Stone Soup 2012 – Ward Maillard Introduction

We have a tradition that has evolved over the years, and one of the things that supports us in community is ritual. All communities have rituals; ways of engaging that have symbolic aspects to them, that represent the depth and history of a community and what it values. One of the rituals that we’ve developed at Chautauqua has been “Stone Soup.” It’s turned out to be an incredibly flexible story, because it seems appropriate every year. On your chairs, you found a notebook and a stone. So if you’ll take that and hang on to it…

The theme of Chautauqua this year is, “How can education make us more community able?” Every school is a community, and the question is, does that community produce community? When the students go out from the community, they’re joining other communities. One of the things we’re doing in school is we’re seeding all the communities of the world. Education is just something that is our birthright or you might say curiosity and learning are our birthright. That is just who we are as human beings.

When we welcome the stranger, we’re welcoming the gifts that the stranger brings into community. So community is a bounded system. So when there’s a community, there’s also outside community. And in a bounded system, you need to figure out what you’re bringing in to that system that will produce newness; that will bring transformation, delight and surprise to that community.

In the parable of Stone Soup, there was starvation in the land, and one thing that I was thinking about in relationship to starvation is, in this land of plenty in which we live, what’s the hunger that needs to be addressed? And I think one of the hungers that needs to be addressed is that for community or association. We hear it again, and again. Mount Madonna Center as a whole, is a response to the need for creating and recreating community, because community is always creating and recreating itself. And this school also has community at the very heart of the enterprise.

In this land where there was starvation, there was a Shaman walking about (you can pick your gender – but for me this year it was a woman), and she came into this village where everybody was starving, and came to the center of the village and said, “I have a magic stone. And if you get a pot of water, and you put water in it, I will place the stone in the pot, and we will feed the village.”

And the villagers did just that because they were starving, and even as odd and magical as it might have seemed– it was an alternative to doing nothing and starving to death. They brought the pot, they filled it with water, and they put the fire under it. Here, I think we can invoke Angeles Arrien and her idea of “creative fire is the fire that needs no wood.” So as we thicken the ritual of stone soup, we take the pot, we put the water in it, and then we need the creative fire. And in that, the shaman placed the stone.

Ward and Maggie
Ward and Maggie

The villagers then sat around to wait for the magic to happen, and the Shaman said, “You know what really makes this soup tasty, is if there were an onion somewhere…” And one of the villagers said, “I have an onion! I’ve kept it under my house, it was no good by itself. And I thought I might plant it next year, but I’ll bring it.” So the onion comes, it’s chopped up, it’s dropped in the water. Then the Shaman said, “You know what really makes it nice is if there’s a carrot…” And it goes through a sequence where everybody who had been holding the one piece of food that they had, because independently and separately it couldn’t nourish. Eventually, when all of the gifts that were held in abeyance were brought to the center of the village, and put in the pot, a soup was made and it fed the village. And it fed it that day, and the next day, and the day after. They were fed by the gifts that they held in abeyance. What are those for us?

Well, the stone can be highly symbolic of many things: It could be the gift that I’m holding back that’s not being received by my community? In which case, how am I a stranger to my own village, and my own gift is not coming into the village because I don’t know it’s wanted. This is something to be addressed. It could be what’s the crossroad that I’m at in my own journey? What is the question that I’m holding now in my journey about the next direction or step that I’m going to take along the path? So the questions that are embedded in the stone, which are the gifts of the community, that when brought into the community and shared, create community, and help the community heal and move forward; or develop the creativity it needs to respond and move forward. So in a sense – everybody who’s come to this gathering is a shaman, and everybody has their stone. So everybody’s brought a gift to this community.

And, how do we welcome the stranger that comes to the school in the form of a student? Have we welcomed that stranger? It’s an interesting question to me; because I’m not sure we that we see our students. And if we don’t see them, I don’t know how they can show up. Do we have that curiosity about who they are, or are we very invested in the predictability of what we’re trying to inculcate without concern for the person, for the context; and every human being is its own context. So this story expands and gets deeper. Each year we add new questions, and it thickens the soup.

In the middle of our circle, we have our metaphorical soup pot. Our job at this point, in order to begin to enact to the story of Stone Soup, is to bring our gifts into the room. There are little pens that actually write on stones. The idea is to have a little time to reflect, and to imagine what the question is that you bring, what the gift is that you bring, what crossroads are you at, what’s the yes that I haven’t given, what’s the no that I haven’t given, what’s the transformation or transition that I’m bringing into this circle?

Today we’re going to engage in dialogue. It is about connecting with place, it is about relaxing. One of the things that brain science tell us, is we learn better when we are relaxed. So our job today is actually to relax, to get here, to be here, to connect. So if you have any expectations about what’s going to happen, you can also place those into the pot, and let them go.

Take a few minutes of reflection and think about the gift or the question that you’re bringing in to this circle. Because those of us who come to this circle we are the community. We have the idea that we’re going to join a community, when actually we are the ingredient of community; and when we join together and bring ourselves together, that is when community is formed. A community is a gathering of strangers who give up their isolation when community is formed. Then place a word or symbol on the stone or leave it blank and place you stone in the center and we will let it simmer.

By Ward Mailliard