“Step from the ordinary noise of the tilled fields or the busy streets into the quiet of the woods. Step across the boundary and the trespass of story will begin. The forest takes a deep breath and through its whispering leaves an incipient adventure unfurls. The quest. In the lull — not the drowsy lull of a lullaby but the sotto voce of a woodland clearing, scented with story as it is with wild garlic — this is the moment of beginning, the pause on the threshold before the journey.”
— Jay Griffiths
Last week I wrote about changing our stories so, of course, I’ve thought more about how mine have changed — far too many & too long & perhaps too tedious to share here. But I can tell you about an explicit and fundamental change that began almost 20 years ago (April 2003) when I participated in my first week-long Intensive at Matthew Fox’s University of Creation Spirituality. I saved the records.
In the mornings, I was part of a group of fellow-explorers, facilitated by the scientist Dr. Larry Edwards, studying the New Cosmology — i.e., the outline of the Universe Story as it was being uncovered by astronomers & physicists and then Earth’s Story as it, too, was currently being uncovered by geologists, biologists, & archaeologists. We began, on that first morning, by re-telling foundational Creation Myths. We spent time with the Miwok story of how, in the Beginning, there was neither land nor water. Silver Fox was lonely, so she sang a prayer-song — and Coyote appeared. [Yes, that trickster Coyote!] Then Silver Fox suggested that the two of them together sing a world into being. And so they did…….. We thought about similarities & differences among the Origin Stories and about how they so deeply color an individual’s or a whole culture’s approach to Earth and her community. As one example, we compared how the Story of Silver Fox & Coyote might lead to a perspective different than, for example, the Judeo-Christian Telling. We pondered… we considered the perspectives given by our own Creation Myths, whatever they might be…. And then, we began to explore the Cosmos…. The next day we started with the Fecund Void, then the Tiny-Compressed-We-Know-Not-What that appeared, and then the great Flaring Forth that occurred — the beginnings of this Universe. We talked about the difference between naming the first moment as Fecund Void rather than Empty Nothingness or naming the moment of Cosmic Birth as a Flaring Forth rather than a Big Bang (with its connotations of violence, noise & shattering). And on we went….
My afternoons were spent in an Art-As-Meditation workshop on Storytelling, facilitated by Yeye Luisah Teish — a teacher, an author, and an Iyanifa and Oshun chief in Yoruba tradition. When I signed up for this topic, I had no idea that the stories we would be telling were our own!
The initial gathering of Teish’s group was exactly that — a gathering, a ritual bringing together of all our individual selves to weave something greater — a safe Community. We were then asked to imagine the Names that had grown out of the stories of our lives so far. I can’t remember what I said — probably Lame Deer. Most of our self-namings were something like that….
Our “homework” for the first night was to write the Old Story we had spun of our lives, the story that had brought us those Old Names. Thanks to my upbringing, I am a very conscientious & diligent student. After supper, I set right to work — trying to include everything. I am fortunate to have grown up in family where many stories (fairy tales, myths, stories set in other cultures) were read to me regularly & often, though my parents did not share many stories of their own earlier lives. I was allowed to roam freely and we went on camping trips to different parts of the country. From earliest childhood I felt a primary bond with the More-Than-Human world. And yet… And yet…. In most childhoods, I think, there has been some sort of And-Yet, whether overt or subtle. As I struggled with the assignment, I finally realized that the only way to capture some of the feelings of my childhood was through fairy tale.
The next afternoon, we told our stories. As always, I held back til last. The stories told by my fellow storytellers were straightforward autobiography — each different, each including many things with which one or more of us could identify. It was a beautiful time of heart-feeling & compassion. And then, after everyone else had spoken, there was no escaping — It was my turn to tell my story to the circle.
MY OLD STORY by Margy Knott [the name I was called as a child] Once upon a time, a little girl lived with her family in a big old house. It was a wonderful house in most ways — with sturdy roof and walls, and plenty of stairs & bookshelves & hidey-holes, and a big yard with a garden & cherry, apple, and oak trees & vines. But -- in the basement, there slept a big old dragon Very big! Very old! And he was a wonderful dragon in most ways, covered with iridescent green scales and two bony wings that tucked neatly along his sides. When she was small, the girl would play — in the heat of summer — amongst the cool green coils of his tail. And in the cold of winter, she would lean up against his belly and feel the warmth of the fire within. But -- there was one big problem with this resident dragon. Every time anyone in the house got angry, the dragon would feel it — and he would open his two slitty eyes that shone like golden mirrors, and he would lift his heavy ancient head just so high, and he would open the dark daggered cavern of his mouth, and he would blow out a great burst of fiery breath through the house — before subsiding into slumber once more. At first, this odd habit didn’t matter much to the little girl for, when she was tiny, the dragon’s fiery breath simply swirled above her head. But she was growing. And as she grew taller, she began to feel the hot blast tangling her hair. And she stopped snuggling against the dragon’s warm belly in winter. And as she grew taller still, his fiery outbursts blistered her forehead and dried out her eyes. And she stopped sliding down his cool tail in summer, and she learned to duck her head when anger was in the air. Then, one day, someone in the house got angry. And the dragon woke as always. And he lifted his heavy head and he opened his scaly mouth and he blew out his fiery breath -- — full into the face of the little girl. She opened her small sweet mouth to protest — but the flames leaped in — shriveling her tongue, searing her lungs. Quickly she clamped her lips together and flung herself down to the floor. Curling into a ball in the furthest corner, she stayed very quiet, for a very long time.
If I had ever had doubts about the power of Story, they all flew away when I told this story out loud. Hearing my own words, I felt a great change within myself. And I saw changes in the beautiful listening faces of the people in the circle. Many came to speak to me after class. One threw his arms around me and said, with tears, “Thank you. Now I understand my relationship with my father better. It wasn’t all bad!”
Our assignment for the next day was to find a New Name into which we might grow. Again, I went to work conscientiously, seriously …… but I could not come up with a Name. I slunk into the circle the next afternoon and, when all the others had spoken their glorious New Names, I whispered apologetically, “I couldn’t find my Name…. But,” I added with a sudden burst of courage & determination, “I’ll have one by the end of this class.” I had no idea how that might happen!
The rest of the afternoon was spent in movement. At one point, as she drummed a steady beat, Teish spoke simple story prompts such as “Once upon a time, there was ….. One day….. And then……….” And as I danced, something began to coalesce inside me and, when we sat in our closing circle, I was able to say, with some confidence, “I don’t understand what it means, but my new name is She Who Feathers Her Wings With Stars.” My movements had told me so.
Of course, our assignment for that night was to find our New Story, the one that would lead to our New Name. And as I began to write, I began to understand the Name that had come to me.
The next afternoon, we were asked to tell our New Stories — to TELL our stories, no reading allowed! (a few moans & groans in response) But this time, I did not hesitate to volunteer.
TO BE CONTINUED…..