The Whole Story

Death valley, from memory. Painted by Will with natural pigments and a yucca brush.

Last fall I was invited to attend the New Story Summit (NSS), an international gathering held at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. Nearly 350 people from around the globe attended with hundreds more individuals and groups joining online. The Summit was designed to support the emergence of a coherent new story for humanity and to produce practical, collaborative ways to live this new story forward. Naturally, I was honored by the invitation and excited to join that conversation. Recently, the NSS team asked participants for their reflections on the Summit a year later. What follows is the response that came to me when asked that question.

The words of a good friend and mentor of mine ring in my ears when I think back on my experience of the New Story Summit: “Language lags behind evolution.” The NSS constellated itself at the precipice of a paradigm (perhaps many paradigms), and the ensuing conversation unfolded just at the place where language is nipping at the heels of our evolving humanity. This made language a paradoxical tool; essential, but not to be fully trusted. Now, a year since the Summit, I find myself beginning where I ended—recognizing that even to name it was a challenge. “New Story” never seemed like the right title, though I deeply appreciate the recognition that many of the stories governing our lives and our world are sorely outdated, outgrown, and out of line. I also love the critical observation that it is our stories (paradigms, worldviews, for example) that need to evolve and change if our behaviors are ever to follow suit.

Like many, I find myself oriented to the “Whole Story,” of which the New Story is a part. If we are to move towards the new, it seems integral that we incorporate the story that has carried us here. The degree to which we fail in this is likely the degree to which we will repeat past mistakes and patterns. Caring for the Whole Story, in all its beauty and tragedy, brings us concretely into now. Such remembering may be among our greatest tasks if we are to see the way ahead with an un-obscured eye. This is especially important within the legacy of colonization, for the colonized mind left to its own devices will not be successful in thinking up solutions to the devastating ripples of colonialism.

The time since has invited me to dig deeper: To map where my story intersects with the larger story of humanity, of the living earth, of our times; To discover how I carry the very patterns that I so desperately want to see changed in the world, and to let the work of changing them begin within myself; And also to remember that there’s a story before the story.

I reflected at times in the year following the Summit on the unexpected impulse to say “WE DON’T KNOW.” For better or for worse, these three simple words in a way became the most “famous” event of the Summit: I and a few others followed a spur-of-the-moment impulse to sneak into the meeting hall and rearrange the sticky notes that comprised our complex schedule into a single anarchistic message that read “WE DON’T KNOW.”

Rachel Bagby sings in front of the “WE DON’T KNOW” backdrop.

I have felt the fear of ridicule as one of the responsible parties for this radical action, as well as the strengthening truth of the statement that was spontaneously evoked. A year later I still don’t know if this action was “right” or “wrong,” but what is clear is that there is value in the willingness to follow an intuitive impulse, even a risky one. What’s also clear to me now is that perhaps this impulse was an unconscious attempt to allow ourselves to be guided by that knowing beyond the edge of language.

Also clear is the reminder that nature does know. Even in its perhaps confused and overly conditioned human form, it knows. Nature encompasses the whole story. Our task is to remember ourselves as part of it, to include ourselves—all of ourselves—in it. So if we are to look towards the new, may we remember the old as well. If we are to look towards the light, may we remember, and honor, the darkness. If we are to shift our attention, may we focus more so on the spaces between than on the things themselves. And if we are to be radical, then let us take the word literally: To return to our fundamental nature, our root, welcoming the wholeness of ourselves, our story, our times—and from that place, begin to listen again, like a circle.

Maybe all of this is to say, a year later, that perhaps deep down, we do know.