Political cartoon, Russia, late 1800s
I’ve always been disturbed by cultures steeped too deeply in their hum-drum, human-made histories. It’s almost as if they are in a trance. Certain cultures cling to these histories more than they do the need for clean water or clean air. I find this to be very toxic.
I was mostly raised in Mississippi, a place that clings to the Civil War as if it happened yesterday. Histories, eulagized in soap opera-like intensity, still swirled in my reality while growing up: guns, bayonets, fatigues, iron, sweet tea, chicory coffee, antebellum dresses, clay pots, dirt floors, slavery, the semi-nomadic Scot-Irish, skillets, fire and brimstone.
There are enough statues and memorials in every town to remind us of the wars and the disputes. What I discovered, over time, is that there are far too less markers (both physical and oral) to help us remember where an endangered species once thrived, where a stream once flowed, where a proud people once lived, and where Spirit once resided.
While living in Ukraine in 2000, I was able to see this again from another angle, as an outsider. Ukraine is a place that has suffered numerous battles and wars for hundreds of years. Various building styles, churches to different gods, and memorials to different heroes dot the land instead of old growth trees. Like much of Europe, the trees vanished to make settlement homes and ships to sail to battle with countries far away.
In spite of this, a hearty peasant culture, rooted in agriculture and foraging still exists. I visited the oldest tree in Ukraine — an oak — named “Halodnaya Yar” or “the Cold Hole” while living there. It was Winter time, making the bark look more gray and the limbs more fragile — cement was slathered into one of the cracks in the trunk in hopes of sealing off the inevitable.
Returning back home to the US, I wondered about the South I was raised in…and the histories and stories that the South holds onto. I wondered about the US and the histories that it recites, promulgates, and enforces in schools. Are these stories serving us anymore? I suppose this question can be applied anywhere and at any scale, from the personal to the national. To me, it seems that these man-made histories only seem to pathologize the past and divide the reality of the present.
What I’d like to ask is…what are the new stories… The stories that reality is asking of us to make of our existence today?
What stories come to us from the leaves, trees, rivers, streams, and rocks?
What stories effortlessly flow from our own hearts?
What stories are being whispered to children at bedtime? What do they say?
Are we really accessing the power and potential of narratives and stories in our own lives to awaken our minds and hearts?
“We must stand apart from the conventions of history, even while using the record of the past, for the idea of history is itself a western invention whose central theme is the rejection of habitat. It formulates experience outside of nature and tends to reduce place to only a stage upon which the human drama is enacted. History conceives the past mainly in terms of biography and nations. It seeks casualty in the conscious, spiritual, ambitious character of men and memorializes them in writing.” ~ Paul Shepard
If we can begin to conceive that history, namely a series of manmade stories, perpetuates a human drama on a more-than-human-world, we can begin to see where an ego-sickness carries on the drum-beat of our broken culture. If we can begin to sense our division from the living-and-breathing reality… THEN — we can then begin to create stories of our own — stories of meaning, of relevance, of sensitivity to the subtleties and nuances of our very existence in relationship with a world…that is more vast, more complex, more alive than we ever imagined.
My prayer is that we will chose — as the Shakespeare of water, Brock Dolman says — “a restoryation of our egosystem.” I heard Brock coin this phrase during a Bioneers presentation and absolutely loved the play on words.
My prayer is that the watershed of thought and imagination will flow freely again…and that it will be intimately connected with *what-is-happening* rather than an assertion or aggression of history over the land and the elements.
*** The quote above is from David Abrams book, “The Spell of the Sensuous”
This was a great post. Thanks! David Abram
too has changed, deepened my way with the world.
I’m glad you enjoyed it ~