Alan Heeks explores the pathways that can take us from the ‘old story’ of addictive materialism into a new, creative and regenerative post-industrial society.
By Alan Heeks
Jan 14, 2015
Since earliest times, people have created stories to make sense of their world. In 1978, Thomas Berry1 coined the term, ‘The New Story’. He saw the urgent need to reconnect with the interdependence of all life and the planet, and he believed the root of this reconnection must be story.
He wrote: “The main difficulty in replacing the industrial order is not the physical nature of the situation, but its mythic entrancement ... the myth is primary.” This new myth “... must emerge from our new story of the universe. This... can be understood as soon as we recognise that the evolutionary process is from the beginning a spiritual as well as a physical process.”
The New Story Summit, a major international gathering, took place in Autumn 2014 at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. Findhorn is a pioneering ecovillage, education centre and spiritual community. It has been a catalyst for positive change for 52 years.
The aim of the summit was to create a large, diverse group who could give momentum and substance to the vision of a New Story, enabling its emergence in tangible forms. The 330 people2who came together for a week included:
Indigenous tribal leaders from four continents
Citizens from 50 countries
Wise experts, including Charles Eisenstein, Polly Higgins, Jonathon Porritt and many more
Storytellers, artists, dancers, musicians
Representatives of many relevant organisations, such as Transition Network and World Futures Council.
Equally important to the impact of the summit was the huge online community around it. Live video content was streamed to over 200 summit hubs around the world, and 45,000 people connected in via Facebook. There was a remarkable quality of rapport and dialogue between the physical and online groups.
It became clear during the week that the New Story is not one narrative, but many threads; that this summit is best seen as a crucial early chapter in a saga that will take years to unfold; and that much of this ‘new’ story is ancient wisdom.
Because the New Story affects life, the universe and everything, and is only starting to unfold, it is hard to sum up. Here are some of its main values and principles identified during the summit:
Love, empathy and compassion
Respect for self, all beings, and the planet
Inclusive, interconnected, collaborative
Focus on access to shared resources, not ownership
Regenerative, stewardship approach to natural resources - including humans!
Celebration, joy, quality of life not quantity
Long term, creative, unfolding
Aligning spiritual values and the greater good with individual, material needs.
You can deduce qualities of the Old Story as opposites to these. Thomas Berry saw it as addictive, and hard to see and name because it so pervades mainstream western culture. It’s addictive because material goods don’t satisfy underlying human needs.
The outcomes of the summit will take time to ferment and ripple out, and everyone is welcome to join this process (see ‘Getting Involved’ at the end of this article).
Here are some of the emerging threads:
Rather than focus on all that’s wrong in the present, it can be fruitful to envision in practical detail what a more desirable future would look like. This reduces the risk of adherents of the current/old story feeling attacked, as it can open a collaborative conversation.
Ritual & Clearing
Moving from the Old Story requires us to face and clear some painful emotions linked with it: for example the guilt of oppressors, and the anger of the oppressed. Ritual has a key role in this clearing, and major parts of the week were rituals between people from colonising nations and indigenous tribes, and between men and women. Finding forgiveness and a shared story for the future was deeply empowering for all.
Roots in the Land
This is one of many elements of the New Story which align with permaculture principles. True wisdom arises from the land, and is guided by it. Indigenous peoples have a major input to the New Story because they are the best role models for human societies in long-term harmony with the land and other creatures. But as a woman from Gaza said, “We can all become indigenous to the land where we live.”
What About Big Business?
Many institutions perpetuate the Old Story, including political, but the summit explored large business as both an obstacle and a key opportunity for positive change. As Paul Hawken observes inThe Ecology of Commerce, the scale of problems we face is so great that it needs the power and skills of business to help resolve them.
The exploration of this sector was compassionate and encouraging, with well-informed inputs from organisations already involved in positive change, such as Forum for the Future3 and The Forest Trust.4 Some of the points emerging were:
Whilst activists and protest groups like Greenpeace can shock multinationals out of complacency, a supportive and collaborative input is often crucial in positive change.
Many chief executives hold personal values at odds with their corporation, and need help to face this.
Privately, many institutional investors and business leaders know that old profit-only models are defunct: the New Story approach can engage them in a positive way forward.
The Role of the ‘Wild Margins’
Permaculturists have long seen the value of Zone 5, but mainstream culture still doesn’t recognise that solutions to major problems usually come from apparently wacky, fringe elements. One blessing of the summit was in recognising and encouraging the wild margins, such as:
Ecovillages, a source for all kinds of innovation
Indigenous peoples, who hold many elements of the Ancient /New Story
Sustainable cultivation methods, such as organic and permaculture.
The Bumpy Transition
Many of us at the summit named the strong tension we carry, between our alarm at the tenacity and damage of the Old Story, our desire for the New Story, and doubts on how it can come to pass.
Charles Eisenstein’s latest book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, explores these issues well. The consensus at the summit supported his view that the transition is likely to be lengthy and turbulent, and that it’s crucial for each of us to have faith that our (apparently small) individual steps do make a difference.
If you want to learn more about the summit, and get involved in creating the New Story, start at www.newstoryhub.com. Hopefully part of the follow-on will be gatherings and projects in many localities. That’s up to all of us!
Alan Heeks is author of The Natural Advantage – applying organic growth to people and their work. He runs the Hazel Hill Wood Conservation Woodland Retreat Centre near Salisbury, and leads a project on life skills for personal resilience. See:
Read Active Hope by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
2 Over 20% of the group were aged between 18-34