Creating new narratives will be challenging. Jini Reddy reports from the Findhorn New Story Summit. This article was first published in Resurgence & Ecologist, issue 289 March/April 2015. The New Story Summit: Inspiring Pathways for our Planetary Future took place at the Findhorn Foundation and Community in September 2014.
How can we create a world where humankind, the natural world and love form a holy trinity? The question hung in the air as the New Story Summit, a recent week-long gathering at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, unfolded.
Beneath it simmered others: would it be possible to create a space for cross-pollination, learning and listening, to spark ideas and initiatives in the spheres of ecology, social justice, economics, law, media and education and then take effective action and embed them in communities around the world?
Such was the challenge facing both the organisers and the 335 participants, who came from six continents and 50 countries. Among us were activists, artists, peacemakers, lawyers, business leaders, Indigenous elders, ecologists, farmers, teachers, community leaders, young people and gift economy practitioners. Many more hosted satellite Summit Hub events around the world and followed along on social media, as events held in the Universal Hall, the focal point of the week, were live-streamed.
It was an extraordinary and radical event, in part made possible by the Findhorn Foundation offering participation on a gift basis: beyond a token registration fee, those who wanted to come were invited to pay what they could. Given the costs of housing and feeding so many for a full week, it was an act of great generosity.
The Findhorn eco-village, flanked by dunes, sea and forest, is a place where sustainable living practices flourish: a fitting and fertile setting for the event. Founded 53 years ago on the principles of inner listening, co-creation with Nature, and service to the world, it was “a pre-prepared field of potentially transformational energy”, as Yvonne Cuneo, one of the chief organisers, put it. “The summit, for me,” she said, “was to give people an experience of global family and in doing so, to strengthen and accelerate the co-creation of a loving, inclusive, peaceful world. It was also meant as an experiment in pushing humanity’s edges, exploring how it is to gather and see what happens, working with the tension between structure and no structure, playing with new paradigms, with diversity and with gift economy.”
Being part of a week devoted to creating change in the world is a heady, intense, disorienting, challenging and heartening experience. It’s no easy thing to ensure that all voices across a wide spectrum of diversity are heard and honoured, including Nature’s own. With talks, performances, interactive workshops and rituals, the challenge was to pace oneself. Inevitably, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. At times tensions and heated debate ensued. After all, we were a microcosm of humanity, the full spectrum of shadows and light on display. But in quiet, behind-the-scenes encounters, parties and dances, including a joyful ceilidh, alliances were forged and inspiration harvested. Reactions to the event were as varied as the participants.
Justine Huxley, the director of London’s St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace (which also played host to a Summit Hub), likened the event to standing on a mountain peak, and says it made her aware of human limitation: “I believe we need to learn how to collectively surrender to not knowing, to give up control and step into relationship with Divine mystery,” she commented.
Geoff Dalglish, a walking pilgrim and long-standing resident and spokesperson for Findhorn, saw the disruptions – including an incident when a quartet of ‘provocateurs’ (to quote Charles Eisenstein, one of them) rearranged a collaboratively prepared day’s schedule marked on a grid in post-it notes to spell the words “We don’t know”, an act intended as a plea for humility, yet met largely with consternation – as fundamental to the process: “I believe the anger, frustration, pain and occasional chaos that emerged was a mirror of what is happening in the world and urgently needed to be expressed, opening the door to new insights and understandings”, he commented.
It’s no easy thing to define the New Story. And in trying to do so we risk falling unwittingly into a mindset of insularity or righteousness, the very qualities that shore up the current, collapsing paradigm in which we live, and which too often (but thankfully not always) legitimise disconnection, corruption, violence, ecological destruction and mindless, rampant economic growth. And yet we need to ask, all of us, what a new narrative might look like.
On the penultimate day of the summit, Jonathon Porritt, a Findhorn Fellow and co-founder of Forum for the Future, gathered a small group who came up with some core assumptions that underpin a New Story for the world: they include the celebration of diversity, practices that restore and regenerate the Earth, the need for a circular economy, new forms of education and learning that embrace rites of passage, a migration from mindsets of dominance to those of cooperation, a media that tells stories to inspire, law-makers who are peacemakers, sustainable business practices, thriving communities, localisation, and more.
“We’re still in the emergence phase, learning from and with each other. This time of messiness, of being in the process rather than through it, could take the rest of our lifetime and beyond. It’s not simple and it’s not easy. That it’s not somehow makes it more real and more true,” observed Lynnaea Lumbard, co-president of New Stories, an American non-profit organisation based in Washington state.
Still, the signs are promising and already since the Summit new initiatives have been sparked amongst participants: Brooklyn-based Samara Gaev, who runs Truth Worker, a social-justice-based hip-hop theatre company for youth, and Kira Emslie of the Edinburgh School of Music met at Findhorn and have since teamed up to collaborate on a youth exchange camp, using theatre as a vehicle for social change.
The eco-artist and film-maker Cathy Fitzgerald, who lives in a valley in Ireland, was inspired to lead a walk and talk among a monoculture plantation that she is helping to transform into a forest; it is now becoming a talking point in her village. Nigerian Adebayo Akomolafe, a psychologist and lecturer, has co-founded the International Alliance for Localisation, a network to support community building. Joshua Gorman’s California-based Generation Waking Up launched a crowdfunding campaign for a change-based educational curriculum. This very small sample serves to illustrate how good is being embedded in the world.
We live in challenging times. Grief, fear and pain are rife. But equally it feels as though our collective humanity is deepening, our hearts opening to the power of vulnerability, to reconnection. Survival demands that we change our story – and thankfully, our instinct for survival is great.
Jini Reddy is a freelance writer.
This article features in Resurgence & Ecologist issue 289 (March/April 2015) alongside our keynotes piece written by Jonathan Dawson, which reflects on the themes and ideas emerging from the New Story Summit. To read this and further articles or find out about The Resurgence Trust, visit: http://www.resurgence.org
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Photographers: Hege Sæbjørnsen and Hugo Klip