Layers of Narrative

September 24,2014

The Layers of Narrative©

Using Narrative in Developing Capacity for Positive Change

Douglas Banner, Inquiry Director

(A work in progress)


The stories our families, cultures and societies tell build our individual and collective narratives. We make sense and give meaning to our lives through the stories we tell on the intrapersonal, interpersonal and transpersonal levels. As a result of my work with narrative and story in education, therapy, community development, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog and leadership I devised the Layers of Narrative being Micro- narrative, Meso- narrative, Macro- narrative and Meta-narrative to provide a means for delving into, understanding and utilizing the stories within our narrative as a diagnostic tool, and a methodology for initiating positive change. The Houston Four Level Model, the foundation of Social Artistry, of Sensory/ Physical, Psychological/ Historic, Mythic/ Symbolic and Integral/ Unity are integrated into the Layers of Narrative providing a deeper context for understanding and utilizing story from the perspective of change agents in any field.


Three men walked down the road

As down the road walked he

The man he saw

The man he was

And the man he wished to be




As a new teacher in the 1980s I became distressed that my sixth grade (11 and 12 year old) Native American students were not performing to grade level expectations in reading and language. The institutional story (the macro-narrative) was that they just didn’t care or were unable to learn as other children do. After considerable evaluations, assessments and talking with the elders and parents of the tribe I determined that their lack of engagement and therefore low academic performance was based on the fact that they simply did not know their own stories and the stories of their family and culture (meso-narrative) were deeply steeped in victimization and negativity. Their personal stories (micro-narrative) did not contain a positive sense of personal identity or any vision of a future that held opportunities for them. It was in conversation with an elder that I was told it was my responsibility to teach these children their stories and to help them find a way to create a positive vision of their future. Thus began my 35-year journey into understanding and applying the power of storytelling to create positive change at the personal and collective levels.

In the common vernacular narrative and story are often used interchangeably but, in my view, there is a clear distinction between the two as well as between narrator and storyteller. Imagine a long thread that represents the narrative of your life from beginning to end. The thread is fluid, flexible and continuous. It has a linear sequence through time and space. There are clear cause and effect relationships. A narrative is related in a historical context and is scripted. As we will see later in this paper narrative exists from the personal to the mythic levels. It can hold your personal life experiences and extend out into the narrative of humanity. Your personal narrative, the thread of your life, is then woven into the fabric that is the narrative of humanity. Another perspective is that your personal narrative is a fractal representation of the narrative of humanity.

Stories are like beads on your narrative thread. They are all the events and experiences in your life that you relate to the world as stories. Stories are the colors and textures in your narrative. Every new event, adventure, trial, experience becomes another bead added to the thread another addition to the narrative of your life. You can touch any bead on your narrative thread and relate that story appropriate to the moment and completely out of context to the overall history. “Story” refers to the actual chronology of events in a narrative (Felluga, 2011). Stories can be ridged and hard. They can be locked into tradition and belief in such a way that they prevent positive change or bind us into nonproductive and inflexible behaviors. Stories can be malleable and open to interpretation allowing for flexibility and adaptation to an audience. As an example ask a married couple to relate the story of their wedding day. There have been times that I have done this when I have come away from the story wondering if they were at the same wedding. Story is how we bring meaning to our lives and we use our stories to make sense and meaning with others. There can be aspects of our stories that keep us separated form each other. When a story is rigid it can prevent us from being open to other interpretations and perspectives. When we acknowledge the malleability of stories we connect to others through understanding and humor. Individuals, families, neighborhoods, cultures, religions, societies and nations all have very distinct narratives but can share common stories. It is at the level of story that we can find connection to common visions and common purpose.

I also believe there is a distinction between a narrator and a storyteller. A narrator is “In the story.” They may have a designated role as a character in the play and their function is to keep the story going especially in trivial scenes, time shifts, transitions and so on. In some cases a narrator my even take an active role in the story when a character is needed. In the play “Once Upon a Mattress,” the court jester plays the role of narrator and character. A narrator may tell the story but does not change the script. The narrator is confined to the thread of time and the word on the page.

The storyteller is always outside the story (as in they do not take a character role) and exerts some control on how it emerges. They tell the story and are aware of the entire plot line. The storyteller responds to the audience and may add and subtract detail to keep the audience engaged or to enhance the impact of the story. The storyteller can choose a story to fit the time, place, theme, or purpose and can adjust as they go. The storyteller picks and chooses the colors, the textures, number and the size of the beads and strings them together to share from any and all angles. The storyteller brings life to the story. The storyteller can interpret or reframe the story with a positive of negative spin. In my view the narrator is the technician and the storyteller is the artist.

The Layers of Narrative emerged after my exposure to the works in The Ecology of Human Development pioneered by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). Bronfenbrenner’s structure follows human development through the micro/personal level, meso/ familial level, macro/cultural-societal level to meta/ transpersonal-global level. The influences on the psychological, emotional and cognitive development of humans are the same influences that inform the stories we tell and therefore are crucial to the formation of the narratives of our lives. As the work continued I was introduced to Social Artistry and Jean Houston’s 4 Level Model which offers a framework for developing personal and leadership capacity in assessing situations that present themselves as challenges at a number of levels. It was through the 4 level model that I could clearly see how influences and awareness on the sensory/physical, psychological/historical, mythic/symbolic and integral/unity levels informed and formed the personal story. I believe the individual narrative is a fractal of the collective narrative therefore these same levels of awareness can be integrated into the narrative of the collective. The narratives and stories of families, cultures and societies function in very much the same way as that of the individuals within the groups. As a result the narrative of the individual and the narrative of humanity are inextricably interwoven.

I then took the narrative work further by integrating the Houston 4 level model into each of the four levels of the narrative format. In this way each level of narrative can be analyzed through the lens of the 4 level model. Approaching narrative in this way provides a means for understanding the sequential order of narrative, the internal and external influences on narrative, the value and power of stories held in the narrative and the development of a means to reframe our stories and gain insights into strategies for personal growth, collaborative work, establishing common vision and effective social change.

The Narrative Format is a tool that can be used to create understanding of how narrative works. When each level of narrative is looked at through the lens of Houston’s 4 Levels we are able to determine the very origins of our beliefs, values, biases and relationship to others at each level of the narrative. With this knowledge we can then reframe our stories and then the narrative in such a way that we can release judgment, defensiveness, biases and attachments allowing the reformation of relationships that are collaborative. Knowing how to listen to the stories of others through the same lens gives us opportunities to find common ground and work toward a common purpose. With this perspective teachers, community organizers, leaders and anyone seeking to be an agent for social change can understand how their narratives are constructed and how the narratives of others are constructed. The power and uses of narrative and stories is then made readily available in a leadership modality. Understanding narrative and how stories emerge from the narrative gives us the capacity to utilize stories within narrative to build relationships, build collaborative communities and work to a common purpose.

It should be kept in mind that the Layers of Narrative and the integration of the Houston four level model are presented here as separate in order to see different aspects of the narrative thread. In actual practice they are not separate at all but inextricably interconnected. This is an intellectual construct developed to be used as a tool and to clarify how each aspect of narrative informs and affects every other aspect of narrative. In understanding and applying the narrative format and Houston’s four levels an individual or group can diagnose or reflect on an existing narrative, communicate vision, values and meaning and adapt a new or reframed narrative to the current situation or challenge. I use here personal stories in an effort to bring some clarity and understanding to this work. If a new narrative is truly being called for then, in the least, we can do so while honoring the challenges of the past as lessons learned rather than from a place of judgment and criticism.



The Four Layers of Narrative


The Micro-narrative is the narrative tread of the self and is made up of personal stories. In Jungian terms it is the Self Schema and makes up the identity construct of the individual. This is the story of how “I” relate to the world and make meaning in and of my life. The Micro-narrative is created from the stories of my accumulated physical, emotional and spiritual experiences. It describes my personal identity through the lens of my biases, beliefs, and personal complexes. The bonding of these and other influences into my personal narrative becomes the power that defines me, affects my behaviors, my views, and the beliefs I hold of the world, others, and myself. Bringing the influences of the micro-narrative into focus and understanding provides the opportunity to let go of attachments and biases. We can reframe our stories in such a way that we can honor our past and are more able to find commonality with others and build more collaborative communities.

Sensory/ Physical: Personal stories rely heavily on sensory physical experiences. Sensory experiences in the present can and do key into memories of the past. These memories are the foundation of our personal stories. We can carry sensory physical memory in the very cells of our body. These memories can result in very pleasant recollections and stories or our reactions to certain external physical or emotional stimuli may prevent us from seeing a situation clearly and without strong emotion or bias.

My childhood was less than pleasant but Christmas in our home was a time of baking sweet things like cookies, cakes, pies and any number of other sweet treats. The house smelled of cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and caramel for days. To this day those sensory stimuli (smells) take me back to those pleasant days and the stories that I relate to my granddaughter are filled with the wonder and magic of those times. Our sensory/physical experiences can linger in our minds and bodies our entire lives. If we are lucky we can recall them and relate them as stories. If not lucky they linger as subconscious fears and biases. Bringing the sensory/physical details to our retellings also adds interesting detail for the listener and is part of the skill of bringing the story alive.

Psychological/ Historic: How we perceive ourselves, our personal psychological make up, our creativity, resiliency, and self-image stem from our personal history and psychological experiences. This aspect of our micro-narrative affects our personal self-awareness and our ability to inter-relate to and with others. Our self worth and self esteem are tied closely with our historical experiences and the influences of these on our personal psychological make up. Our micro-narrative can be in or out of alignment with the narrative of the collective and that can create discord in us and between the outside world and us. To develop a clear understanding here allows us to become more attuned to the source of our emotional and intellectual responses to situations.

I left the Catholic Church at 16 years old. I had been a devoted altar boy and was considering going into the priesthood. Under the tutelage of Brother Dominic, a Franciscan monk, I began studying the history of the church in earnest. It was in this place that my personal narrative came into conflict with the outer narratives. My heart and mind were dedicated to the concepts of peace, generosity, compassion and devotion. These were the things that I had learned from Brother Dominic. The outer world of family, community, and even the church were filled with severe contradictions to the very values and beliefs that I had learned through my catechism. There where historical events that caused discord for me such as the many wars that had been waged in the name of god or for the Holy Roman Church, the gross discrepancies of wealth between the church and the poor, the racism and cultural biases of my family and community toward others not of the faith all contributed to a crisis in my micro-narrative. My young mind could not reconcile what appeared to be gross hypocrisy. I needed a new story to fit my personal narrative and so embarked on the spiritual quest that has become the narrative thread of my life. The narrative of my intellectual and spiritual quest has its roots in the history of which I was and am a part.

Mythic/ Symbolic: At this level we see how our personal narrative and its stories fit into the greater work of humanity. We may fully embrace the mythic and symbolic aspects of the outer culture and follow complacently into behaviors that hold us in stasis. We accept what we are given through popular media and loose our relationship to our “mythic self.” On another path we might engage in a personal struggle with our perceptions of personal heroes, archetypes and symbols emerging on the other side of the work with the ability to see new patterns and possibilities. Our personal story can be reframed opening us to being clear in our role in the greater narrative. The artist’s perspective is that we can now trust fully in the process on the personal level.

For years I was distraught because I could not identify anyone who I held up as a hero in my life. There was no one I wished to emulate or look to as a role model. The iconic symbols of our culture represented more of the material than the spiritual as advertisers and mainstream media usurped them. The stories that had sustained me in my youth were no longer fulfilling. How I believed I wanted to be in the world was in direct conflict with the myths and symbols of my family and culture. There was simply no way for me to reconcile the mythology and symbology of scientific materialism and capitalism of this culture into my personal narrative. I found myself becoming angry, frustrated, judgmental and disillusioned. In order to find both the energy and courage to continue I needed to find new purpose and direction. I needed a new vision of what I could be in the world. It was at this point that I remembered something Brother Dominic had said. “If you wish to know your purpose on this earth, then work to the greater good. Make the world just a bit better than you found it.” He had taught me about the Hero’s Journey but suddenly I understood the personal meaning of the lessons. The archetypal hero, not the material hero of the common culture, became the symbolic representation of my life giving me a new way to reframe my purpose in the world and give meaning to my existence.

Integral/ Unity: This is where our personal story touches the creator, the creative flow, and the source. On the individual level we become aware that we are part of something greater than ourselves and come to a clearer understanding of some call the great mystery. In the Hero’s Journey we understand that the call has come from the divine and our lesson is to learn how to embrace that call. If we are not at ease with the first three levels of our micro-narrative and our framing is not in alignment with this level, crossing the threshold from the Mythic/ Symbolic to the Integral/ Unity is unlikely or a least extremely difficult. As a result of being bombarded with information and influenced by the negative spin put on the cultural story it is no uncommon that we may not be aware that the threshold even exists resulting in a spiritual disconnect.

In my personal narrative this has been the place of my great struggle or, in my new context, my great work. Brother Dominic would have called this “finding piece with god.” How do we embrace the concept that we may be a single cell in the body of humanity? How do we hold on to a sense of personal identity and surrender to a higher purpose? How do we reconcile that our micro-narrative is a fractal of the meta-narrative of humanity? I think I have touched this place on mountaintops in the Rockies or while diving off the coast of Thailand. I have felt this place when I spent the night in Haleakala Crater, in Hawaii and while creating art in my studio.

It is at this level of awareness that our micro-narrative can expand to including our relatedness to all things in the world. We can more readily listen to our hearts allowing us to cultivate wisdom and understanding of our work in the world. At this level of awareness our narrative expresses our appreciation and connection to the beauty and wonder of the universe. The integral/ unity level can be evasive but is the ultimate goal of our hero’s journey and our personal narrative. It is here that the hero brings their boon back to the community.


The Meso-narrative is the story of family, friends, co-workers, church, social groups and others. Our family and community cultures influence our beliefs and biases. The meso-narrative can be supportive of our micro-narrative or our micro-narrative might not fit well into the meso-narrative. As a young man I was experiencing spiritual dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church at the micro level but lived out being a good catholic boy at the meso level. Leaving the church allowed me to seek a new narrative for my spiritual explorations. The group narratives at the meso-level can have both positive and negative effect on our micro-narrative. Our micro-narrative is sculpted within the container of the meso-narrative. Family and group behaviors, traditions and beliefs are all couched in the context of the meso-narrative.

Sensory/ Physical: The physical and the sensory environments in which families, communities, organizations and cultures reside influence the stories told. Meso-narratives can include the stories of the changing landscapes, the hazards of toxic dumps and the beauty of restored natural areas. The homes, streets, parks and habitats in which we play, our churches and common places are all part of the sensory physical aspect of the meso-narrative. The physical environments, along with the sensory experiences they provide, can and do influence the Micro-narrative but the stories told are of the collective experiences (Midnight mass on Christmas Eve has always had a strong emotional effect on me but it is the collective experience that informs the shared story.)

Family is the most direct place to explore the Meso-narrative. One has only to explore one of the genealogy websites to get a sense of family narratives. There on the screen are the beads on the thread of the narrative. Each bead representing the Micro-narrative of each ancestor and each ancestor is a part of the Meso-narrative of their time.

My paternal family are farmers and fishermen on my mother’s. I spent periods of my life growing up in both environments. The narrative of the farmers is deeply steeped in the relationships to the land and everything on it. The cycles of the seasons are honored and there was/is a deep understanding of the importance of keeping the land healthy. All things are connected is a big part of all the stories making up that part of my Meso-narrative. The fishermen, being people of the sea, had a deep respect for the power of the ocean. They saw the ocean in the feminine being nurturing and giving at some times and vengeful and destructive at others. At best she was sometimes predictable but always a bit fickle.

In utilizing the Meso-narrative of the two branches of the family tree the importance of sensory physical awareness comes home. The need to be acutely aware of ones environment, understanding how the state of exterior space reflects people’s inner state and discerning how the physical environment affects the physical and ephemeral sense of others have been key learning for me from my Meso-narrative.

Psychological/ Historic: This is the place of social narratives in family and community. These are stories that describe social situations and socially appropriate responses or behaviors to common (and maybe uncommon) situations within the group. The theoretical construct here is that of “Emics.” That is the constructs particular to a specific culture. On the negative side these stories express and instill biases, prejudice, cultural complexes, ethnocentrism and problems in cross cultural contexts. On the positive side these stories can be an effective strategy that support enhanced social and behavioral understanding.

My great ancestor on my father’s side, Kazia Van, died in 1848. She was a Cherokee woman who married a Scotsman. Their first-born son’s name was William. This name has been passed down to every first-born son to my time thus my first name is William. The Meso-narrative gives me the information I needed to understand my own origins. That Kazia Van was Cherokee is also important to the family story. Had she not been married to a white man she would have been a victim of the Indian Removal act of 1830. In 1838 all Cherokee, except a number of women married to white settlers, were forcibly relocated to the Indian Territories. The story of “The Trail of Tears” is a very important part of my Meso-narrative. If Kazia Van had not married a white man it is unlikely that I would be here to write this work. In this way the historical context and the psychological impact of this history within the Meso-narrative informs the Micro-narrative.

Mythic/ Symbolic:Culture is a combination of thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and values along with myths, old wives tales and legends. In this case I refer to family culture, ethnic culture, community culture or organizational culture. Each family, community, ethnic group, organization or any other collective tells its own mythic stories. The stories within the Meso-Narrative, along with their symbols, portray the mythic history of the group and support the social narratives. It is common for many to include stories of the ancestors in this place. In this area we can think of the archetypes present in the Meso-narrative. What are the symbolic representations of characters, places and things in our Meso-narrative? In this level we can come to see the patterns woven into the group dynamic and our place within them. In this level are the accumulated experiences, relayed through stories, that validate a group’s point of view and creates a library of self-affirming ancestral memories and   sometimes self-righteous attitudes and behaviors toward “the others.”


My matriarchal line was rift with stories and patterns of behavior that created bias, racism, and prejudices within the structure of the extended family and out into the greater world. After years of working with families in the context of education I have found this particular pattern is not that uncommon. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, I now see that these dynamics existed as different family members carried the shadow aspects of common archetypes and these roles were affirmed in the ancestral stories. We all know of relatives, or entire families, that seem to abound with self-destructive behaviors, addictions, compulsions, physical abuse and incest. In my family I had a great uncle that had murdered his wife for infidelity. He never served any time in prison but his entire family line carried the shadow aspect of the Destroyer for the next four generations. The matriarch of the family was very much like the Queen of Hearts in Alice through the Looking Glass. Her rages and tirades, enforced control and demand for obedience banished any form of creative thought of intimacy from family gatherings. She played the role of the shadow Ruler archetype. As a closing example there were the shadow Orphans, not that they were actually orphans but they took on, or were given, that role. We all know this archetype. They are the victims who blame everyone else for their failings, irresponsibility and life condition. They expect special treatment and leech on others because they are so “fragile.” Their dysfunction is highly destructive to a family but the stories within the Meso-narrative justify and even expect the existence and continuation of all of the archetypal behavioral patterns.

The positive side of being aware of the Meso-narrative at the mythic/symbolic level is that one can reinterpret the stories they live and reframe their narratives in the context of new vision and new possibilities. Understanding ones Meso-narrative through the lens of the mythic/symbolic and archetypal patterns can free us from guilt, victim identity and the shadow aspects of our own lives.

Integral/ Unity: Working in this level each family, community, ethnic group, and organization can come to understand that they are a part of a greater community. Each member of the group can be seen for their value and gifts. In this level the stories support familial joy and harmony. Members within the umbrella of the Meso-narrative work with a sense of common purpose toward common goals and find balance within the group dynamic. It is at this level that each family, community, ethnic group, and organization can find positive ways to interact with groups outside of themselves. When the Meso-narratives of cultures collide conflict can result but understanding the meso-narrative provides insight into cultural complexes and creates opportunities for collaboration and the opportunity to develop common goals.

Although I know many individuals who work quite well in this level I am sad to say I am hard pressed to identify any groups whose meso-narrative is functioning at this level yet. It is generally the role of counselors and family therapists to help families move to this level where they begin to reframe their Meso-narratives toward the positive with varying degrees of success.


The Macro-narrative is the bigger story of society and culture. This is the narrative of a collective or group that can include any number of “sub-cultures.” The Macro-narrative has strong historic roots and can be rife with confirmation bias. An example I use to describe the Macro-narrative is the concept of nationalism based in a cultural complex.

Cultural complexes can be thought of as the fundamental building blocks of an inner sociology. But this inner sociology is not objective or scientific in its description of different groups. Rather, it is a description of groups as filtered through the psyches of generations of ancestors. It contains an abundance of information and misinformation about the structures of societies – a truly, inner sociology – and its essential components are cultural complexes. (Singer, 2004)


It is important not to confuse cultural identity and cultural complex although the two are often used interchangeably. A subgroup within a society can have a strong, positive cultural identity embedded in their Meso-narrative but still be caught up by the negative influences of the cultural complexes of the Macro-narrative of the society in which they live.

Historically conflict arises at the world level when resistance is met between the Macro-narratives of two or more parties. Conflict usually arises when needs are not being met or ideas, beliefs and values are discounted at any and all of Houston’s four levels of awareness.

My Micro-narrative tells the story of my experience of being catholic in a small community and my personal practice. The Meso-narrative is the story of the Catholic Church in America. The Macro-narrative is the story of the Holy Roman Catholic Church in the world and the role it has played in history and the influences it has had on nations, governments and even the economics of the world.


Sensory/ Physical: In my view the Macro-narrative at this level is about materialism and consumerism. I use the following example because I know it intimately. Putting my experience of Catholicism into historical context, there were centuries of politically motivated nefarious activities directed by the Holy Roman Church to claim as much land, wealth and people as was possible in the world at the time. This was often achieved without regard to how any of these practices affected the internal state of those being subjected to colonization. The net worth of the church today is estimated at between 10 and 15 billion dollars and it influences the lives of some 1.2 billion people in 180 countries throughout the world. These statistics are not the Macro-narrative but the narrative that supports the continued growth of wealth of the church while a large proportion of their constituents live in desperate poverty and starvation makes up the story of entitlement to vast material wealth that the church represents. Pope Francis, with his new way of seeing the world may be in the process of reframing that narrative.

We could easily discuss the how the Macro-narrative of nations and corporations is used to justify grabbing up natural resources while destroying the environment and compromising the lives of millions of people. We could talk about sweatshops in Bangladesh and Wreak Beach in India. We could talk about fracking for oil, poaching for ivory and stealing hardwood trees from the rainforests of South America. All the stakeholders in these activities have stories that support their behaviors as to why the acquisition of physical and material wealth is right.

So what might be missing and how might these narratives change? Using any of the above examples it is probably safe to say that the leaders are assessing situations and making decisions before they act. From the point of view of the social artist, leaders take a different tact in how and what they assess. At the sensory/physical level leaders consider information such as: the physical attributes of a space (geography, climate, natural resources, environment and ecological balance) and how it reflects on the internal state of the people they lead. In the Macro-narrative at the sensory/physical level leaders would assess situations through demographics (population, education, religious affiliations, ethnic groups), as well as understanding the economic and politics of the situation.

Psychological/ Historic:Every culture, society and nation has a history that affects the psychology of its people. There is a collective memory of a nation that is institutionalized through the educational, political and religious systems. It is here that the cultural complexes are maintained. These sets of expectations, beliefs, ideas and images will determine how a society will respond to situations presented to them. The history of past traumas as well as the influence of mainstream media will affect both the individual and collective behaviors and responses. The Macro-narrative may be rift with contradictions such as institutionalize racism and bias, but these will often not be recognized.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States the airways were full of the images of destruction and the rhetoric of fear and rage. The collective response of many Americans was a call for revenge. Thus the Axis of Evil was birthed. In the Macro-narrative of many Americans, people of the Muslim Faith were bad and dangerous and this attack proved this (confirmation bias). Without going into any more detail on that story I want to point out some major historical contradictions that were ignored. It was said that this was the first time terrorists had attacked American soil yet, in 1911 there were a number of explosions in several large cities attributed to socialist terrorists. A domestic terrorist had bombed Oklahoma City in 1995 and we failed to remember World War II and Hawaii, Midway and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska as well as the shelling of a coastal city in Oregon State by a Japanese submarine.

In my personal experience, as the principal of a predominately Spanish-speaking school, I was trying to restructure the school to better meet the needs of our second language and poverty students. It is known from research that English-speaking children of poverty experience academic language as a second language and have similar struggles with language acquisition as ESL students with basic interpersonal language skills. In addition research also showed that teachers practiced a form of self fulfilling expectations by having lower academic performance expectations of children of poverty, second language learners and children of color (except for Asians). These beliefs held by teachers and representative of the culture of the school district are also well supported in the Macro-narrative of the national educational system. This belief system is well supported in the historical context of academic performance nationally and is deeply set in the psychology as teachers at all levels. Everything teachers, school administrators and policy makers chose to see, hear and experience supported and justified their attitudes and expectations and continued to support a deficit model of broken children, broken teachers, and a broken system. The true statement that both broke my heart and concretized my resolve to make changes was, and I quote:” They just don’t have the intelligence to perform like Christian, white children.”

This is a much longer story but the situation began to change as I began taking the staff through exercises that allowed us to understand the contradictions in our own thinking by exploring the internal and external capacities of the Psychological/historical level. We shifted our perspective from seeing our population as neither broken objects incapable of change or “repair,” or recipients’ of our wisdom and knowledge to resources with whom we could share and grow.


Mythic/ Symbolic

Myths are normative narratives, setting out a society’s history, legitimating its institutions, codes and values and envisioning its future development. Myths are synthesizing stories, capturing the zeitgeist of a time and place, bringing to a focus what forces are at work, highlighting its problems, and crystallizing its values(Sheehan,2001).

In the book Ishmael, the mountain gorilla explains to his pupil that we (civilized humans) are captured by our story. This story is an explaining story that tells how things can to be this way. It is a unifying story that keeps us on track. This story keeps us relatively calm in the shadow of our catastrophic behavior on the planet. We can accept this story and be like everybody else (accepted) or we can question this story and run the risk of being ostracized. In order to actually know this story we must think mythologically. We must look at and sense into the myth of our culture and society. In the context of the Macro-narrative it is not enough to be awake to the elements of our cultural myths that sustain us and provide us with energy. Those may be more deeply embedded in the micro-narrative anyway. It is important to be awake to the traps within our macro-narrative that lead use so often down the road of conflict, wounding, victimization (of ourselves and others) and oppression. When accepted without question these things that capture us in the cage of complacency, apathy and ambivalence. The shadow archetype presented in the creation of “The Axis of Evil and wrong doers” is one of those lies that infected our cultural myth and positioned the conflict in our own country between doves and hawks, red and blue, pro-war and peace activists. The elements of the macro-narrative that keep us captive to the story either because we believe them without question or are swept away in it like an animal in the middle of a stampede are the very elements and aspects of the myth and the symbols that are elicited that need to be revisioned and reframed in order to live into a new story for the future. Recognizing the dominant story in our culture will allow use to identify the myths and symbols by which we, in the collective, live.

Integral/ Unity:At this level a collective/community comes to understand that it is part of a global community, that group is operating in a state of unified consciousness and they are willing to surrender to a sense of being a part of something greater than them. At this level a collective may experience the relatedness to each other and to everything in their environment. People, individually and collectively, will begin to work with a sense of common purpose toward common goals. Within the context of the Macro-narrative a balance will be found between the individual and the collective, between self-interest and common interest. In this place a community may more easily enter into common agreements with other groups.

We see examples of this level of awareness at the Macro-narrative level when communities come together to support each other in the event of a disaster. All beliefs, values and attitudes at the Micro- and Meso-narrative levels are put aside in order to come together to help and aid others. There is a sense of working for the greater good.

In my own experience this is an area in great need of attention. Although there are some examples to the contrary, our Macro-narratives, at this time, are not generally set in the context of recognizing that we all are part of humanity. We are most often not prepared to see the value of the contributions made by our neighbors to the greater work of making the world.


Meta- Narrative:

The Meta-narrative is the story of humanity at the greater mythic level that transcends all time and includes the entire arc of human development and progress into the future. On the micro-narrative level we have a spiritual practice. In the Meso-narrative we are part of a community of practitioners. On the macro-level we find world religion. On the meta-level we find spiritual enlightenment and the desire to touch the great mystery. In the language of the artist they touch the very source of creativity. In this place there is a sense of surrender to something greater than one’s self. I think Joseph Campbell might have called this “the realm of the muses.” Being disconnected from the Meta-narrative is fundamental to many of the challenges the world faces today. Without appropriate myths and symbols to help us contextualize the work of humanity we also loose the ability to work on a personal and collective level. I believe it is important to know and understand our own personal mythology and the mythology of our respective cultures before we move into the meta-narrative. We cannot hope to understand and accept others until we know and understand ourselves.


Sensory/ Physical:Here we come to understand how the physical state of the earth reflects in the internal state of humanity. The sense of peace, community, well being and creativity cannot easily exist in a polluted world. We come to understand that politics, economics and demographics are all affected by the physical state of the earth. In the meta-narrative we know that climate change, water and air pollution and the unrestricted harvesting of natural resources are real challenges and require the creation of a new, more responsible narrative that incorporates a better relationship with the earth.


Psychological/ Historic: We are all formed by the history of the world in all its iterations. By example, the experiences and psychological affects on veterans and peace activists of the Vietnam era where pasted on to their children whose responses to the wars of their generation were directly and indirectly affected. This is true, I believe, of all peoples through time and across the world. Our meta-narratives have been deeply embedded in the myth of might makes right. When we come to understand how history and past traumas have affected humanity as a whole we can reframe these stories toward a more positive future. The rational for reframing and personal change can be found in the field of Spiral Dynamics which argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. Each new model transcends and includes all previous models (Graves, 1970).


Mythic/ Symbolic:If myths and symbols can define a culture what then are the myths and symbols of humanity? Is there a dominant story, an overarching myth that is common across the human situation? A symbol that comes to mind is the picture of the great blue earth from space. To my knowledge nothing so profound had ever been seen by humanity as a whole. The image evokes a sense of connectedness to all things. It transcends all national flags and boarders. As we delve deeper into our oceans and further into space science begins to peel away a sense of the great mystery like the skin of an onion. Or does it? In the meta-narrative for this level we begin to ask bigger questions. Can we begin to trust life and what the future holds? Can we bring a new vision and new sense of purpose to Humanity? Can we move from a world of wounding and victimization to a world of possibilities? Are new patterns emerging that may allow for positive outcomes to world challenges? Are we alone in the universe?

Integral/ Unity:I truly wish I were wise and far seeing enough to know what the meta-narrative will look like at this level. What would a world look, sound and feel like if we all were working toward a common purpose? Operating on the unity/ integral level entails a shift of consciousness and state of being and it involves letting go and surrendering to something than we are individually (Houston, 2008). In the Meta-narrative this also requires surrendering to something greater than we are as a whole as well. In one aspect of the Meta-narrative at this level we might consider where conflict, violence and war are symptomatic of other social and cultural challenges. Of particular interest to the narrative is the way in which people in conflict can hold different stories about events and their meanings. Working with these opposing narratives is essential to conflict transformation. The metaphorical nature of story can provide a means to gain insights into why cultures find themselves in conflict. Stories represent the values and beliefs of a culture and many cultures possess stories of peace. Hearing the stories of others breaks down the fears that underlie prejudice, and opens us up to the perspectives of others. Through story we see more easily the unique challenges of every individual, and how their beliefs and attitudes make sense within the context of their own experience. Through stories from many cultures people can explore the mechanisms of culture and society and create the vision, behaviors and relationships necessary to create a culture of peace. When applying the attributes of the Integral/ Unity level we might come to recognize that we are all part of the creative process of creating the world, that we can reach agreements on how we will live and work together collectively and honor the benefits of diversity that all people, groups and nations make to the world.





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