The Space Between Stories: Finding Ourselves Anew

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Cypress Knee Sampling, by T.Willingham

If you are in the sacred space between stories, allow yourself to be there. It is frightening to lose the old structures of security, but you will find that even as you might lose things that were unthinkable to lose, you will be okay. There is a kind of grace that protects us in the space between stories. It is not that you won’t lose your marriage, your money, your job, or your health. In fact, it is very likely that you will lose one of these things. It is that you will discover that even having lost that, you are still okay. You will find yourself in closer contact to something much more precious, something that fires cannot burn and thieves cannot steal, something that no one can take and cannot be lost.   Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible


2016 , many will say, seemed a more challenging year than usual.  Certainly the loss of carrie-fisher-quoteiconic figures like celebrities Prince,  David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher and most recently her mother Debbie Reynolds, cultural heroes like astronauts Edgar Mitchell and John Glenn,  and scientist Vera Rubin sports luminaries like Arnold Palmer,  literary figures like Harper Lee and Pat Conroy and public voices of conscience like Elie Wiesel, and many others ranged from stunning to heart breaking.   The American political climate was stormy and unsettling, and the nation remains painfully divided across lines many of us thought were being erased.

If,  in the midst of a restless social and political climate, one is inclined toward more personal reflection and reconsiderations, then the storm front can feel catacylsmic.  Lissa Rankin describes this experience powerfully in  her blog piece, The Space Between Stories , named, as this blog piece is, for a phrase taken from the work of Charles Eisenstein

“”If I’m not who I thought I was, “Who am I?”” writes Rankin. “Then down the rabbit hole you go, grasping for certainty and finding none, adrift in the question marks, yet discovering in the space between stories that grace that protects you. This space between stories is a ripe place, an empty place, a place filled with potential but also with loss. You don’t get to skip straight to the “Now I’m growing” phase without grieving the acknowledgment that you’re marking the end of something.”

brighter-flamesFor me, when I found myself in that space between stories it seemed more akin to what author Evelyn J. Hadden calls the “hell strip, ”  that often neglected residual place between the sidewalk and the street that becomes the collection zone for the detritus of our communities: trash, dog waste, pedestrian traffic and the occasional misparked car.  However, as Hadden  points out, even those neglected spaces can be revitalized and repurposed.

When you are in the space between stories, Eisenstein says, “The challenge in our culture is to allow yourself to be in that space, to trust that the next story will emerge when the time in between has ended, and that you will recognize it.”

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Connors Farm Market, by T. Willingham

Or maybe, says Rankin,  “there is no next story. Maybe this is how we begin to inhabit the present moment. No stories. Just NOW. And NOW. And NOW.”

In my case, when I fell between stories in the fall, I found something I wasn’t looking for and didn’t expect.  I actually found quite a few things I didn’t expect, but the physical manifestations of one those new things has delighted and surprised me.  While in the NOW, I discovered that I could sketch.

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Connors Farm Market, digitally enhanced

I hadn’t sketched anything beyond the idle doodle since high school art classes, but in the midst of self reflection I found some colored pencils and started sketching from a 1970s photo of my beloved aunt’s produce market.  Primitive at best, the piece, however, pleased me.  I popped a photo of the sketch into an image editing app and found new delight.   Completely by accident, I discovered the cure that Rankin recommends:

“If you get overwhelmed, rest in the sanctuary of your blown open heart, where you will know that this stripping down is not a punishment; it is an answer to a silent prayer for freedom that you may not even remember praying.”

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Cat by the Window, by T. Willingham

And so the sketching has continued, with more challenging subjects, bolder lines and growing confidence.  I had stopped sketching decades ago because I didn’t feel that I had any talent, an extrinsic reason driven by what I thought of what others might think.

But I’ve kept sketching now not for the satisfaction of anyone else’s opinion of my work, but because it makes me happy, because I enjoy the exercise, the creative experience of transforming a blank page to a colorful image. I’ve discovered I have a style of sorts, and in embracing that style, I’ve found contentment and a meditative peace.  The colors are a joy and manipulating the images digitally, a creative carnival.  And I have discovered a new freedom.

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Kampong Gardens, by T. Willingham

In the space between stories I have, as Eisenstein predicted,  lost some old structure, some ideas and ways of being that I thought were integral to who I was. But I am also, as he said,  okay.

“Tough plants and vigilant caretakers are the keys to success” in the hell strip, says Hadden of that neglected patch of dirt between intended pathways.   Sometimes we have to be our own vigilant caretakers when we find ourselves in that space between stories, discovering ourselves anew, and leave ourselves open to the next story, whatever it might be, and to new ways of being in it.

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