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Story Field Conference Report - Background

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 10 months ago




From the beginning, four threads wove together to shape this conference:

·          A clear intention to more deeply understand and work with our cultural “story field”;

·          A diverse mix of people to explore the questions posed;

·          Attention to diverse forms of presence (head, heart, body and spirit); and

·          Emergent process to invite the greatest possible opportunity for novelty and breakthrough.


As envisioned, the conference unfolded in wildly unexpected, challenging, and, for most, very productive ways.


Conference intention: Why come together?

The explicit focus of this conference was the culture’s “story field” -- the meta-narrative and its field of influence that shapes our individual perceptions and behaviors and as well as the systems (political, educational, economic, cultural, infrastructural, etc.) in which we live. All around us are signs that an impulse is arising within the story field to grow in its capacity to be spirit-full, life-serving, participatory, and sustainable.  We posed the following questions in the invitation:

What is the new story that is already calling us? 

What emerging narrative is so powerful that it draws us to hope, care, and engage?

How can our stories actually shift society into greater aliveness and wisdom?

Our intention was to address these questions at a number of levels:

1. THEORY: deepening our awareness and understanding of story fields and their dynamics — and the power of Story, in general.

2. WHAT EXISTS: deepening our awareness of how the existing story field shapes our culture and mass consciousness.

3. WHAT WE WANT:  exploring life-serving narratives and how we might help them shift the story field we all live in, including emerging technologies, innovations, collaborations, ancient ways and knowings, and other possibilities and resources.

4. ACTUALIZING IT: initiating efforts to spread more life-serving stories and help people actually live into a more life-enhancing story field on the ground, making it real in the world, so it becomes not just a told story or a believed story but a rich fabric of mutually reinforcing lived stories, with more and more people living it.

Participant Mix: Who needs to be in the conversation?

From the beginning, we nurtured heartful, purposeful connections among people working with meta-story -- and those relationships guided our invitation process.  The focus was to attract respected, well-networked people from the ecology of the story field: novelists, movie makers, artists, composers, performers, musicians, journalists, historians, futurists, city planners, online game designers, and storytellers of a dozen stripes.  As catalytic agents, we strived to ensure diversity in age, race, socio-economic state, and experience – because a rich stew disturbs and enriches, and if held well, can deepen and transform.


In practice, we attracted great functional and professional diversity (see below), 17% people of color, including a handful of indigenous people, 20% people under 30, and 56% women. 


The different sub-cultures added immensely to the conference experience, making visible the mix of co-existing story fields which is always operating.  Grief, anger, joy, shame, frustration, fear, strong interest, and conservatism all played out as untold stories of the tensions between male/female, Western/indigenous, and white/non-white played out.  The celebration of youth/elder was also present, as was the quietly accepted normalcy of gay/straight.








Process hosts/facilitators






Nonfiction authors









Bloggers/Online resources



Oral Storytellers



Visual Artists









Documentary Makers



Movie Makers












Fiction writers



PR/Advertising People









Screenplay writers



Sociologists and Anthropologists












Talk show hosts



Radio people



Venue owners or managers



Game Designers












City or Regional Planners






TV person




Attention to Different Forms of Presence

How did we ensure space for head, heart, body and spirit?

Nourishing the Mind


We created online a wealth of materials on story, story fields, and imagineering (creating stories people can actually live into).


We created online spaces -- community blogs and a wiki -- in which to share our work and to be in conversation before, during, and after the gathering. 


We hosted presentations from three well-known tellers of new meta-narratives –

  • Michael Dowd -- the sacred evolutionary Universe Story,
  • Anodea Judith -- the story of Awakening the Global Heart, and
  • David Korten -- the Great Turning from empire to earth community.


This helped stimulate participants' thinking about meta-narratives without promoting any one meta-narrative as the new story.


We made space during the face-to-face conference and online for all participants to offer inquiries they wished to pursue.


Nourishing the Heart


We created and held space for the expression of joy, sorrow, grief, shame, frustration, anger, and passion to be expressed and witnessed, so that what needed to be released was, and the sense of community powerfully grew.


We invited music, movement, art, and poetry -- and made meaning and meaningful connections through them.


We introduced the idea of mutually hearing, seeing, and loving our whole selves, however we showed up, creating a lived sense of what a better world of diverse people could actually feel like.


Nourishing the Body


We met at a conference site spread out in the near-wild mountains of Colorado, where fresh air, natural vibrations, and distance exercised and invigorated us.


We sought a space where there would be opportunity for movement, meditation, bodywork, yoga, rest, and the satisfaction of diverse nutritional needs.


Nourishing the Spirit


We gathered at Shambhala Mountain Center.  As a sacred place of Nature, its starkly spacious land and wildlife nourished, taught, opened, and inspired us.  As a Buddhist retreat center, its simple buildings and tents, its ritual spaces and, especially, its stupa -- a powerful and vividly colorful 100-foot high shrine -- held us and called forth intense spiritual energies obvious even to non-Buddhists.  This profound spirit-space played an active role in shaping our experience.


With the help of an indigenous ceremonialist, we grounded our work in sacred ceremony that connected us to the invisible and honored the non-human energies in which we exist.


We invited people to listen to their own inner wisdom and to the deeper intelligences of the world -- rather than primarily to external human authorities -- as they moved through their time together.


We welcomed and acknowledged the animals, dreams, and natural phenomena that appeared to be called forth into our midst by what we were doing.


Process:  What did we do to use our time together most productively?


We set a strongly evocative intention in our invitation, clarified it in our online spaces, posted it on the conference walls, and then re-iterated it a number of times during the conference, giving the gathering a purposeful atmosphere.  Many participants were guided by diverse versions of that intention, something we understood more over time.


We created a space that allowed the unknown to surface and bring its gifts through a process that boldly invited the emergent to come forth, trusting the wisdom of the group to take it where it most needed to go.  


We made visible an ethic of hearing, seeing, and loving each other as a framework for how we could best relate to each other.  For many, this was essential to creating the quality of interaction that was present throughout the conference.


We called forth participants’ dreams and aspirations early; asking each of them what would “blow their mind” and what they would need to bring that into being. 


We invited people to take responsibility for what they love as an act of service. 


We ensured that resources were available for creative engagement with music, movement, art, words, and access to nature and to the sacred. 


In other words, we shaped an environment that allowed individuals and the collective to be receptive and active, being and doing, in many modes of human aliveness.


By countering the more familiar methods of conferencing, this choice opened an important inquiry about the dynamic tension between “structured process where everyone knows what’s going on and what kind of end point we're working for, and everyone agrees to the ground rules” and a space open to the mystery of what wants to emerge in the moment.  This is an inquiry that will undoubtedly inform subsequent story field conferences.


The Flow of the Conference


The conference design passed through many stages.  The initial commitment to emergent practices was made by the initiating hosts – Peggy Holman and Tom Atlee.  Several months prior to the gathering, a two-day meeting among Peggy, Tom, Mark Jones, Candi Foon, and Anne Stadler further clarified the shape of the gathering.  In practice, the specific conference inquiries, process questions, and actions taken emerged as the gathering unfolded.


Here is an outline of how the conference unfolded, day by day.  Details are available at http://storyfieldteam.pbwiki.com/Session+Notes


Sunday evening, August 26


Welcome to Shambhala

Participants were given an orientation to the place and to the conference’s intentions.


Naming dreams

John Abbe began a name-sharing process in which people also spoke a wish, stated as if it has occurred (e.g., I’m John Abbe and I can fly.)  The wishes ranged from changing-the-world to making-it-through-the-day.  With much humor and poignancy, we discovered a lot about who we were, in a very short time.


Monday, August 27


A sacred welcome to the land

Gathering us together outside the stupa -- a large, intensely colorful, inspirationally constructed Tibetan Buddhist shrine a 20-minute walk from our meeting space -- indigenous ritualist Laurelyn Baker invited us all to welcome our ancestors in silence as each of us held a large, evocative ritual staff.  Many participants attributed their capacity to be present to the strong emotional expressions (particularly of anger and grief) which shaped the depth and breadth of our emerging community, to the power of this two hour ritual.  (Opened up by this initial ritual, many people returned to the stupa during the conference to experience its powerfully sacred impact.)


Hearing, Seeing, Loving Plus…

Mark Jones introduced HSLing (pronounced "hizzeling") – Hearing, Seeing, and Loving -- as a practice for our time together and beyond.  People gathered in groups of four after witnessing a model of the process through a fishbowl in which each person spoke to two questions:


What’s one thing that could happen here that would blow your mind?

                What do you need to create that experience?


Following that exercise the space was opened[1] with these questions:


What else could we be and do together that can make a profound difference in the unfolding story of our world?



  • What brings stories to life?
  • How do our current stories shape us?
  • What life-serving narratives do we sense emerging?
  • How might the stories we wish to live come alive everywhere?


The afternoon was then filled with people's sessions and floating conversations -- the essence and substance of the conference.  Again, these are described more fully on http://storyfieldteam.pbwiki.com/Session+Notes.


Monday sessions (links are to sessions with posted session notes):

·        Cleavage Point for Deep Change

·        Mystic Nomad Mutual Support

·        Communicating with Computers

·        New narratives-- grounded and compelling

·        One Act Play - participants

  • Metaphors that Rock and Your Vision Story
  • Tough Personal and Systemic Questions to Birth a New World
  • Transforming the Christ Story for Modern Times
  • Making a Profound Difference Together
  • Art and Imagery to Shift Consciousness and Culture


After dinner, David Korten presented his meta-story --  “The Great Turning.”


A general pattern was established:  gathering together in the morning, breaking into self-organized sessions throughout the day, an afternoon reflection circle, and some evening activities following dinner.


Tuesday, August 28


The morning opened with four “Story Field” Talks – 15 minute briefs from participants

                Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers (his evocative vital statistics art)

                George Johnson – Video "Vision Stories" (now called "TelAVision")

                Larry Victor - Perception (how we all see the world profoundly differently)

                Kaye Williams – Her play: The Game (about shifting to sustainability)


Following the talks, the space was opened for offerings from the group.


Tuesday sessions (links are to sessions with posted session notes):

·        Photographs of the Tuesday session wall

·        Lunar eclipse

·        Taking integrated new stories to mainstream culture

·        New Yorkers Connect

·        Viewing of Shalini Kantayya's A Drop of Life

·        The Launch Group, Day 1

·        3 Questions Circle

·        Worldchanging to Worlddoing Tues afternoon

·        Tech Team: Crowdsourcing

·        Family Healing Stories

·        Powerful Images of the Universal Story

·        Thank God for Evolution!

·        Community Implementation of "Soul Sustainability"

·        Large Investment Fund to Scale Up Our Media Work

·        Powerful Images and Sounds of the New Story

·        John's Current Spiritual Inquiries

·        Radical Forgiveness

·        Using the Transformative Essence of Festivals

·        Creating a Cosmic Mass to the Universe

·        Singing/Chanting

·        What's in a Name:  The New Paradigm's Self-Identity


Mid-afternoon, Michael Dowd presented a second meta-story: “The Great Story” -- in his well-attended breakout session, "Thank God for Evolution!".


Following dinner, Anodea Judith presented the final meta-story offered: “Awakening the Global Heart”.


An evocative moment occurred as her presentation ended, when a participant, vibrating with anger, expressed the voice of many in the story field of our culture – that her story included himself and other white men only as a destructive "patriarchal" force.  This stimulated a public exploration of what had occurred between them and of its larger meaning. 


Wednesday, August 29


Following the intensity of Tuesday evening, many awoke with a “download” to share.  The morning circle was established as a place to express what had come through.  There was much acting out of deep responses.  With some awe and trepidation, the group as a whole welcomed and witnessed a variety of emotional expressions, with an undercurrent of some people leaving the intense plenary circle and moving out into the hallway, and some of them returning.  This reached its climax in an exchange between an indigenous man and a white man who expressed the archetypical “let’s get on with it” energy that had been the undercurrent of frustration for those moving in and out of the hallway.


In the midst of all this intensity, the space was opened for participants to announce their break-out sessions for the day -- and out into the conference spaces the conversations flowed, bubbled and sparked.


Wednesday sessions (links are to sessions with posted session notes):

·        Photographs of the Wednesday session wall

·        Integral StoryField Work

·        Lion Kimbro and Anodea Judith

·        Stupa Tour

·        Board Game

·        Story Circle

·        Song/Chant into Communion

·        Ecstatic Dance

·        Supporting Youth Voices

·        History of the New Paradigm

·        Seeing beyond Guilt or Shame

·        Conception Dollars

·        Collective Consciousness through 7 Chakra Domains

·        Identifying Narratives that Exemplify Empire/Earth Community Themes

·        Sharing Stories Alive in Us Now


There was very spotty attendance at the afternoon reflection circle.  We concluded that people were "cooking" or getting space.


Thursday, August 30


The morning circle was well attended, with a much different sense of the day.  The space was opened for offerings, many of which addressed our potent differences, while others spoke to visions and projects for which various participants had passion.


Thursday sessions (links are to sessions with posted session notes):

·        Photographs of the Thursday session wall

·        DVD video viewing of Van Jones at Pachamama conference

·        Conscious Coupling: Changing the Paradigm and Narrative of Relationships

·        Initiation

·        Soul and infrastructure for after the conference


·        Community Conference Center for Imaginal Cells

·        Essential Insights from Larry's World

·        9/11, Truth, and Money

·        The Launch Op.

·        Open Rehearsal

·        Co-creating the Sacred Intentions for this Evening

·        Stories of how Politics was Transformed

·        White Folks' Anti-Racism Workshop

·        Multi-media performance art video

·        Song of Creation

·        Next Year's Conference

·        Talk-Poem-Story Writing Workshop

·        Our cells' knowledge of autonomy and collectivism

·        Stupa Tour

·        How Can We Make Education Holistic and Transformational?

·        Scaling up Open Source

·        "Zeitgeist" movie showing


During the evening circle, Tom Atlee spoke of the need to develop new forms of compassion that can free our attention and resources from preventing and ameliorating obvious suffering and destruction, so that we have the wherewithal to address the hidden systemic causes of that suffering and destruction.  Breakdowns and crises can then be met as energized opportunities for systemic transformation.  But it is hard.  As tears came, he spoke of his own struggle to care for Karen, his partner with cancer, and to attend to the welfare of invisible future generations.  As he spoke, a hummingbird appeared in our tent and remained, flying and perching, till the last person in the circle was speaking, at which point it flew back out into the world.


Dinner was a banquet, opened with an elder-honoring ritual and followed by a talent show.  See http://storyfieldteam.pbwiki.com/Aeron Miller for videos of some of the performances.


Friday, August 31


Closing Ritual

Through ritual, Tom Atlee and Peggy Holman turned responsibility for next year’s conference over to a group of volunteers, offering a mantra with the turnover:


We are calling into being our collective soul so that our many-storied world can find its way.


The ritual staff passed around the circle as participants spoke commitments either silently or aloud.



People gathered in triads to reflect on the conference using an appreciative interview guide http://storyfieldteam.pbwiki.com/Reflection-and-goodbyes.  We closed with a song from the group and stepped out into the world to seed what we had learned, knowing that we were there for each other.


[1]  The phrase "the space was opened" refers to a significant facilitator action in Open Space process.  The facilitator orients participants to the conference intention and then explains to them how they are going to create their own conference around that intention.  This involves a few simple but potent guidelines and showing them the sheets of paper, markers, time/place post-it notes, and blank wall they will use post the sessions they wish to convene.  They are then invited to post those sessions and proceed to hosting and attending them.  This activity-launching invitation to self-organize by "taking responsibility for what you love" is called "opening the space" of the conference.


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