Vala Publishing Cooperative Ltd, 2013, pbk, 216pp
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
I remember watching a video of the talk Paul Hawken gave at Bioneers some years ago around the theme of his book Blessed Unrest. Which was that if you put together all the organizations and grassroots groups, worldwide, that are working for the environment, social justice and allied campaigns, they number in the millions. As he spoke, a seemingly endless list of these organizations’ titles scrolled in the background to emphasise his point. In these days of mounting environmental despair and economic collapse, we need such vivid illustrations of what is quietly going on at the same time, i.e. the early stages of what Joanna Macy has called The Great Turning: the movement away from the madness of our materialist, militaristic, industrial culture and towards the sanity of living sustainably and co-operatively on our planet. As she points out: For us living now it is easy to be unaware of the immensity of this transition—from an entrenched, militarised industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.
However, we need qualitative reminders as well as quantitative ones. That is where story comes in. For as Macy herself reminds us in her Foreword to this book: Each of these groups and organisations represents a yet vaster number of individuals who, in some way or another, each uniquely in their own fashion, are hearing the call to widen the notions of their self-interest, and act for the sake of life on Earth. Every one of these people has a unique story to tell.
Sara Bird and her colleagues at Vala came up with the idea of putting out a general call for people willing to tell their own personal stories of how they, as individuals and group members, have been playing their part in this huge movement that as yet doesn’t realize it is a movement. Not only were they invited to tell their stories but to tell them beautifully. Stories can teach, inspire and entertain and as we all know, the better they are told the better they will do all three. This is why all of the sixteen personal stories in this book turned out to be informative, interesting and inspiring, and also beautifully told. Quality of writing was a standard that that Bird not only set but ensured by setting up a supportive, co-operative structure around the storytellers that enabled them to produce and refine their best work.
What will, I believe, make this book even more interesting for GreenSpirit folk is that this is a ‘locally-grown’ book, which has among its authors several GreenSpirit members and past contributors to our magazine.
There is a tremendous variety in the stories—a beautiful reminder that there are limitless ways to do The Great Work. Some follow the archetypal hero’s journey, with a trajectory that moves from wake-up call to action, challenge, setback, struggle, triumph and—ultimately—reward. Annie Davy’s wonderful story of how a neglected, abandoned piece of brownfield land in Oxford evolved into a community garden is one such tale.
Others, like Emma Kidd’s account of how the mainstream consumer culture ate away at her sense of self-worth and took her down into depression and then up again into a totally new way of earning a living, echo the classical descent of Innana, down into a deep space of letting go of old props and then coming up and out again, transformed.
Many of the stories, as well as chronicling the personal journeys of individuals, also illustrate the increasing importance of learning to work co-operatively in groups of all sizes, from families and local communities to corporations and NGOs.
These are stories of adventures, both outer and inner, stories of honesty and passion, stories of love and commitment, pain, struggle and triumph and, above all, stories of transformation. None of the storytellers was the same at the end as she or he had been at the beginning. And going back was never an option for any of them. For that, and for all the millions of others taking part in this planet-wide project of healing and renewal—and for this inspiring book—we can all be truly grateful.