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An old story tells us how an elephant, when very small, is chained to a stake which holds it fast. But, even when the elephant grows to weigh many tons, it "knows" it can't escape. It resigns itself to a bond it could shake loose with little effort—if it could only allow a new story.
In the movie "Water For Elephants", there is a scene where Rosie, an old circus elephant is spied gripping her stake with her trunk, pulling it free to water herself. When done, she then covertly places the stake back in the ground from whence it came, keeping the ruse of her helplessness alive.
There are those that dare to imagine new possibilities, and those that go further in living them. The oppression of the 99% is an old story with quite a bit of traction in the world at large—perhaps even in your own experience.
For many years, I was an advocate of eliminating personal stories, in order to be free in the present moment. A fellow spiritual teacher, Byron Katie, uses the tag line, "Who would you be without your story?" However, I came to realize that stories can also be constructive and transformational, that the effect of a story depends on its context and timing.
Telling an old story of how you were disempowered could be cathartic and freeing, if you have never had someone to be truly present to hear you. But telling a childhood story of victimization over and over, without awareness or support to recognize that the old circumstance no longer exists and that new choices are available, can be crippling for an adult.
In the same way, stories of courage and "beating the odds" can inspire and uplift in miraculous ways. Yet even these stories can have their limits by reinforcing old structures of belief. Pia reminded me of the movie "Miracle", the story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team of amateurs that beat a seemingly invincible Russian national team of grizzled veterans.
The feel-good new story is that they achieved the "impossible" against all odds in the minds of collective perception. An undercurrent of old story in this tale reinforced that "success" is achieved by way of a coach, though well intended, inspired through intimidation and, some might say, sadistic methods.
This same duality can apply to our cultural and spiritual stories. While wisdom stories are critical to the continuity and richness of our humanity, one might consider how to balance the integrity of the old with the ever-unfolding emergence of the now. There is an age-old conundrum that poses the challenge of holding a wisdom continuum intact with beginners mind, that the wisdom might remain alive, vital and relevant in the ever-evolving mystery and progression that is existence.
We are each the ultimate arbiter and author of the meaning we give to our experience. The trick is knowing which meanings we inherited, which might be constructive and how to see through the meanings that have tethered us to our reality before memory. The veils of the old mythology are crumbling and the light of information and awakening is piercing our collective awareness.
Just by recognizing that a story is old, it becomes time-dated and stamped for replacement. What new stories might we now tell? What possibilities might we allow?
Gary Horvitz, part of the original group of Occupy Cafe "stewards," sent me an email yesterday sharing this story about elephants mourning the death of Lawrence Anthony, the man known as "the elephant whisperer," who had been a powerful advocate for their rights. Did you see it too, Jitendra, or is this some groovy synchroncity?
What's amazing about this story is not just that two herds of elephants showed up at this man's house, but that they each had to travel some distance to do so, and presumably had not read the newspapers or listened to any broadcasts (from the mainstream media, anyway!) reporting his death.
“They had not visited the house for a year and a half and it must have taken them about 12 hours to make the journey,” [Anthony's son] Dylan is quoted in various local news accounts. “The first herd arrived on Sunday and the second herd, a day later. They all hung around for about two days before making their way back into the bush.”
I remember seeing this when it published and was moved by, not only the psychic connection between Anthony and the elephants, but the heart connection that moved the elephants to make the journey to acknowledge him. It's these kinds of stories that serve to reshape our context and even our paradigm by stretching what we believe is possible and challenging our core assumptions about the world we live in.
Synchronicity, then, that I read Gary's email this morning and then discovered that Occupy Cafe was doing elephants too! Even as an atheist, I love it when that happens,
Thank you, C.A., for weaving all these threads together to "make some meaning" out of the various threads that are emerging. You have modeled an art we might all learn to practice more skillfully. True "stewardship!"
I was given an opportunity to tell a story of creating impact in spite of enormous obstacles recently when a competition asked for ideas on hacking capitalism. The competition had closed but I took the opportunity to relate what was achieved by a man whose life was lost in the cause.
Every Child Deserves a Loving Family was my story about what he'd inspired regardless of the obstacles.
The broader scope of his story was Changing Capitalism for People and Planet.