Going Deep Long Traditional Stories Retreat 2009 – Introduction

"Big Andromeda Galaxy" - photo by xamad

This is the first in a series of four posts.

From late Thursday afternoon, March 19, 2009, to early Sunday afternoon, March 22, 2009, I attended the third annual “Going Deep: Long Traditional Stories Retreat” in Bethlehem, Indiana.  I got to hear:

** “The Story of the Grail” as told by Liz Warren

** “The Paths of Osun: the West African Yoruba Epic Journey of the Goddess on Heaven and Earth” as told by Marilyn Omifunke Torres

** “Gilgamesh” as told by David Novak

I have been to all three “Going Deep” retreats so far.  I blogged about last year’s in four posts that begin here.  The first “Going Deep” was in 2006, before I started this blog, but it, too, was a transformative experience for me.

How It Works

The specific insights and pleasures of the experience are different for each participant, but the pattern of the retreat is this: 

  • 1. At night, hear an epic tale that doesn’t get told very often here in the United States because of its length.
  • 2. Go to sleep after just a little bit of casual conversation and allow your dreams to respond to the story first.
  • 3. The next morning, participate in a more structured discussion of the story, possibly accompanied by other activities to deepen your connection to it.
  • 4. Use the afternoon to replenish yourself however you like, alone or with others. You might choose to get a massage, or have your palm read, or help make a group painting, or participate in an informal story-and-song swap, or go for a nature walk, or take a nap, or read a book, or write in your journal, or…
  • 5. In between each of these segments, eat a home-cooked meal or snack and/or drink a glass of wine or cup of coffee with the whole retreat community.

This pattern of five is repeated twice, for a total of three times.  In other words, you get to hear and deeply explore three long, rarely-told stories in a deliberately created and safely contained communal setting.   

“Special” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

The Birthing of “Going Deep” (History)

This event used to be called a “festival,” but one of the producers, Liz Warren, said this time that “We are festive, but twenty people does not make a festival.  Plus, the four days include massages and reflections and so on that make it more truly a retreat, so that is what we are now calling it.”

There are three producers:  Liz Warren, Priscilla Howe, and Olga Loya.  They live in different parts of the United States (Arizona, Kansas, and California, respectively) and collaborate via phone and email.  Each makes her living as a professional storyteller, writing and recording and teaching as well as telling live to audiences all over the world, but telling mostly shorter tales for her bread-and-butter.  The “Going Deep” event came out of a yearning that each of them had to work with stories that are “too long” to be shared very often in their usual venues.

All three of them told at the first “Going Deep” in 2006 to get things started.  (See below for the full “Going Deep” story list.)  2007 was a resting year.  In 2008, Priscilla told a new story and Olga repeated the story she had told in 2006.  This year, Liz repeated the story that she had told in 2006.  I love being able to hear some of the stories more than once as the years go by.  These are epic and unfamiliar-to-me stories that reward repeated sharing even more than shorter, more familiar tales do.   These long stories are a form of medicine that help me get past victimhood in my own life and past the naïve expectations of a “happily ever after.”

The producers invite other professional tellers whose work they know and respect to be featured in the other telling slots.  In 2007, Illinois-based storyteller Megan Wells shared her “Helen of Troy” piece.  This year, Arizona-based storyteller Marilyn Omifunke Torres shared “The Paths of Osun: The West African Yoruba Epic Journey of the Goddess in Heaven and on Earth” and North Carolina-based storyteller David Novak shared his version of “Gilgamesh.”

Next year, Liz will tell a new story, possibly a branch of the Welsh “Mabinogi.”  In 2010, Olga will tell a new story, possibly a version of the “Popol Vuh.”  In 2011, Priscilla will probably repeat the first story she told…unless another long story has called to her to work on it in the meantime.  I don’t think anyone knows, yet, who the new guest tellers will be.  I am looking forward to finding out!

Here is a list of the seven long stories that have been featured at “Going Deep” so far. Each travels easily.  Each is an engaging piece of art on its own; each lends itself to continued discussion and reflection.  Please contact the individual tellers directly if you would like to host one or more in your community, with or without an accompanying workshop:

  • Liz Warren – “The Story of the Grail” (Medieval England)(lizannwarren at yahoo dot com)
  • Olga Loya – “The Aztec Creation” (Ending in what is now Mexico)
  • Priscilla Howe – “Tristan and Iseult” (Medieval France)
  • Priscilla Howe – “Queen Berta and King Pippin” (Medieval France)
  • Megan Wells – “Helen of Troy” (Ancient Greece) FYI: Storytelling Arts of Indiana is hosting a presentation of this piece here in Indianapolis on Saturday, April 4, 2009.
  • Marilyn Omifunke Torres – “The Paths of Osun: The West African Yoruba Epic Journey of the Goddess in Heaven and on Earth.” (Ancient West African Yoruba) (Westwindsstory13 at cox.net)
  • David Novak – “Gilgamesh” (Ancient Sumerian)

Leaving the Nest (“Going Deep” at a New Location Next Time)

I am very happy that this unique event known as “Going Deep” is firmly up and running!  I look forward to participating for years and years to come!

However, I was sad to learn at the end of this year’s retreat that “Going Deep” will not be held in Bethlehem, Indiana again. 

For the first three years, “Going Deep” was hosted by Kentucky-based professional storytellers Cynthia Changaris and Mary Hamilton, who are also known as Scheherezade’s Legacy.  Cynthia owns a beautiful and innately healing bed-and-breakfast called the Storyteller’s Riverhouse.  It is a cheery, two-story yellow house right on the Ohio River in the tiny town of Bethlehem, Indiana.  Its library/dining room is filled with hundreds of inviting story collections and storytelling-related books.  Cynthia decorated the whole house with wit and love and a savvy eye for the rejuvenating powers of color and texture. 

By the way, I highly recommend it to any couple, family, or small group looking to get away for a while to work or play.  Please contact Cynthia at cchangaris at aol dot com for more information about rates and availability.

For the first three years, the Storyteller’s Riverhouse was the “Going Deep” headquarters.  Everyone gathered there for meals and workshops, and a few people slept in the bedrooms.  Cynthia arranged for the rest of the participants to sleep in various other bed-and-breakfast houses nearby.  She also engaged a cook (the gentle and skillful Eugene Ward, who is also a bookbinder and Episcopal minister) and cook’s helpers, two massage therapists, a palm reader, and cleaning staff.  She secured the town Schoolhouse for the storytelling concerts.  She coordinated airport pick-ups.  She did her best to match what she had with what people requested in terms of rooms, meals, etc.  I was one of her pickiest guests in terms of wanting access to quiet and solitude, and she even satisfied me!

Beyond all of that, she was, and is, a role model for me on how to be a gracious hostess.  Every year, she lovingly arranged flowers and passed snacks and even sang songs to adjust a room’s energy as needed. 

“Going Deep” just would not be the same in another location and without Cynthia managing the energy of the hearth.

However, even with the help of her business partner, Mary Hamilton, hosting “Going Deep” was a lot of work for Cynthia.  This year, Mary caught the ‘flu and was too sick to help.  Cynthia called in back-up in the form of Mary Kane and others, and the retreat participants had another wonderful time, but I think Cynthia realized that she could not keep hosting this relatively large event year after year. 

Also, I think that even though the producers want to keep the retreat to a small number of participants, they also want to explore the possibilities of developing larger audiences for the evening story concerts, which have always been open to the general public. 

For a number of reasons, then, it makes sense to nudge this growing baby out of the nest.

So…the three producers are looking for another hosting organization and/or location.  They already have several possibilities but are open to suggestions.  They will probably share details on the Going Deep blog as they are confirmed.  I will share updates here on my blog, too, as I receive them. 

And I have started a new piggy bank just for “Going Deep” travel funds, in case the new location is far away.  Even though I will miss the Storyteller’s Riverhouse and being cared for by Cynthia, I don’t want to miss the next “Going Deep” retreat!

In the Meantime, More About This Year’s Experience…

This year, as in previous years, “Going Deep” was, for me, an intoxicating mix of scholarship, art, mystery, and fun.  It was also a restorative blend of the female Maiden, Mother, Crone energies and the male Innocent, Warrior, King energies.  I will write about each of the three featured stories and accompanying workshops in separate posts after this one, but first I would like to record just a few comments about other aspects of the long weekend here.

I was proud to be the only person other than Cynthia and the three producers who has fully attended all three of the first “Going Deep” retreats. The pride is misplaced, of course, because all I did was pay my money and show up each year, but still I gloat.  Not only have I heard all of the featured stories and participated in all of the workshops, I have gotten to meet all of the tellers, retreaters and helpers.  The participants’ informal stories and gifts are in many ways as intriguing to me as the formally presented ones!

This year there were six of us from Indiana, six from Kentucky, three from Kansas, two from Arizona, two from California, two from North Carolina, and one from Ohio, plus two back-up helpers that I think were from right there in Bethlehem.  The participants came from a wide variety of religious backgrounds.  The group included fulltime listeners, fulltime tellers, and a variety of hybrids.  Several people in the group this year were storytelling instructors.  I enjoyed talking shop with them, sharing ideas for textbooks and learning activities. 

I enjoyed spending time with people I already knew but don’t get to see in person very often.  I also enjoyed getting to meet new people and relishing their senses of humor, their life experiences, and their unique passions and areas of expertise related to storytelling.  I loved seeing photos of old friends’ new lovers and new cats.  I loved seeing photos of a new friend’s daughter’s wedding. 

I was also honored and blessed to be included in a healing ceremony on the equinox for a participant who was going to undergo serious surgery the following week.  That ceremony included a song that was new to me but which I now love.  The words go like this:

I come from the mountain,

Always from the mountain,

I come from the mountain,

Turn the world around…

Those four lines are repeated with a second tune, and then all eight lines are sung again but with “mountain” replaced by “river,” and then by “center.”

We also sang a lot before lining up to go through the buffet line in the kitchen.  It is a tradition to sing the following grace before every meal at the Storyteller’s Riverhouse:

Thank You for this food, this food, this glorious, glorious food!  And the animals, and the vegetables, and the minerals that make it possible.  Amen!  Amen!  Amen!” 

By Sunday morning, we were singing it in a three-part round.

On one of the free afternoons, I received a deliciously insightful and encouraging palm reading from Louisville-based Rebecca Henderson.  She has offered readings on Thursday and Friday afternoons at “Going Deep” every year, but last year I got two massages instead of getting a palm reading and I didn’t get the opportunity to talk much with her informally either.   We don’t communicate with each other except at “Going Deep” and she has probably read more than a thousand palms since the last time she read mine in 2006. 

Therefore I was surprised and delighted to receive a detailed reading from her that both echoed what she had seen in my palms three years ago and illuminated very specifically how my lines (and my self) have shifted, and for the better.  I jotted down pages and pages of useful notes after I left her little alcove.  Most of it is too personal to share here on my blog, but I will tell you that I am still “very serious” but no longer “hard to get along with” so there is hope for my love life after all!

On another afternoon this year I received a therapeutic, deep tissue massage from Louisville-based Marissa Holden.  Oh, my goodness, that woman is strong.  I have received blissful massages from other massage therapists at “Going Deep,” but she is the one massage therapist who has been there all three years on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  I received a “stone massage” from her the first year and a “Swedish massage” this year.  Having the heated stones on my body was an interesting and enjoyable experience, but I think I prefer the more traditional, hands-on style.   Every year after “Going Deep” I vow to get massages more often here at home, but so far I haven’t made time for it.  Maybe this year I will.  It always amazes me when a massage reveals how much tension I carry in my body. 

I had brought books with me to read, but I decided to set them aside and read a short but pithy book that Priscilla Howe had brought and raved about.  It was called The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield.  It gave me some good food for thought about my own resistance patterns and how to overcome them.

I thought about numbers more this year than in the past.  This was the third year of “Going Deep,” an event that has five essential elements, and so far there have been seven featured power stories.

Our first story this year, told by Liz Warren, was “The Story of the Grail.”  The number three was an important number in that story.

Next we heard the story of “Osun” (pronounced “Oh-SHOON”) as told by Marilyn Omifunke Torres.  The number five was an important number in that story.

Last we heard David Novak’s interpretation of “Gilgamesh,” in which the number seven figured very prominently.

I walked in on a conversation one afternoon this year in which one of the participants said something like, “We (humans) are not ready for eleven (in our conscious stories) yet, but it’s coming.” 

Yikes!  I wonder what that means.  But I am more curious than afraid.  And in the meantime, the combination of a “three story,” a “five story,” and a “seven story” was more powerful than the sum of its parts.

I also want to mention that Bethlehem has virtually no Internet access, no cell phone reception or street lights.  I see this as an advantage.  I don’t own a cell phone, but I am an Internet and social networking junkie most of the year.  I treasure you, my blog readers, and I love being able to stay in touch with my friends and loved ones in a variety of ways.  However, I think in any relationship it is good to take a break sometimes, too, and give everyone a chance to miss each other a little.

So I go on an “e-communications fast” while I am “Going Deep.”   This year was harder, though, because some people asked me if I would like to ride with them to the public library in Charleston in the afternoons to use its free wireless Internet access.  It was very tempting!  However, I managed to decline.  I went for the whole 75 hours (including travel time to and from the retreat) without once reading my email or updating my Facebook status or chatting online or checking my blog for comments.  Whew!

Finally, I want to record what a blessing, what a refreshment it was to be able to see a night sky drenched with stars.

And now let me tell you about the stories and the workshops.  They were each wonderful in their own ways, but the mix of them together was even more satisfying. (Please see the next three posts, coming soon.)

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

4 thoughts on “Going Deep Long Traditional Stories Retreat 2009 – Introduction”

  1. WOW that must have b een a wonderful storytelling conference. To be immersed in stories for days at a time would be a treat! Thanks for sharing this series.

    Warmly,
    Ronda

  2. Dear Hope,
    As I have read each of your four blog entries from Going Deep I am humbled and elated to revisit the event, to hear your honest and true voiced descriptions, to have you honor my role in the process, and to know that we have shared deeply for years. I am ever more increased in knowledge and wisdom each time I have the chance to connect with you.Thank you for your healing energy, your honest voice, your clear observations, your opening of your own human spirit.To have your account of the “Going Deep” experience honors the event and preserves a written “photo” as a remembrance of the event. Your “photo” is so clear, I will be reading it again and again, as I look back on the spirit of Going Deep. I am sending copies of your blog to Rebecca, Marissa,Eugene, the people whose houses we borrowed, and to my children, so they can have an idea about what their old mother has been up to.
    I am also placing it in my memoir box for my grand children and great grand children to have and know a little about me, and the work I do.

    Thank you. Thank you.
    Love and a full heart,
    Cynthia

  3. Ronda, thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I am very sorry that it took so long for it to appear here! For some reason it went into the spam queue and I keep forgetting to check that.

    Anyway, thanks again.

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