes our substantiality. When a new consciousness opens, we see that so much of our greed comes from the belief that we don’t have enough which in turn relates to the old stories about our not being enough.
What I learned was that we need many new stories to serve a new emerging culture. We need stories predicated upon the importance of our having peace in the world, stories giving us a deeper understanding of the universe, stories that see life as beautiful and worth celebrating, stories that empower both the elderly and the very young, stories to help us value the fact that we are all artists, stories that recognise that there are many other currencies in life in addition to money. One beautiful young South American rap artist suggested that
‘We want a vision where earth won’t be sold to the highest bidder and where profits will no longer be made from other people’s toil and where every banker will be an artist of fair play…’
I particularly liked that last line, as part of the new story, I felt, is for us to move away from our old blame games of just trashing our bankers and politicians, and instead try to honour them as people as much caught in a system/old story as ourselves and where more could be gained by infecting them with a new vision of a world that works. What came up strongly for me and for many others whom I spoke to, was just how infected many of us still were with the old stories as they had been drummed into us over so many years. Our challenge, we realised, is to get to recognise them, see how and where they manifest themselves in our lives and then choose to drop them. And the more we work at consciously activating the new stories, the easier this becomes. But we need to be careful and be very honest with ourselves. For example, I saw that while I talked haughtily about how addicted we all are to oil, that I too, came into that category. I don’t yet have solar heating and I still drive around in my gas guzzling, environmentally polluting extremely ancient diesel car. In that area I certainly do not walk my talk.
Essentially what the new story is telling us is that the great American dream is over and we all need to recognise this and start embracing a whole new set of values. For example, no longer must we believe that we’ll create a better world solely with science and technology or that we can move forward effectively if we are saddled by debt. We also saw that engaging in inner work is of paramount importance and is as, if not more, important than outer work, a) because if we are to shift to a new level , effort needs to be put into it, making the transition is by no means a ‘given’, and b) because we can only have a changed external society if we will have shifted internally. I.e., as within, so without! Put simply, we can’t embody a new story and thus bring it to bear in how we ‘do’ our relationships, our politics or economics etc., unless we are a space to receive it, and if we are still full of unresolved hatreds and angsts, if we still believe in scarcity and are greedy and competitive and don’t mind succeeding at other people’s expense – if these considerations are still central in our lives- we are no space for anything new. Put simply, if we want peace in the world, we need to work to create it inside our own hearts in the realisation that our tendencies to want to wage war against everything – terrorism, drugs, cancer, crime, you name it – never works. As Elisabet Sartouris, one of the conference initiators put it: ‘It is cheaper to feed your enemies than try to kill them!’ Similarly, if we want stories about co-operation to take root inside us, we need to ensure that we operate cooperatively. And that was what was so moving about this conference. We were all ‘there’ for one another, to help and support each other and when people manifested symptoms of egotism, it was easily spotted and handled, as in this conference, big egos were the exception as opposed to being the norm.
Our challenge, I felt, is for all of us to stand up and be counted, to stop being ostriches hiding our head in the sand but instead be courageous and outrageous and stick our necks out giraffe style and take stands for those causes we wish to champion and never be afraid to speak our truth but always to do so in ways that honour people. Gandhi modelled this beautifully in his doctrine of Satyagraha. When dealing with the English in India, he would bow to the Atman (God nature) within them, that is, honour their inherent essence while at the same time speaking his truth. This is why he could say things like ‘ I honour you but I hate what you are doing to my people’ without in any way invalidating their humanity. There is much we can learn from him today. I will finish with a quote from my recent book on Spiritual Activism as perhaps it sums up the spirit of the conference.
‘Today those of us who want a better world need to be what I call an ‘enheartener’, that is, a person able to lead from the heart, to move through life in a wakeful, tender, gentle, wise, loving, honest and strong way, so that wherever they go and whatever they do, wholesome energy flows out of them and into whatever part of their world they are seeking to engage with. What enhearteners do is they ‘enhearten’. They bring a new story into expression on the wings of love. They may do it via the spoken world, through actions they take, through words they write, songs they sing, paintings they paint, and dances they dance, and what characterises all these stories is that they have a positive vision of the future. They see something glorious lying ahead of us and are concerned with drawing this new future down into our present and infecting as many people as they can with it. Enhearteners don’t put life down; they don’t see the worst in everything, they don’t reduce or marginalise. Enhearteners raise life and regardless of whether they are a politician, a banker, a housewife or dustman, whoever they are and whatever they do, in their presence the environment around them becomes elevated and ennobled.’
Over that week, I felt surrounded by many enhearteners and my life has been subtly changed by them. Thank you Findhorn and everyone who put such effort into creating this conference. Though small (relatively speaking), it was a world event.