Ken Homer (World Café)
I guess my first thought is that I am not really sure what Now Activism means. I don’t know that I have ever heard a satisfactory definition... So, for the purposes of creating an entry point into this conversation where now activism can be the background against which my thoughts unfold, I would like to hold it as the field of thoughts, ideas, insights, conversations and actions of those people who are working towards making the world a safe, healthy and habitable place for all living beings now and in the future.
I suspect that one reason you asked me to put some thoughts down on this topic was to explore more deeply the implications of a question I posed a few months ago when you and I were in a World Café conversation, the theme of which was: How do we create a better future for our children?
I have spent the past few years engaged with a small group of friends around an inquiry into how we bring forth our worlds through language. One aspect of that inquiry is the question of: By what skill in language do we construct the social platforms of awareness that will allow us to be mindful collectively of what we tend to be blind to individually? And likewise, how do we construct the individual platforms in awareness that allow us to be mindful individually of what we are blind to collectively? And then, how do we communicate effectively about these murky domains?
As I listened to the majority of the questions being generated in that Café, it struck me that most of them were being framed from inside a context of knowledge, and as such they encouraged the type of rational-linear thinking that springs from the ground of knowledge, i.e., how do we apply what we know now in the service of a better future? As a result there were a lot of questions that dealt with how to do specific things like teaching children how to think in business contexts, balanced with teaching more about ecoliteracy and the like. Although the questions almost all began with the word ‘we’, they struck me as self-centered, in that the languaging of the ‘we’ who were in the room was not connected to, or reflective of, our relationship with the ‘they’ who will be following after us in time.
So, as I listened to the questions being put forth as possible fruitful areas of inquiry that might lead to a world where our descendants would sing our praises instead of lamenting our stupidity, I was aware of a four-fold tension bounding the domains between individual and collective, as well as between now and future. And it was the sort of tension that did not lend itself to resolution by way of rational linear thinking... Something else was trying to emerge in my thinking, something non-rational yet not nonsensical... Suddenly I was seized by a powerful impulse or insight that took hold of me in the form of a burning question. The next thing out of my mouth was: How can we learn from the children yet to be born?
In hindsight I have come to realize that I did not ‘think’ this question. It was not arrived at from a process of directing my attention toward generating questions related to applying my current knowledge to achieve an abstract future state. Instead this question arose out of my inner process of imagining what it would be like to be alive 50, 100, 1000, 10,000, 1,000,000 or more years from now.
I did my best to stand outside of time and then asked myself: What is my responsibility to those who have come before me and to those will follow after me? What is the responsibility of those of us alive now to each other and to our ancestors and our descendants? I found myself searching for the eternal truths of what will be true for our descendants that was true for our ancestors and that is true for our relations—those of us alive now? How might remembering those truths lead us to activating some sort of “immune response” in the larger body of humanity that can awaken the collective intelligence and cooperation needed to secure a safe, healthy, fulfilling and compelling common future?
Turning back from the imaginal realm of eternity in my mind, I tuned my ears to the questions being posed to the room. I mostly heard the voices of those present now. I was not hearing the voices of past or future generations—voices that I believe are vital to the continued unfolding of human existence on Earth. I wanted to find a way to bring the voices of those yet to be born into the room, so that they could begin to influence our thinking and provide some direction and guidance to our common inquiry. And my question about learning from the yet to be born was my best attempt, in that moment, to tune our ears in that direction.
While operating out of a context of rationality and working with our immense collective body of knowledge is very much in vogue these days—having proved itself to be very useful in certain domains—I believe there are inherent, and mostly unconscious, limitations to such a narrow frame of reference when thinking about future creation.
When it comes to collaborating with other people around creating a positive future, we greatly diminish our chances of success if we rely primarily on approaches that are problem-solution oriented. Approaches that are circumscribed by, and emphasize, the kind of thinking that seeks to apply the body of our collective knowledge to the unknown can be useful and necessary in the larger context of collective future creation, but alone, they are woefully insufficient to the task, and probably not the most fruitful place from which to begin. Although, given the dominant culture’s focus on approaching the future as a problem to be solved by ingenuity rather than a sacred mystery to be lived into, it is naturally the “logical” place to begin and so it is quite understandable why so much attention gets focused there...
This is my best interpretation of the famous levels of thinking issue that Einstein pointed to when he said problems can not be solved by thinking about them from inside the same perspectival constellations in which they arise. A longer view with a larger perspective is needed. Our centuries long emphasis on the cognitive, the rational, the linear, and logical left-brain dominated perspectives of thinking has created the mess we are in, and while it can’t be abandoned—that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water—we need to look elsewhere for our salvation.
Barring Divine intervention, it will be up to those of us alive now to collectively and successfully bring forth a world of life nourishing futures in which those yet to be born can flourish and thrive as we have been gifted to do. To collectively create such a world, we’ll need access to more intelligence than the rational linear body of knowledge can muster forth. We’ll also need access to, and the ability to integrate, the type of thinking, ways of knowing and intelligence that arises from our connection with three other bodies, each well known to the ancients but mostly forgotten by the moderns: The body of emotion, the body of imagination and the physical body, which of course is the most tangible and “real” of the four. Each of these bodies represents a specific way of knowing and is an aspect of a larger more integrated intelligence that we might call “life.” But the dominant culture’s current overvaluing of the “objective” has overshadowed and seriously atrophied the ability of most people to access and express the intelligence of all four of these bodies. Each of these four bodies indwells with the others and informs our individual and collective expressions of action in the world, and to a large degree determines how those actions either create or destroy options for the unfolding life in the future. Sustained focus on one of these bodies/ways of knowing to the exclusion of the other three produces a great imbalance that threatens to derail the continued unfolding of the whole.
At this point several questions arise that perhaps might bear fruit in a conversation among now activists around such things as: By what practices do we individually and collectively access the intelligence in each of these bodies? What are the helpful and problematic ways that each of these bodies show up for us as individuals? How do we recognize and reconcile the conflicts that often arise as a result of the different ways of knowing that each of these bodies represents within ourselves? How do we recognize and skillfully work with the collective analogues to these bodies? We know something about how shared mental models shape the body of knowledge at the collective level, but what do we know about working with the equivalent of collective imaginal, physical and emotional bodies? If such bodies exist as fields of potential that are aspected and constellated in groups where people are cultivating collective consciousness/intelligence, how do we learn to work skillfully with these bodies without succumbing to the pathologies of group-think or mob mentality? And, amplifying one of my earlier questions: By what skill in language do we construct the social platforms of agreement that allow us to be aware collectively of what we are blind to individually so that a larger intelligence becomes embodied and expressed in the world?
Obviously these are questions that, as Rilke says, are meant to be lived into rather than answered. Dance, movement, art, music, story, myth, poetry and ritual all beckon to us as entry points and possible paths for living into those inquiries. Any of these seriously undertaken will demand a fuller engagement of the body and a stretching of the mind to include the non-rational which seems to be crucial to the presencing of the imaginal process. Poets, philosophers and shamans have taught that these are doorways into the generative fields of the human psyche to which we have always returned when we have faced times of great change and the need to reinvent ourselves.
I have always loved Thomas Berry’s quote about the profound human need for a new story. We need a story large enough to inspire a deep remembering and prophetic re-imagining of what it means to be human. A story that can help us make sense out of our experience of being a unique individual while still being meaningfully threaded onto the Great Strand of Life that connects all Humanity across time and cultures. A story to call forth the best of what our ancestors bequeathed to us in service to creating a world that will ensure the health and safety of our descendants and the world in which they live for millions of years to come.
Parts of that story are evident today—carried by individuals steeped in both indigenous and modern traditions—and it is emerging in some unlikely groupings around the world. But until it emerges more fully as a shaping power in humanity’s collective awareness, it seems that we are fated to living in a bardo state—a place where things are coming into and out of existence very quickly. The successful navigation of such states requires the knowledge of where to place our collective attention in order to take actions that lead to the continued unfolding of life. Our world is dying because our old stories are insufficient to keep it alive... It seems the Opus or the Great Work of our time, is to learn how to work together to personally connect with and bring forth The Great Story that can make the world anew. And it would seem to me that this is the heart of the now activism. How do we embody this new story and bring it alive in our lives, so that it in turn will bring the world back to life?
I realize I have covered a lot of territory here. These thoughts are all in flux as part of my current grappling process, so I have no final resolution or answer to offer. It is possible that given my passion for the subject matter, I may have projected a certainty that I do not actually embody. Let me be the first to admit that I do not have it all figured out, I struggle with my life the same as most folks I know. There are days when I find myself filled with unreasonable hope and a surety that we will create of a safe and healthy world, and there are days when I am on the edge of despair, fighting with visions of civilization’s collapse. It is the latter that urges me to apologize if I have come across as preachy, for I know that when fear shows up I can lose the thread of reason. I am very grateful to you for urging me to put my thoughts down. It has been challenging to do so, but at the same time it has allowed me to clarify my thinking in many ways, so thank you for the invitation to share my thinking with you. I can only hope that what I have shared sparks some soul-level grappling on your part.
I’d like to close these musings with a poem. The wonderful German poet Rilke seems to have written exactly about the need to connect with imagination when faced with an abyss that can only be bridged by miracle. In it he suggests that god learns through the experience of the human heart, and I find that to be a wonderfully evocative reminder that God-the Goddess-the Gods are evolving along with us.
Just as the winged energy of delight
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
Just as the winged energy of delight
Carried you over many chasms early on
Now raise high the daringly imagined arch
Holding up the astounding bridges.
Miracle does not lie only in the
Amazing living through and defeat of danger
Miracle becomes miracle
In the clear light of achievement
That is earned in the world.
Working with things is not hubris
When building associations beyond words
For denser and denser the pattern becomes
And being carried along is no longer enough.
So take your well disciplined strengths
And stretch them between two opposing poles
Because inside the human heart is where god learns.