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Story Field Conference Report - What We Learned

Page history last edited by JenMyronuk 12 years, 8 months ago


What We Learned



In many ways, the gathering was a lived experience of the new story.  We made space for people to be real together, where our differences were welcome disturbances from which learning and growth could and did happen.  The reflections below are based on what we heard and experienced in answer to the questions we asked:



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?



We begin by reflecting on the four exploratory questions, so that a fuller meaning of the overarching question will emerge:



What Brings Stories to Life?



During our time together, whenever blame, judgment, victimization, or domination showed up, we found ourselves living the current story.  Each time we did, we transcended a normative response in which those who are made invisible by that story either disappear or loudly protest.  Instead, we made the room for those voices -- which ultimately reside within each of us -- to show up, helping us grow into a new story where we all become more fully ourselves, individually and together.  We learned that stories come to life when:


They are told with humility and a willingness to be curious about what they evoke


As we consciously lived together in the weave of our stories during the gathering, one key element that surfaced as essential to bringing our stories to life is how the story is told.  Because we continually discover new voices and threads in our ever-evolving stories, they are always incomplete.  When the story teller recognizes this, it brings humility to the telling and curiosity when something new arises.  These lessons follow:


·        If the story teller speaks as if they have all the answers, it leaves no room for voices and perspectives that have something to add.


·        A stance of humility, recognizing that the story is never complete, allows space for new aspects to show up and be integrated.


·        Being curious when missing voices show up invites a more whole version of our stories to emerge, within which we can find each other and our deeper selves.


·        When telling stories is done with the understanding that meaning comes through a weave of many stories loosely knit rather than one monolithic story, it honors the many voices and perspectives that make us whole.



They are told through multiple modes


When we experienced stories told through multiple modes (e.g., words, music, movement, art) – such as the vision video from George Johnson and the real-time background music played for us by Harry Pickens and Jim Channon's real-time art recording our conversations – they touched us deeply.  Beyond words alone, stories reach us more -- and reach more of us -- when we can experience them on many levels – head, heart, body, and spirit.



They touch universal truths through the lens of the personal.


As one participant said, when a story is based in personal ego and angst, it is drama.  When it is built on stereotypes to make a point, it can seem abstract.  When it dives deep into the personal to connect with the universal -- our profoundly shared human condition -- it has meaning for us all.





How do our current stories shape us?


During the conference, we lived out established cultural patterns, with clashes surfacing when rarely heard voices spoke out, leaving many who are most at home in the dominant culture angry, frustrated, or confused at times.  Because there was space for grief, anger, fear, and radical diversity, usually unexpressed voices and feelings surfaced poignantly, urgently.  For example, one woman’s anger burned brightly when challenged by “yet another straight, white man” who saw the overflowing emotion during Wednesday morning as nonessential and nonproductive.  The pain and gifts of indigenous people, who are often completely invisible, was vividly present in the room.  The anguish of people of mixed race and non-white races -- expressed as a visceral experience of being choked off from speaking their truth -- was made public.  And we witnessed the pain of white men – and others – who felt confused, repelled, frustrated and invalidated by all this strong emotion.  The cacophony of these voices -- because they were all heard and collectively held -- ended up welding us into a powerful community that was viscerally felt by the vast majority of participants.  The contrast of this experience to the usual experience in the dominant story made the norms of our current story more visible and more poignant.



Some myths that form our current world view surfaced:



One cultural narrative holds us all.


The story that we all live the same story is an illusion.  Yet, because most of us, particularly those most at home in the dominant culture, believe this, the many-stories we actually experience -- often radically different stories based upon race, age, gender, sub-culture, class, and life experience -- cause separation and conflict.  We each live within our own story, some in close proximity to others, some with stories virtually invisible to each other.  When our stories rub up against each other, they can draw us together or tear us apart, creating harmony or dissonance as they weave through our collective experience.  As we discovered during our time together, when stories were told with a sense of absoluteness, they brought anger, grief, fear, conflict.  Not until the way was opened for further exploration did these feelings transform into shared discovery, connections, and new possibilities.



The dualities of human diversity are real, dangerous, and best left unaddressed.


Male/female, people of color/white, indigenous/Western, young/old -- these and other tensions surfaced during our time together.  Our current story encourages conformity over distinctiveness as a strategy to belong to a community. To speak out the anger, grief, and pain generated by the dualities we use to define – and separate – ourselves, triggers blame, judgment, and victimization.  To speak out is to risk being ostracized.  No wonder many women, people of color, and young people opt out -- and privileged people try to avoid the topic! This dynamic surfaced multiple times at the gathering, particularly when stories were told that made someone feel their identity was made wrong.  By opening the space to explore the feelings that surfaced, we grew beyond the usual diversity-suppressing cultural response.  Highly charged socially defined dualities became doorways to more fully see the complex truth of who each of us really is, within and beyond these categories.



Words are the primary mode of expression and the mind is the primary channel for making meaning.


Centering on meaning derived through intellectual understanding, other forms -- such as music, movement, and art -- are reduced to mere adornments.  With cries from the artists, musicians, and dancers in our midst, we were made aware that other modes of expression not only matter but may be far more effective in carrying meaning than words alone.  What do the natural world and other even less namable dimensions of our universe offer?  What is lost when our capacity to sense with our hearts, spirits, bodies and extra-sensory selves is undernourished and not exercised?  What is gained when we bring many dimensions of our human sense-making and vibrancy into our shared communications?



Strong forms of expression -- particularly highly emotional expression -- are appropriate only in spaces specifically defined for that purpose, if at all.


Once again, Wednesday morning provided great grist for learning.  It surfaced strong responses when feelings dominated the session.  Since the dominant culture is invisibly transparent to itself -- just as our individual blind spots are invisible to us, just as the water is invisible to the fish -- it pays little attention to the ways in which it usually colonizes conversations.  Those most at home in the dominant culture have much less practice witnessing the unfamiliar -- such as raw emotional expression -- because by definition, the dominant culture supports its own polite, rationalistic, or dominating ways of processing and communicating.  Privileged people don't have to listen to less privileged people.  Less privileged people get much more practice sitting and listening to someone else's "bullshit". In fact, the dominant culture even institutionalizes this practice in the form of sanctioned "talking head" presentations.  We don't need to confine strong emotion to therapy and the home.  It is part of living full lives in touch with ourselves and each other.




What life-serving narratives do we sense emerging?



The new story makes room for all of our diverse voices, because they help us experience ourselves as a meaningful part of something larger than ourselves. 


It integrates our uniqueness, and therefore our differences -- including the socially defined and charged dualities of male/female, Western/indigenous, white/non-white, etc. -- into a larger pattern of “differentiated wholeness”, in which difference becomes a creative contribution to the whole, stimulating interest, learning, evolution, and greater capacity.  On Wednesday morning, the range of tensions expressed, heard, and held was extraordinary and there was room for all of it.  Our collective capacity to stay present to it all was pivotal for the quality of connections and commitments to actions that now seem to be emerging from the gathering.  We watched this dimension of our new story serving our individual and communal aliveness.



It is through a weave of our many stories loosely knit that our best hope for wise collective action comes alive. 

When our stories live successfully side by side, we neither stop triggering each other nor lose our common ground.  We simply learn to express whatever authentically comes up for us, to be present when challenging perspectives or emotions are surfaced, and to deepen through them to our common humanity.  Then our stories stimulate each other's power and evolution, paradoxically weaving new, more powerful coherences, deep meta-stories in which we all can live, work, and play together with true vitality.  While messy, this works.  At the Story Field Conference, we made room for voices that are usually silent to be heard, for unseen stories to be told.  At some level, this novel experience healed us, moving us towards the kinds of diverse, loving, and effective communities that so many of us long to live in.



We are learning that stories are ever evolving, always incomplete.


Duality was seen as the illusion that it is, no longer separating us and them.  When tensions appeared as stories were told, new threads were teased out and the integration of seeming opposites into some larger meaning began, deepening our understanding, making all our stories richer and more embracing.  Furthermore, we realized more deeply that each story -- no matter how profound and compelling -- is a step on our collective path.  It is only a part of and a doorway into a larger infinitely nuanced Story of all lives, all views, reaching deep into a past and a future in which we are all inevitably participants.  Life is an opportunity to live and to tell our piece of this vast, evolving Story which, in its totality, is ultimately untellable.



We have a right to be whole people – head, heart, body, and spirit.  The whole group benefits when people are invited to bring their whole selves present. 


When participants made themselves vulnerable, presenting more of themselves in our collective settings, we increased our individual and collective bandwidth for learning.  When I see how real and deep you are, I glimpse new depths and realities in myself, and in what we are and could be together.  This embodied realization may have contributed immensely to why so many people said this experience was life changing for them. 



Our differences are a creative resource for the evolution of the whole.


Our path to higher-order, more elegant handling of our differences and collaboration is through hearing and welcoming those differences – including our emotional differences -- into our collective space.  That that process will often be messy goes without saying.  But it is out of that messiness that our increased collective capacity and communion arise.  As we come to access more of the true wholeness of who and what we are -- individually and collectively -- we can use more of it to inform, stimulate, and resource who we become and what we do next.



Courage increases.


As we practiced being in the unknown together, learning to trust each other, we discovered that we are not alone.  Several people expressed this with phrases like: “I’ve found my tribe” and “I now know what to call my work – it’s story field work.”  When people know they are connected in meaningful ways, they have substantially more courage to act.  In many cases, individuals have specifically committed to supporting each other.



We hear, see and love each other.


When we are inadequately heard, seen, and loved, we close down.  As we become heard, seen, and loved, we open up and blossom into more of our fullness.  The gifts we have to offer each other and the whole -- and our ability to realize and use the gifts of others -- grow exponentially.  As the walls between us crack and fall, and connection and communitas grow, a deep coherence appears that can heartfully embrace and ground everything else that is so different about us.  We become something greater.  During the conference, as we increasingly heard, saw, and loved each other, our community increasingly heard, saw, and loved itself.



Mystery and incompleteness are welcomed as vital elements of creativity and evolution. 


Without the unknown, there is no learning, no creativity, no life. We have paid a huge price by squeezing uncertainty and chaos out of everything!  Where there is only certainty and completeness, most of us suffocate, sometimes creating unintended consequences of disease, disorder, violence, or depression.  Culturally, we celebrate perfection – perfect athletic performance, musical performance, total quality in production.  Validly so; there is inspiration in experiencing a virtuoso performance and who wants airplanes, bridges, cars built any other way? 



Still, what we don't know and can't do, what is unfinished and imperfect, are essential companions to this perfection.  Uncertainty, incompleteness, and mystery are not celebrated.  They struggle to find their legitimacy.  Paradoxically, they grow increasingly important the more dysfunctional and destructive the status quo becomes, as they are the doorway to something better.  They are what happens at the margins, where something doesn’t yet have a form or a name or is new and tentative.  At the edges new life seeks to come into being -- to be heard, seen, and loved.  If we aren’t playing at the border between the known and unknown, we are standing in the way of our own evolution.  To be very pragmatic, there is no learning or transformational change without mystery; if you already know the outcome, then no transformation is involved! 



How might the stories we wish to live come alive everywhere?



We did not explore this as directly as the other questions, and this incompleteness leaves a juicy space for our coming work (see Opportunities and Possibilities Yet to be Pursued, below).  But we did learn a lot about pre-conditions for enabling our stories to come alive everywhere.  Here are some guidelines that we are taking from our experience at the Story Field Conference:


·        Understand that we actually live in many stories, loosely knit, forming a complex, richly textured weave of meaning.


·        Recognize that we live in a web of never ending stories that are continually unfolding through their living and telling.


·        Develop a friendly relationship with dissonance and the unknown.


·        Embrace and explore the dynamic tensions that masquerade as dualities so that our differences bring coherence and wholeness rather than conflict and division.


·        Discover the capacities to risk, to welcome diversity, and to co-operate because we know we are all aspects of a larger whole.


·        Pay attention to the feedback loops that allow us to learn and grow in consciousness and wisdom.


·        Engage with emergent process, in which outcomes unfold and the path is formed by walking it, because it calls forth novelty at the growing edge of our collective evolution.


·        Learn to be present to the anger, grief, fear, and frustration that surface as part of the stories that must be told.





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



We can join together to call into being our collective soul so that our many-storied world can find its way and each and every one of us inhabits the roles we are called to play.



We are a differentiated whole – each of us unique, each of us of part of a larger social organism that is seeking its expression through us.  Our stories – past, present, and future, real and imagined, from our many cultures, in our many voices, through our many modes – can show us the way, if we listen to their call and live into their meaning.  The more whole we are as individuals, following the energy of our own callings, the more we can fully inhabit our parts in the stories that give meaning to our individual lives.  And through the gifts of our uniqueness we can form a human community that embodies the best of who we are together, to play the roles we, as a human family, are here to offer to the larger unfolding story of the universe itself.


In practical terms, as we learn to work together, making visible our unique stories of being black, Indigenous, mixed-race, white, young, old, gay, straight, female, male, oriented to images, words, sound, movement, and more, we shall bring forth new and vibrant centers - our collective spirit shining through.  Our creations, born of our differences, shall unite us in the best possibilities of what it means to be earth community.



Lessons about the process



The process we used shifted the locus of attention from facilitation to hosting what wants emerge in a space bounded by the common intention to understand the role of story as a field phenomenon and to use story for profound social change.   It was a shift of what was in the foreground and what was in the background.  Rather than a primary focus on the flow of a process and keeping people “on task” or at least on the subject, the locus of attention was on the flow of energy - in which there was confidence that any voice that surfaced had something to contribute that can be heard and integrated.  Here are some of the beliefs affirmed through our work:



  • We know that creating a sense of sacred space can make a tremendous difference.  Our time at the stupa that first morning in the presence of Spirit and our ancestors contributed to bringing to consciousness what would make the space fertile and productive.


  • We know that expressing dreams, desires, and possibilities makes a difference (e.g., our wishes spoken as if we are making them happen, and speaking to what would blow our minds).


  • We know that inviting adult behavior that asks us to draw from the best of ourselves matters (as Mark Jones did by offering HSL – hearing, seeing, and loving -- and as we did in naming the Law of Two Feet – taking responsibility for what we each love -- and asking people to check within themselves for what was coming through them for guidance rather than looking to an outside authority)  REQUEST: I WOULD LIKE TO SEE MORE ABOUT THIS ASPECT OF THE PROCESS IN THE BACKGROUND SECTION -- TO HAVE IT BE AN ASIDE IN PARENTHESES DOES NOT DO IT JUSTICE.  THIS WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE EXPERIENCE FOR ME IN EMBRACING THE SPACE AND INTENTION YOU CREATED.


  • And we believe that working with the energy present in the moment matters.



Beyond that, we continue to explore how best to welcome chaos, to make room for the emergent while tending to whatever forms of "getting things done" best serve participants and their overarching inquiry. The conference opened a rich dialogue into the useful and productive tension between the divergent energy of mystery/emergence/dissonance and the convergent energy of getting things done.   



Some refinements to bring to future gatherings include:


·        Set the context more explicitly, providing more insight into what we, as sponsors, meant by “story field” and associated concepts like "imagineering", and our visions of what was possible in and from the conference


·        Take time early on for people to learn more about each other – who is in the room?


·        Provide more support for collective meaning making and coherence-seeking




The Evolving Definition of Story Field



The term, “story field” was coined by Tom Atlee in 1993, as defined in 1(a) below. Subsequently and independently, Jennifer Myronuk coined the term as a name for her software - see definition 4 below.  The meaning of “story field” expanded during the organizing of this first Story Field Conference, with definition 3(a) coming into common usage and definition 2(a) beginning to emerge.  During and immediately following the conference, other uses of the term began showing up in conference participants' communications, and were formalized as definitions by Tom Atlee.



1.  A narrative field -- a psychosocial analog of a magnetic field -- in which the member entities generate and are shaped by the field in which they are embedded.



(a) The meta-narrative field of a culture's collective thoughts, feelings, responses, sense of reality and possibility, etc., generated by all the stories and story elements (characters, themes, settings, images, dialogue, etc.) within it.  "The shallow individualism that so dominates the story field of US culture threatens not only the planet, but even the health of unique individuality."



(b) An energetic narrative field created by participants in a group or gathering, the energy of which can be felt by the group individually and collectively.  "Participants at the conference were blown away by the intense story field there.  We all felt like we were living the New Story."



(c) The shared narrative of an activity, its intention, vision and plans, which contains and is lived out by the participants in that activity.  "Now that we've lived together through this conference, we can be much more conscious of the story field we create about our individual and collective work."



2.  The field of study and practice that includes stories in various media, know-how about story generation and impact, and networks of story practitioners.  "Our next conference can convene even more of the story field."  Within this usage, the term can refer to a field that embraces one or more of the following:



(a) work to influence narrative field phenomena, especially the culture's story field (see 1a)



(b) socially conscious work with story



(c) any work with story.



3.  Activities to gather story field workers together.  Used without an article, often capitalized and made into one word.  Specifically:



(a)  The Story Field Conference of August 2007.  "Did you attend Storyfield?"



(b)  The activities of the network arising out of that conference. "We need to get more journalists involved in Storyfield."



4.  The name StoryField (one word, referencing a "story" in a database "field") references a FileMaker Pro based project management software for coordinating community oral history projects, currently being used in-house only. Storyfield.com will now serve as a blog + repository for Jennifer's video archives (she produces/directs/edits) including various public policy, oral history + community media projects (site is currently in progress). See http://www.storyfield.com.




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