We live our lives in stories; with different stories for different areas of our lives (family, friends, work, spiritual aspirations, etc). While we do our best to knit these narratives into one overarching life journey, we may then feel trapped by the very coherence we have worked so hard to construct around us.
I see no alternative to having a founding story that reassures me I am an abiding presence in this world. I am a story-telling animal who faithfully inhabits his stories, one after another. And I welcome fresh stories when they reanimate my interest in life.
Who doesn’t feel delight when a new vision arises to replace an old one that has become exhausted in the harness of its daily rounds? But we can’t simply tell ourselves to make a brand-new start, when we feel separated from the world we inhabit. Lacking an intimate connection with the world, we are disempowered. Experiencing ourselves as separate and limited, a pervasive disharmony arises that is beyond our power to challenge.
The sense that we cannot influence the currents of power sweeping us along doesn’t have to be the final word. We are not condemned to treat ourselves as outside the company of the heroic souls who dare to challenge the forces driving our world toward disaster. We are free to develop the ability to soften the frozen quality of our own habits of perception. By noticing that we feel helpless against global forces, we can aspire to be on the side of a healthier kind of power; one which includes everyone, not just a few.
Recently I encountered a way of looking at my life that provides an alternative to feeling like a helpless victim in a society with vastly more power than any of us who are being swept along in it. In this way of looking, instead of the two familiar opposites (me and the world) there are three stories, which only together capture our true situation:
Business as Usual
The Great Unravelling
The Great Turning
Together this way of looking at the dynamic of our current life in the world, provides a relationship in which we can be a participant.
We are already engaged in the “Business as Usual” story and have in fact been trained from infancy to recognize what things are, how we can interact with them, and how to behave in ways that provides us with a chance to be successful, popular and secure.
We can no longer be in doubt that The Great Unravelling is the central story of our time: as floods and fires fill the nightly news—adding catastrophes close to home to the ancient pain of war and starvation in other parts of the world.
The third story—The Great Turning—is the one that we can easily assume only relates to the heroes among us. But a great turning towards hope and healing does not have to be a spectator sport for us. Once we realize that this great turning is already strongly established in our world and that we have only to join with others in order to be part of the healing of our planet, that very sense of possibility can allow us to recognize the isolation and grief which already pervade our minds and hearts.
The Great Turning is the story being narrated in our world by anyone who is working to feed the hungry, by anyone who notices and grieves for the inequality and pain being inflicted by the Business as Usual that has for long proceeded virtually unquestioned in our world. It is the story being told by anyone who dares to question the Great Unraveling that is currently ravaging our planet.
The Great Turning has the power to save our world. For decades, a few exceptional individuals have carried this narrative forward, providing the rest of us with inspiration to become more aware and engaged, more conscious of what is happening in our world. It is the story that can begin to anneal our grief and provide us with trustworthy company in the lonely journeys that have become the norm for so many. It can inspire us to live as a participant, instead of as a bystander helplessly watching while Business as Usual completes its terrible work of Unravelling everything that is precious.
I am exploring these three stories through Joanna Macy’s Work that Reconnects
Reading about these stories, I realize how significant it is that there are three of them. It is not enough to recognize the causes of global pain (propelled onward through the unrestrained momentum of Business as Usual); and we need a more hopeful perspective than daily reminders of the terrible consequences of that momentum (the accelerating tipping points of The Great Unraveling). We need a third story that includes us in its narrative; where we can discover a movement of healing that is already underway and in which we can see our own best future as the healing of the world in which we live.
It is an inspiration to know that there are people who recognized 50 years ago how deeply our planet is suffering and who have been working ever since, in a coherent and caring way, to provide currents of hope and engagement; so that bystanders at the precipice can recognize anew that we too can make a difference.