Calling on Human ImaginationClick for this Resource!
The year 2023 will be remembered as the summer that the reality of climate disruption really sank in for people living otherwise cushioned lives in the northern hemisphere. We have been bombarded by wildfire smoke and deadly heat, deluges and flash floods…all taking place against a backdrop of grim recognition that this is only the beginning of the climate chaos caused by our fossil fuel joyride over the past century.
I look at my 2-year-old granddaughter, and all the children starting their lives now, and feel a terrible sense of guilt, pity and fear. What kind of world is she going to grow up in? What simple pleasures of free, unconcerned play in the natural world will she be unable to experience?
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And looking further out into the world, at the thousands of species that human heedlessness has sent into extinction, at the suffering of so many billions of animals, birds, insects, fish and all the other more-than-human denizens of planet—it just turns me to a quivering mass of shame and horror.
These sensations are not new to me. I remember waking up to the Sixth Great Extinction and the climate crisis back in 2012, when I started my first blog, Transition Times, as a way of writing through the swirling emotions and finding people who were working on solutions. Back then, Al Gore, John Kerry and Bill McKibben barely registered on the radars of the captains of industry and power, even though they themselves had come from the inside.
Things are different now. There is some bleak satisfaction to be had in the fact that at last the mainstream media has woken up to the manifold environmental disasters sweeping over this planet. At last climate news is front page news, and dots are being connected between government policy, corporate boardroom decisions and the plight of ordinary members of the Earth community.
Individual decisions do have some impact, but it’s what happens on the big playing fields of industry and government that has the potential to shift this Titanic of a planet away from the looming (rapidly melting) iceberg. To the extent that we have influence as consumers, shareholders and voters, we should certainly use it.
Each of us has a responsibility to future generations to do what we can, where we are, with what we have.
I take up that challenge every day as a writer, teacher, and human being.
As a writer and teacher, I strive to strike a balance between being clear-eyed and honest about what is happening to our planet, and how we are all likely to be affected, while also constantly reminding people that we have choices in how we respond to our circumstances.
When I write and lead others in the practice of purposeful memoir, we look backward over our individual and collective lives in order to understand better how we got here, to this difficult present moment. And we don’t stop there—the next step is to start dreaming up the positive future scenarios that we would like to live into, knowing that dreams and visions have real power to manifest in reality.
In my “writing to right the world,” I focus on the alchemical potential of the human imagination to take the seed of an idea and grow it into existence. Knowing that our collective imaginations have been saturated with dystopian fictions for far too long, I concentrate on the intentional practice of reading and writing protopian or thrutopian speculative fiction, opening up pathways to the positive futures that could be. What we can imagine, we can create—just look around the world now and you will see how true this is.
A recent series by Bill Plotkin offered the trope of the cathedral as a model for how we who are alive today, for the start of the Anthropocene, should think of our work. It’s a huge, multigenerational project that we won’t live to see completed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it our all.
Indeed, hasn’t it always been this way? Each generation has its brief time to make our mark on the planet. We are still appreciating the remarkable achievements of the ancients at places like Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Yin Xu, the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island and so many other places that display the legacies of people who “strutted and fretted their time upon the stage, and then were known no more.”
Unlike Shakespeare, I don’t think of life as “a tale told by an idiot.”
I believe that there is meaning and purpose in the human sojourn on Earth, and that we have the potential, even now, to make a truly great, harmonious civilization here.
So much depends on how we raise the current generations of young people. What skills and tools will they need—both social and technical—to not only withstand the environmental crisis, but adapt and thrive in the brave new world they are inheriting?
As a longtime educator in literature, writing and media arts, my wheelhouse is imagination and communication.
And perhaps it should not be a surprise that these areas are very much in crisis now. We live in a time of monocultures of the mind, when vast swaths of the collective consciousness are dominated by groupspeak, disinformation and conspiracy paranoia.
Our addiction to smartphones and ready-made media is weakening our ability to imagine and think for ourselves, to tap into our unconscious, spiritual sources of inspiration.
The advent of AI threatens to make human creativity vestigial, and yet it is precisely NOW when our free-thinking, independent imaginations, tuned into more-than-human guidance, are so essential.
Parents and teachers have a special role and responsibility in raising kids who can think creatively for themselves, be discerning when it comes to the information put in front of them, communicate their passions, and stay emotionally resilient in the face of seriously bad news.
Bill Plotkin asks what to me is a key question: “What are the best ways to psychospiritually support the children and teens coming of age in these times of collapse and diminishment? I’m sure it can be done and done well,” he says, “but we need to be deeply thoughtful, imaginative, and empathic as we create a variety of ways to do this.”
Plotkin, along with his mentor Thomas Berry, is right that it’s essential to share with young people a longer view of human civilization and life on this planet.
There have been other times when the planet was hot, when there was no ice at the poles and palm trees grew in what are now temperate zones. Life adapted, and continued. There have been other times when the surface of the planet was toxic to what are now the dominant life forms, oxygen breathers. Life adapted, and continued.
Peering deeper into cosmic time, we see how stars are born and die in constant pulses of energy that also take place on the micro level, in the constant regeneration of the cells of every living being on Earth.
And looking even deeper, cutting-edge physicists now agree with the ancient mystics that all physical reality is based on nonphysical energy that knows no boundaries of space or time.
What would it mean to see our precious time on the stage of life as an opportunity to contribute to the cathedral of knowledge and good work, fully cognizant of the ephemerality of physical existence and tuned in to the vast nonphysical, spiritual matrix that underpins our cosmos?
This is not a form of spiritual bypass. Plotkin, like Joanna Macy and many others, is well aware of the need to acknowledge our grief at the passing of beloved members of our Earth community. We humans need to acknowledge our complicity and responsibility as the cause of so much unnecessary suffering.
We who are alive and aware today need to do everything in our power to save what can be saved, and create a new, harmonious life-enhancing culture going forward.
Many are now talking about this as a double role: hospicing the old destructive culture while at the same time serving as birth doulas for the new.
For both roles, what is needed is a strong, sure connection between heart and mind: a path leading out of our tender, sensitive heart guidance to the airy, often fiery realms of imagination.
Too often, what passes for education engages neither the heart, nor the imagination, and is not honest about the challenges that face us, much less the broader context of this moment in planetary history.
What is needed is not education for sustainability—we do not want to sustain what has been so destructive. We even need to move beyond the more forward-looking term regeneration.
What is being called for now is imaginative innovation; a form of educational guidance that cultivates and gives free rein to young people’s creative powers and helps them remember how to connect with the inner spiritual guidance that animates the dreaming core of every human being.
Too tall an order? Take one little piece of it then, whatever you can do where you are, with what you have. Add your stone to the great cathedral of the future of life on planet Earth.
- Used by people who call the work: Story of the Universe, The New Story
- Applies a deep time evolutionary perspective to: Current Issues, Ecology/Sustainability, Education, Government, Religion/Spirituality, Science
- Learning Stages: Adult Education, Higher Education, Lifelong, Middle 6 - 8, Secondary 9 - 12
- Type: Blog
- Keywords: Anthropocene, Deep Time, Creativity, Imagination, Education
- Link to Resource: Click here
- Posted By: Jennifer Browdy
- Date Added: July 19, 2023