This Thanksgiving I will be caravanning with family members to my father’s boyhood home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to feast on homemade dishes and reconnecting stories. Over the nearly half century of my life, my grandmother’s home has served as a pool of clear water that I journey to through a forest of childhood memories to reflect and remember what was it was like to think as child, a teenager, a new mother, and this year, as a seasoned mother and professional activist.
The first layer of impressions I pass through on this trek “back home” is always innocence. Will I still be able to remember my fear as a child exploring my grandmother’s basement, where palates of nuts, potatoes and apples were stored for the winter in a dark room, alongside the long dead flower arrangements from my grandfather’s funeral?
Often accompanying innocence is its twin, wonder. Will I still look with wonder across the hillside pasture, past the ancient commercial poultry houses toward the hilltop where my mother confided to me in recent years, I was conceived? My mother shared the story of my conception after I called her to tell her about a dream I had of riding an ocean wave to my grandmother’s former home, a white farmhouse that high school boys accidently burned down before I turned four. “Oh, did you know you were conceived there, Lisa Dawn? I know you were because your father and I were just married when he had to go away for work and I stayed with his people. When he returned… well, we were newlyweds. “
In the 80s, through the eyes of a defiant teenager of divorced parents, I was bored stiff with the literal trappings of rural life and was more inclined to think of the whole Mount Airy experience as hokey, right up there with the Hollywood version its favorite hometown son created in his television series The Andy Griffith Show. Andy Griffith changed the name of Mount Airy to Mayberry for the wildly popular 1960s sitcom, and to this day, the town holds annual Mayberry Days Festivals.
It wasn’t until I was a new mother that I returned to the reflection pool of my grandmother’s home with eyes to see and ears willing and wanting to know, “How did she do it?” How did she give birth at home to her four children, raise their food with my grandfather, tend to animals, including thousands of chickens for their commercial egg business and in the end, create a home for a large, extended family to return to year after year to mark the passing of their lives together? It would be many years later before I realized How? is the wrong question to ask, when the Why? is always because of the earth-moving love we bear for our children… but that is another story.
By the time I held my baby in my grandmother’s basement, thirty-three years after my parents conceived me in newlywed passion on the neighboring hilltop, the fearless nature of motherhood had banished the frightened child along with the angry adolescent and opened my heart to seeing, as if for the first time, the miracle of floor to ceiling home-canned goods yielded from years of tender care of a home garden. The seeing, the opening, the new layer of awareness triggered a deep hunger for something I would spend the next 13 years of motherhood searching for and, sometimes to my own detriment, trying to recreate. As I and many good-intentioned people have discovered, while our grandparents or great-grandparents may have been able to live sustainably in communities that supported one another in a worldview connected to and honoring the earth, we are faced with creating our homes and raising our families in such a radically changing and complex, industrialized world, I wonder if it is fair to ourselves to reach back for answers?
Earlier this month, I told my story of becoming a mother and co-founding a nonprofit to support family wellness at the Mindful Motherhood Conference at the Museum of Motherhood in New York City. How odd, I thought, would my grandmother, a lifelong Baptist and farmer, think it is that her granddaughter, inspired by her canned tomatoes, flew to a big city to present the idea of conscious living where she will most likely be mistaken for an elitist, hippie or radical anarchist?
It is simple, really. I want to grow tomatoes (which are fruits), keep their unpatented seed for next year’s garden and maybe can them for my beloved family. Maybe I will create a wall of canned tomatoes that will inspire my son’s children to take on unimaginable and heroic journeys. Unlike my grandmother’s world of self-respecting farm families, the world I live in today is run by a US Congress of elected officials who, in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic, decided this week that a 4×6 chemically-laden, frozen school pizza is a vegetable because it has an eighth of a cup of tomato paste on it. Where is the inspiration to connect with our bodies, families, community or the earth in that? Unless, engineering human apathy is the whole point.
In the past 13 years of activism, I have talked with hundreds of families around the country who have also been inspired to step on, what I call, the Hero’s Journey of Healthy Family and Home Creation. You may recognize the phrase “hero’s journey” from Joseph Campbell’s seminal 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As a scholar, Campbell examined mythological stories from all cultures throughout time and discovered an archetypal pattern of events that he named The Hero’s Journey. This journey begins when a hero/parent finds the status quo insufferable and unsustainable, hears a call to leave the known world, travels into the unknown and faces adventures that bring forth treasures, usually from within the hero/heroine herself in the form of wisdom or insight. By transforming herself, the heroine transforms the world.
On my own journey, searching for ways to guide myself and groups of parents toward the possibility of a Big Picture that may provide some perspective, for example, on the indefensible existence of high-fructose corn syrup, I found that it is helpful to reframe our modern parenting challenges inside the metaphor of a hero’s journey. A mindfully answered call to adventure can expand our capacities for awareness and action. While moving outside of our comfort zones can feel overwhelming, the reward of embracing parenting and family life as an adventure allows daily living to be transformed and retold with values that reflect our life-affirming love for our children. Delaying a journey “up the mountain” means we lack a vantage point elevated enough to allow us to see the true impact and value of our daily choices, including little things like school lunch reform orgrowing your own food. The truth is, if you are an adult caring for a child, you already have said yes to a grand adventure!
What happens on our journeys is shared in our stories, in the form of individual beliefs and cultural traditions. Everyone carries with them a story that serves as a lens onto the world. As Marilyn Schlitz, president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, IONS, told me in an interview this year (currently appearing in Pathways to Family Wellness), discovering our story, or worldview, can be as tricky as a fish recognizing water. But it is precisely through this heroic task of becoming aware of our stories that we realize we are our stories’ authors. When we own the author/authority of our stories, we now have the option to write a new story.
At this time in human history, we are witnessing global reactions from people waking up from the unsustainable, Old Story of the World, one based on industry and industrial values that have monopolized our culture for decades, or centuries, depending upon who you ask. Some of these people are recognizing the need for a sustainable, New Story of the World and taking on the adventure and responsibility of shifting their worldviews/writing their own stories. In their consciousness research spanning the last 40 years, IONS has shown Evidence of a World Transforming in their easy-to-read Shift Reports. I have personally witnessed how this Worldshift to Wellness is inspiring families to create their own local community groups through Pathways Connect – over 150 have started this year alone!
As Thomas Berry writes in The Dream of the Earth: “It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective. Yet we have not learned the new story.”
Perhaps, if we waded into our personal and collective history clear-eyed, ready to move past old ways of thinking and being, on the lookout for sand traps of nostalgia… I wonder. If we could bring forward from the past, both from our individual and collective lives, the wisdom there, could we share what we’ve learned peacefully, without judgment?
Could we take the time to write and read each others’ stories in a place set aside for this purpose, like the online magazine,Kindred and its print and digital partner, Pathways to Family Wellness?
Could we congratulate one another for the heroic efforts we make every day as loving parents who want to make conscious choices for our children in local wellness groups, like Pathways Connect? (a modern version of extended family!)
How else we are to do this, take up the adventure and tell a new story, unless we become Families for Conscious Living?
This Thanksgiving, as I journey to my grandmother’s house, I will be acknowledgeing how deeply grateful I am for her and the inspiration she has given to her family through living an honest life. I am grateful for my husband, Keith, for being my partner on this grand journey of creating our own family over the last 23 years together. I am grateful to my son for agreeing to become the greatest teacher I will ever know. I am grateful for the rapidly changing world around me that inspires me to consider my life here as a soul. As CS Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” I believe this. I am grateful to my body, for carrying me through the miracle of daily life. I am grateful to my parents, for their oceanic love that brought me into this world, and for their spouses who are cherished grandparents. I am grateful for my biological and extended family, all of those people, parents and others, who have shown up to be my companions on my own hero’s journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
As I drive through the mountains of North Carolina, past memories of old story lines, I will also wonder, what will I find reflecting back to me from darkened spaces of my former consciousness? What new eyes have I grown in the past few years as the world has taken off on a hell bent course of self-destruction, so ready to throw off the Old Story while desperately seeking the New Story?
I wonder if there are any canned tomatoes left in the basement?