The Space Between Stories
I’m taking an eCourse over the next six weeks called the Space Between Stories. It’s being put on by author Charles Eisenstein and includes discussions with guest speakers as well as the opportunity to connect and process the materials and ideas put forth with other course participants via online forums. I wasn’t sure exactly what it would be like, and I didn’t really have any expectations going into the experience, but Charles’ writing and verbalization of ideas has resonated with me over the last few years so it feels like an important thing to participate in. The course calls the “space between stories” the time when the old story of who I am, what is real, and how to navigate life has broken down. It is the time when my familiar ways of making meaning are no longer relevant. What had seemed so permanent, reliable, understandable and real is revealed as an illusion.
We are on week two of the course, and it’s been full of insights, validation, new ideas and the realization that there are a lot of people out there in the world who are in this space. People from India to Australia to Israel to Denmark to America to Honduras are engaging in conversations about what this inbetween space is like, and it’s been really powerful to hear the stories that others bring to the virtual campfire. Our first “assignment” was to identify a specific experience that unraveled our understanding of what is normal, how to live, what is real, what is important, what life is supposed to look like…to pinpoint a certain event that plunged us into the space between stories.
It took me awhile to think of when the ‘unraveling’ of the old story started for me. It feels like it’s been a slow erosion that has picked up in intensity in the last 2-3 years as my family and I strive to live with more simplicity and intention around our choices. But the specific instance my mind kept returning to is something that I haven’t really thought about in years. It was just the intent to think back to when my world view got shaken up that brought it back to the surface.
When I was 13 or 14, in the mid 90s, I went with a church group to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, a seven hour drive from my childhood home in eastern South Dakota. I suppose it was your fairly run of the mill “mission trip”: We spent mornings facilitating a day camp with local children and afternoons doing work projects. All in all, the premise of the experience was positive. The intent of the leaders and the other youth in the group was sincere. We were there to help.
In addition to playing games, sharing meals and doing crafts with the local children, some days we drove them back to their homes in our big white church van. Pine Ridge is one of the more poverty stricken reservations in the United States, and this fact was glaringly apparent to my 13 year old self as we dropped off the kids after the days’ session. One afternoon we spent a little more time just driving around one of the neighborhoods in Pine Ridge proper, and I remember feeling a wash of guilt, incredulity that we were basically acting like tourists observing the local way of life, and amazement that so many people were living in such conditions. South Dakota doesn’t have mild winters, especially not on the western prairie where Pine Ridge is located. So many people were without adequate housing.
That afternoon I remember feeling disgusted that we, rich white Americans, were invading the personal space of people who our forefathers had stolen from and oppressed. I remember feeling like the story I was living was based on something that didn’t feel right-that it was failing these people. My 13 year old mind didn’t really know what to do with these thoughts, but looking back now, I can identify that trip, and more specifically, that drive around a neighborhood, as the experience that invited me to start to question what was really going on in the world. I remember thinking, in school years later, “of course there’s a lot of alcoholism on the reservations. We’d all be alcoholics too if someone had swooped in, claimed our sacred hills, carved huge statues of their leaders into them and pushed us to the edge of society. Who wouldn’t want to escape the pain that comes from that?” It was also my first direct experience with race discrimination/separation: Another teen was injured during the week and was refused treatment at the local hospital because she was not Native American. All in all, it was a very confusing week for my developing world view.
The bad news is that the old story that is illustrated in that experience is the one much of the world is actively participating in. And it isn’t working; the earth and multitudes of non-human life (and much of human life, too) have suffered and are still suffering in unfathomable ways because of this belief that humans are above and separate from everything else on the planet. The state of so much of the world is quite dire when we live in this story. Things look bleak from the perspective of separation.
But, the good news is that there is another story emerging from the ashes of the old. It’s the story Charles refers to as the story of Inter-being, or the story that invites ALL of humanity to live in harmony with the other forms of life on the earth, rather than over them, or over each other. It’s a story about seeing the world as intricately connected, it’s about recognizing that every being has a unique gift to offer to the universe, and it’s about understanding that every gift is of equal worth. It’s about feeling alive because of how we are living, and it’s about seeing ourselves in each other and in the wider world
It can be so easy to get swept away in the ideas of the dominant cultural story. I’m just thankful I have been able to remember that the new story is waiting with the door wide open….even if there’s still a ways to go before stepping over threshold and leaving the old behind for good.
How beautiful can life be? We hardly dare imagine it.
― Charles Eisenstein