What Story Do You Choose?

Lukas Nelson & Family have a lovely song entitled “Turn Off the News and Build a Garden”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPrPtDoaB3s&list=RDMPrPtDoaB3s&index=1 I am working as I can to build a variety of gardens — with seeds, with fiber, with words, with love for Earth & all she includes. However, I can’t just turn off the news. I have learned to restrict my intake, reading just enough to stay abreast of the news but, of course, I am still saddened and distracted by all the violence & destruction & pain. I think a lot about all the different stories & myths being enacted and encountering each other — sometimes finding ways to cooperate with or even to enrich each other, sometimes locked in the kind of vicious clashes we are now seeing in Russia and the Ukraine. I wonder about the stories to which nations, cultures, & peoples have given over their lives and souls. What, for instance, are the stories which men like Putin have created and absorbed so completely that the stories themselves have taken charge of their thoughts and actions? In her book The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit asks the same question of us all:

“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice…. [….] We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well within which we drown…. [….] Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop.”

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.

Because we are humans, we are all saddled as we grow by the family and cultural stories that surround us and by other stories that we encounter along our life journey. If, as Solnit suggests, we become aware of our stories and how they steer us, we are more and more able choose which stories we keep or change or discard — though we must be vigilant because even the stories we thought we’d discarded may occasionally rise as echos or ghosts that try to slip under the radar and affect our perceptions. It’s interesting to look back at the ways our individual stories about ourselves and the world have come, gone, or morphed over the years. For instance, I grew up in a culture in which the human was seen as naturally dominant & in a subculture where the rational mind was venerated, often to the exclusion of physical or emotional or heart-centered ways of knowing and doing. It was a story in which the players believed they could also be uninvolved & unbiased observers and narrators. These are no longer the stories by which I live. It’s easy to say this, but changing these and other personal stories has been an on-going, life-long work

A guiding story for me is the one recent research has suggested on the origin and evolution of the Universe — this expanding, diversifying, and complexifying Universe in which all that exists is interrelated, is kin tracing back to a single beginning. As John Muir famously said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” That includes each of us. We may never see the consequences but we can be sure that the stories we tell ourselves and others are — through thoughts, words, and actions — radiating outward like the rippling rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, having some tiny or even some larger consequences as they move through the Cosmos.

For now I am focusing on making, working with fiber and words and my love of the Earth and all her community — never sure of the consequences for me or for the fibers & words themselves or for the larger world — but trying to think and act in ways that will bring life rather than death. And hoping…

Several weeks ago, I thought I had finished with the Dreaming Towards Dawn mask, but she continued to seem unsettled, to want more. I tried this; I tried that…. Then last week I dreamed of her wearing a crown or headband of coral beads. When I woke up, I remembered the simple little necklace of coral beads I’d gotten in Mobasa, Kenya, in 1964. Its thread had broken many years ago and I always meant to restring it, but…. the beads ended up in a little box somewhere. And when I dug out that box, I found it under another little box containing small earrings I’d purchased in 1968 from a Tuareg woman near Tamanrasset in the Algerian central Sahara. They were enameled, with tiny coral beads set in the pattern. So — still not “done” (whatever that means) but getting to what will be the stopping point.

And after the Spirit of The Betwixt and Between asked to live in a twilight forest (see last week), I set out to make one for her. Then it seemed she needed some sort of wrap, so — after much experimenting — I made her a scarf. I still need to decide whether to use it and if so how. I almost see it as taking her to a whole new context (though that may be a thought for another mask & another time). In any case, she herself needs some further shaping. Oh, I discover so much as I go along with the flow! Great fun — and this is a good (though rather sobering) time to contemplate the meaning of Between-ness as I work.

In the meantime, I continue my primary work, which has been so beautifully described by Mary Oliver:

       Messenger

My work is loving the world. 
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — 
equal seekers of sweetness. 
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums. 
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn? 
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me 
keep my mind on what matters, 
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be 
astonished. 
The phoebe, the delphinium. 
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture. 
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart 
and these body-clothes, 
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy 
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, 
telling them all, over and over, how it is 
that we live forever.
 
~ Mary Oliver ~

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