Thriving on the threshold

 

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The threshold between stories is the point of no return. From it, I have caught glimpses of many futures, but have yet to fully commit to the path of belonging, connection, and mystery. Not ruling out occasional lapses of courage, the main reason is that I have not finished making my peace with the false beliefs and broken promises that raised me.

Earlier this month, I launched the blog, Thriving on the Threshold, as a place of practice. It is a place to light candles in the darkness and take an honest look at the habits that separate me from the story of abundance, of my kinship and reciprocity with the world beyond the confines of human-made environments and culture. Mostly, it serves to remind me of what I’m here for: to experience joy. Stop by and join the conversation.

What is most vital to do?

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Written collaboratively with Restorying co-leader Jim Hall.

At the heart of Restorying is reconnection – both in the way we go about discovering new story and in the living of that story itself. At some level we all realize that the stories we currently live by leave us swinging between deep denial and hopeless despair: the story of unlimited growth, of unlimited progress, on the one hand, and the story of the collapse of planetary systems and human civilization on the other. We all live several contradictory stories at once; no wonder we feel confused and conflicted, or anxious and angry at times.

Restorying is about discovering and cultivating a new story at the largest level – the level of human presence on Earth, starting with the individual level – the deepest, most authentic story that is yours to live.

In Restorying we come home to our belonging to the sacredness of the living Earth. We come home to the wisdom we once knew, but have recently forgotten – the wisdom of the lost feminine integrated with the masculine, the wisdom of our bodies and senses, the wisdom of ancient myths and archetype, the wisdom of dreams, the wisdom of indigenous peoples who knew that mountain and river and tree have a spiritual energy that is vital to our well-being, individually and collectively. This reconnection is both the means and the essence of New Story.

This Restorying Retreat coming this September 12 – 14 invites us to stay for an extra day, from Sunday to Monday noon. Instead of jumping right back into our old busyness and to-do lists at the end of the retreat on Sunday, we can allow the new story to deepen and grow inside us. As we rest in the presence of our experiences and learning from the weekend, we can feel into, discover and experience practices that will help to keep us in a new story. This extra time will give us a chance to explore how our personal story could be expressed in mythic language, in image or poetry, illuminating hidden connections with the larger emerging story.

Mountain is not leaving. River is not leaving. They are calling us to deeper communion, to live in a greater spaciousness. Such an experience itself may be the answer to our ever-present question, “What can I do to be of any use at all?”

You might discover that your biggest gift to the world is not to do something to save it, but rather to fully belong to it. Maybe a day spent with mountain, with river, with forest, with stone, is exactly what we can do to be most deeply ourselves, to do what is most vital to do.

We might bring to that day a poem, like this one from Rilke –

…..

Summer was like your house; you knew

where each thing stood.

Now you must go out into your heart

as onto a vast plain. Now

the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind

sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.

It is what you have.

Be earth now, and evensong.

Be the ground lying under that sky.

Be modest now,, like a thing

ripened until it is real,

so that he who began it all

can feel you when he reaches for you.

Taking this extra day may seem unrealistic or even indulgent, but wouldn’t you like to live in a new story where a day like that would be exactly the right thing to do?

More information or Register online.

Down to the Wire

Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate CollapseDown to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse by David W. Orr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a must-read for anyone who cares (or worries) about our future and those who seek a) a clear-eyed history of where we are and how we got here, and b) inspiration to fuel the work ahead. Orr spares nothing yet he comes out cautiously optimistic that humanity (and especially our political structures) will rise to the great challenges ahead. Chapter 5 is luminous.

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Honey, I Changed the Climate

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New PlanetEaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My comments on David Orr’s book apply here. McKibben is unsparing in giving it to us straight in the first half. Despite my long work history in sustainability, I was still stuck in prevention mode. It was very hard for me to face the facts: climate change is not just real, it’s here and it’s time for us to rethink how we live and get ready for some big adjustments. I found his history of the last 20 years to be fascinating and have a much better understanding of how we went so quickly from “might be of concern in 50 to 100 years” straight to “honey, I changed the climate.” The second half of the book is full of great examples of good people rolling up their sleeves and doing the work of shifting to small, decentralized, local, practical, cooperative and aligned with nature. I wish everyone would just stop arguing and shopping at WalMart and read this book.

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What is Restorying?

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“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  ~ Albert Einstein

After over 15 years teaching and practicing green architecture and sustainability, I had to ask: why haven’t things gotten better? Why are we still on a collision course with the climate, poverty, suffering, inequity, violence, war, and mental illness? We have the technology and the know-how to be far more efficient, so why aren’t we? How did we let it get to be too late for the climate?

I started wondering if all the emphasis on “what to do” was distracting us from the real work, which is to consider “who we are.”

I realized that, being part of this culture I wished to change, I was falling under its spell of separation. Restorying is not about saving the earth or being less bad. It’s about waking up to who we really are and why we are here. Which, at its core, is a mystery and always has been.

Our culture has trained us to believe that we are separate from and superior to the rest of the community of life.

. . . and, by extension, each other. We may agree and embrace this way of thinking, or we may be unaware that it is part of our operating system. Either way, until we discard that inaccurate and damaging notion, we can never heal ourselves, each other, or our world. We will remain stuck.

Throughout our history, humans have always lived by stories that told us how we got here, why we are here, and what God and the Universe were up to. The great playwright David Mamet says that drama comes from “our impulse to structure cause and effect in order to increase our store of practical knowledge about the universe.”

Our modern-day stories rely on abstractions like Growth and Progress, Family Values, Technology, and Change. Abstractions paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture of who we are in the world. We are taught that, unless you can measure, analyze or describe a phenomenon rationally, it doesn’t exist. Intuition, emotion, myth and the imagination have been treated as inferior, the realm of children best discarded once we reach adulthood.

In a Restorying retreat, we open ourselves to new messages that are germinating deep in our individual and collective consciousness.

Story-based practices draw from a deep well of imagination to receive the guidance and encouragement available to all of us. Exercises may bring numinous experiences of the joy of connection and welcome.  We explore practices like:

  • Letting go of old stories that no longer serve us
  • Tell and listen to stories – memoir, fable, myth, parable, hero’s journey
  • Imaginative journaling
  • Music, art and movement
  • Letting the body and senses listen and converse with our brothers and sisters, the trees, mountains, animals, meadows and streams

While a single unifying story is unlikely, a new way of being is taking shape that calls upon connection and belonging and is profoundly creative. Rather than struggle against what we don’t want, we can instead turn towards what energizes and inspires us. It is our birthright to live this way, to turn towards what is calling, what we love and long for. What are these emerging new stories?

For a current list of upcoming Restorying Retreats, check this page

“Children jump around at the end of the day, to expend the last of that day’s energy. The adult equivalent, when the sun goes down, is to create or witness drama – which is to say, to order the universe into a comprehensive form. Our sundown play/film/gossip is the day’s last exercise of that survival mechanism. In it we attempt to discharge any residual perceptive energies in order to sleep. We will have drama in that spot, and if it’s not forthcoming we will cobble it together out of nothing.”  ~ David Mamet, “Three Uses of the Knife,” pg. 8

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Shock and Awe and a Failure of the Imagination

Odds Against TomorrowOdds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In the coming apocalypse, millions will suffer and there’s not much we can do about it. That’s the message of “Odds Against Tomorrow,” Nathaniel Rich’s exquisitely detailed story of the inundation of New York City by category 4 hurricane Tammy. It’s being hailed as the finest novel of climate change, in the vanguard of a new category of fiction: “cli-fi.”

True, it is a relatively entertaining story – if you like your heroes nerdy, fearful and swept away by circumstance. Yet by the end, I was unchanged, unmoved and uninspired. Maybe I’m a demanding reader, but if I invest time in reading a novel, I want something to happen to me.

Rich’s book doesn’t offer much to answer the inevitable question, “okay, now what?” It may be that “Odds Against Tomorrow” performs the service of painting such a vivid picture of what’s coming that people are moved to make changes in their lives. But what changes? For that, we’ll have to read another book, such as James Howard Kunstler’s “World Made by Hand.”

It has been said that the hero, Mitchell Zukor, undergoes a transformation from an intellectual parasite in the Wall Street financial industry to a “man of action.” Since he chooses to retreat from the world in a self-built fortress, plant a garden, loot a local variety store and never again shower or shave, it leaves the reader wondering – is this humanity’s fate? A kind of de-evolution into solitude and madness?

Not since Ian McEwan’s “Solar” has there been a less likeable protagonist in a climate change novel. This is not necessarily a weakness so much as it asks him to shoulder a burden he simply cannot carry. Once we’ve seen the horrors we hath wrought with our wasteful, carbon-drenched ways, we’re going to need leaders capable of inspiring us to carry forth in new ways. The cynicism of modern-day New York (and, by extension, America) will not provide the necessary vision to rethink our relationships with each other and with the living earth.

In this book, the earth is presented as an Old Testament enemy, hurling devastating earthquakes and hurricanes at the unsuspecting but deserving general public. “Odds Against Tomorrow” is indeed a vivid wake-up call, but once the writer has yanked his audience out of our electronics-fueled stupor of denial, it’s frustrating that there isn’t a more compelling or hopeful alternative. One storm and we either hang by our fingernails to a pathological status quo or devolve into hermitude?

I felt the same way after seeing Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Yeah, we’ve screwed things up and yeah, some devastating consequences are already starting to show themselves. We’ve had the warnings, now where are the novels and films that question our assumptions about who we are and how we might better fit in to this living planet? It seems to me that those would be more helpful as we rethink our assumptions and re-envision the future we want.

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Creating Good Jobs

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#6 in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.

 

 

Eli Allen has a passion for connecting people with opportunities.

As founder of Civic Works’ Retrofit Baltimore program, he sees opportunities of all sorts: to save energy and money; to learn new skills; and to have a fulfilling job that pays a living wage.

To Eli, the American Dream means access to meaningful jobs that allow people to provide for their families. Access means connecting people with opportunities that may previously have been unavailable to them.

Spread the good by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

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A Mosaic of Connection

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#5 in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.

 

Jackie Carrera’s organization, Parks and People Foundation, brings people together around shared accomplishments.

to create a stronger social fabric and improve our city’s ability to take on difficult challenges.

Whether planting trees, cleaning up a stream or helping children tend a garden, Baltimoreans experience that precious connection with one another and with the earth. We feel a sense of belonging, here, amongst each other and in this place.

Spread the good by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

View other preview clips:

Return on Investment

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Fourth in a series of previews for our film, currently in production.

 

Keith Losoya, founder of Waste Neutral Group, shows a whole new way of thinking about “return on investment.”

His business expands people’s ideas about food waste, helps children participate in the cycles of life, and pays dividends for future generations.

Celebrate Earth Day by sharing this story with some friends.

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“We the People 2.0″ shows the power of new stories – real people who are creating a better world every day.

Special shout out to the Johns Hopkins University student team behind the Leftover project. Their goal is to make a short film about the issues of food waste and compost in Baltimore restaurants. It’s a thorough, fascinating and (yes) light-hearted look at the waste scene in our city.

Stop by and “like” the project on our Facebook Page.

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