It matters what stories we tell. It matters what stories we subscribe to. Stories have an energetic force and that energy has an impact in the world. This was the idea behind The Story Field Conference: Invoking a New World through Story, a gathering held at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado in August of 2007. Dreamed into being by Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute in Oregon, and Peggy Holman, co-author of The Change Handbook, the conference included a wonderful assortment of young and old, change makers whose work is all about inviting a new narrative into existence while uncovering the stories and myths we live by, many of which no longer serve us or the planet.
My experience at that conference has richly informed my work. After being there I decided to create this blog as a space to explore the nature of the Story Field, which I think of as a dynamic and ever-changing field of energy where stories interweave and form the fabric of daily life.
What stories am I bringing into the world? What stories do I want to invite from others?
This week, in the woods east of Victoria, near the community of Sooke, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society is holding a five-day summer camp for youth. Yesterday, as an invited guest, I led a two-hour workshop for twenty-six young people, ages 13 – 19, from countries as diverse as China, Korea, Columbia, Mexico, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Iran. I told a story from India I have told many times called “A Drum”, in which a poor woman invites her son to dream by asking him what he would like from the market. The boy asks for a drum, but instead his mother brings him a stick of wood she has found on the roadside. The boy is puzzled, but he takes the stick with him anyway when he goes out to play. He meets a woman trying to light her stove to make bread. He gives her the stick of wood. She is grateful, accepts the wood, lights her stove and bakes her bread. When the bread is ready, the woman gives him a warm piece of it. But he doesn’t eat it. He takes it with him and continues his walk. Because he is able to receive what is given him, without judgment or disappointment, without assuming that the gift is meant for him and him alone, he finds he has just what someone else needs, and is able to pass the gift along. At the end of the story he receives his drum.
After telling the story, I asked the youth to gather in groups of four to consider the question, “What gift have you received that you would like to pass along?” When we gathered again in the large circle, a young man from Guatemala stood up and shared his story. He said that two years ago, in Guatemala, he was with his uncle, whom he loved very much. His uncle said to him, “I am going to teach you everything I know.” He was so happy, thinking of all the things his uncle would teach him. But two months later his uncle was dead. He had been killed by the government. The young man was devastated. Not only had he lost his uncle, he’d lost the opportunity to learn from him. Then he realized that his uncle had already given him a gift. He had already taught him something important—not to be afraid to speak the truth, no matter what.
The story told by this young man from Guatemala describes a harsh reality, one in which speaking the truth is a dangerous choice, yet he was able to frame his experience not just as a story of injustice and loss, but also as a story of learning and generosity.
What stories are we telling?