Imagine 2018: Dreaming a Better Future

Although there have been countless other dark periods in human history, the particular darkness of our moment is unique in its alignment of the political and planetary.

Politically, human societies around the world are under pressure—religious, economic, social—and are more easily manipulated by dark forces than ever before, thanks to our networked global Hive Mind.

On a planetary level, all life forms, including humans, are under unprecedented pressure due to the human destruction of healthy ecosystems by over-population, climate change, chemical assault and the deadly practices of mining, fracking, logging, agriculture, fishing, etc.

Even while on a personal level many of us here in the heart of Empire are still relatively comfortable, we feel these political and planetary pressures deeply. Each day’s bad news can feel like an assault, and after a year like 2017, I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty bruised and aching.

These dark solstice days, as the earth begins to swing back towards the sun, are a good time to go deep and try to fortify ourselves, intellectually and spiritually, for the new year ahead. Given a personal awareness of the frighteningly out-of-control political and planetary dimensions of our time, how can we keep ourselves centered and steady, awake and aware yet not depressed, despairing or panicked?

In terms of negotiating the Hive Mind, I try to share as much good news as I can find, and bad news only sparingly. I’ve noticed that whatever we share on social media comes back to us amplified, so if I share bad news—the Arctic is melting! the polar bears are going extinct!—the negative emotions of fear, anger and grief that come back to me simply get me more upset, without offering any constructive approach to solving the original problem.

If I share good news, even if it only offers a ray of hope, that ray is brightened by all the “likes” that others add, and our collective mood may be lightened just a little bit.

And brightness this is what the world needs from us now. Those of us who are aware and awake to the slow-motion disaster we’re living through are being called to be the beacons and the anchors for others—and not just for humans, but for all the beautiful life on earth that is under constant assault these days.

It won’t help the polar bears on their melting ice floes or the hordes of animals fleeing the wildfires to have us humans staring at screens expressing our outrage with finger taps. It may make us feel a little better in the moment to virtually scream our anguish, but it’s a howl in the wind that will do no one any good.

Instead of getting lost in the dystopian present, with which the media keeps battering our psyches day after day, the trick to staying centered and spirited in these dark times is to keep burnishing our dreams of a better future.

This requires resisting the prevailing tendency today for dreaming to be dismissed as an unproductive waste of time; for visionaries to be mocked as escapist fantasizers.

I fear that what may doom us in the end is the loss of our capacity for creative daydreaming.

We are all so accustomed to constant media stimulation that it takes real effort to simply quiet our minds and become open to whatever creative thoughts may come. I’m not talking about meditation, which aims to “think nothing.” I’m talking about creative imagination, flashes of insight, lucid dreaming, the kind of thinking that has propelled human ingenuity all through the ages.

We can’t allow our imaginations to be dominated by the “masters of the universe” who control our media. This is a particular challenge with children and young people, the smartphone generations who have grown up as consumers of other people’s fantasies and representations, rather than practicing our human birthright of creative imagination.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” sang John Lennon.

We who are aware of what’s happening around us have to allow ourselves the creative pleasure of dreaming our own utopian dreams, and sharing these visions of a better future with others, so that together we add detail and strength to the positive dream of what could be.

Instead of reacting negatively to the day’s news, amplifying the outrage and discord, we can share our proactive dreams of what could and should be.

My mantra word for 2018 is: Imagine.

Imagine what could be if your dream of how you want to live, personally, were extended into a collective dream of well-being for all life on Earth, and for the planet herself?

Imagine if the “world could be as one”—and imagine yourself doing one small thing each day to extend your dream of personal well-being out further to touch others in the world. Even small acts like filling a bird feeder, donating to a food pantry or smiling at a neighbor will ripple goodness out into a world starving for kindness.

The media hurls countless “micro-aggressions” at us every day. In your own personal sphere, imagine 2018 as a year of micro-kindnesses, and try to consciously make kindness, warmth and goodness a habit.

The more of us practice this kind of radical kindness, the more it will come back to warm and encourage us, in a positive feedback loop that really can change the world.

Imagine.

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Solstice dreams–an endangered resource!

So we’ve turned the corner on Thanksgiving, and now we’re going full-throttle into “the holiday season.”

Christmas-lights-on-Fiedler-HouseHere in the Northeast, that means the dwindling hours of daylight are aggressively bolstered with burgeoning strings of Christmas lights, endless shopping trips to the mall and so many holiday parties that they all begin to blur into one long month of compulsive merrymaking, carefully manufactured to cancel out the intrinsic darkness of the shortest days of the year.

I suggest that we consider actually focusing on that quiet solstice darkness, instead of working so hard to hold it at bay with our artificial lights and nonstop motion.

It worries me to see the way kids today, including my own two sons, have a hard time relaxing enough to simply space out and enjoy the quiet of a long winter evening.

They hardly even notice the festive lights that are twinkling all around us, much less the cold, distant glitter of the stars, because their eyes are so consistently trained on the soul-less white light of their smart phone screens.

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My younger son, age 15, never leaves home without his i-phone gripped in his hand.  When we drive together I have to prompt him to look up and take in the lovely sunset, or the crescent moon hanging low on the horizon.

If I weren’t there to nag him about looking up and taking a break from his phone, it’s possible to imagine that he might literally be glued to it all day, playing shoot-em-up games or sports games, watching mainstream TV shows and movies, or texting with his friends.

When he does take a break, he often bounces around restlessly, not sure how to amuse himself.

Just sitting and staring into space—allowing oneself the luxury of quiet unfocused space-out time—doesn’t even occur to him, so accustomed is he to constantly consuming the pre-packaged ideas of others.

Fuego del HogarI know for myself that my most creative ideas come when my brain is most relaxed and open…when I am walking in the woods, or staring aimlessly into a fire, or curled up in bed with my purring cat on my chest.

If I didn’t allow myself those unfocused moments—if I was incessantly plugged into the collective internet brain that was constantly feeding me pre-packaged stimulation—I might never have an original thought.

How sad would that be!  And multiplied out across millions of others like me, how impoverishing for humanity!  Do we really want to turn into a kind of collective species like ants, bees or termites, where the creativity of the individual is completely irrelevant?

This solstice season, I suggest you detach yourself from the busy-ness and the artificial lights for a bit, take your loved ones by the hand and see if you can all slow down for a good long while.  A whole weekend would be good, or at least a long winter’s night.

IMG_3811Find a fire to stare at.  Bundle up well and find a dark hillside from which to watch the constellations wheeling overhead.  Banish those smart phones and tablets, at least for a night, and try making some music together.  Try telling some stories, or reading a good book out loud.

Everything great that human beings have achieved has come out of the freedom of our creative dreams.  We can’t afford to let that precious dreamtime be taken away from us by our own addiction to the constant stimulation of virtual reality.

Give your overworked, over-stimulated computer brain a break this solstice and enjoy the season of darkness.  Go to bed early!  Dream!

Morning pages for humanity…and the Earth

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron

This week, in preparation for Julia Cameron’s presentation at the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about creativity.

Cameron’s great insight, back in the late 1980s when she was doing the teaching that led to her blockbuster creativity self-help guide The Artist’s Way, was that human beings are all naturally creative.  We just tend to get “blocked” by our upbringing, and need to work on ourselves in a systematic way to unlearn bad habits of self-doubt and defeatism, so that our creative juices can flow freely out into the world.

One question I wish I’d asked Julia at her lecture last night at Kripalu is this: I wonder whether women have any particular creative challenges, different from those faced by men?

The Artist’s Way does not seem to draw any distinction. Cameron uses the gender-neutral term “creatives” and her examples are drawn from the experiences of both men and women.

And yet it seems to me that women are particularly susceptible to the kind of distraction, hyperactive multi-tasking and withering self-doubt that Cameron says are anathema to artists.

One woman in the audience at Cameron’s lecture described herself as “frantic,” or maybe she said “panicked,” facing such a huge to-do list of projects she’d like to accomplish that she was paralyzed by the enormity of it all.

Julia’s response was characteristically calm and pragmatic: slow down, write your morning pages faithfully, ask for guidance from your higher self, and be patient—it will come.

This is certainly good advice for anyone who wants to accomplish creative goals, but it seems especially relevant for me, and all the busy women like me who so often do not take the time out for ourselves, to recharge our own creative batteries.

Cameron’s “morning pages” are deliberately unfocused.  They are not meant to be a to-do list, or an outline for a project, or a mission statement.  They are simply meant to provide a regular, rhythmic opening for the creative spirit, which Cameron clearly conceptualizes as coming from a higher source.

“I learned to turn my creativity over to the only god I could believe in, the god of creativity,” she says in The Artist’s Way, “the life force Dylan Thomas called “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

By allowing ourselves the time and space to be open to the creative life force that gave birth to us, we are allowing ourselves to become channels through which those creative juices can flow out into the world, manifesting all in kinds of ways, depending on our particular gifts.

As Cameron said last night, this can sound a bit “woo-woo.”

But the life force is in a way the final frontier for human understanding, the one mystery we still have not been able to penetrate via science.

We argue about when life begins—at conception?  in utero?  at birth?—and we recognize that there seems to be much more to the universe than we can measure with our physical senses or scientific instruments.

We know in an intuitive way that when we are “in the flow,” allowing ourselves to be creative channels, things can start happening that seem entirely beyond our control, and not at all coincidental.

Julia Cameron calls this synchronicity: “we change, and the universe furthers and expands that change….It is my experience both as an artist and as a teacher that when we move out on faith into the act of creation,” she says, “the universe is able to advance.”

The thing is that not all creations are equal.

Human creativity is not always a good thing.

It’s fair to say that over the past 500 years, since the Catholic Inquisition began its war on the older, nature-based religions and the European powers began their colonial assault on the rest of the world, the dominant paradigm of human creativity on the planet has been materialistic, channeled by our rulers into paths shaped by greed and lust.

Domination and aggression have driven the leading edges of human invention: we have proven very adept at creating guns, machinery and synthetic chemicals, haven’t we?

We have also created a might-makes-right philosophy that has literally bulldozed away any impediments to the harnessing of the natural resources of our planet, including the vast majority of humankind, in the service of short-term gain for the elite.

But at the same time, human creativity has always flowered anew, with each new generation having the potential to choose a different way of channeling that divine universal flow.

We stand at a juncture in history when it seems that the planet is poised to hit the evolutionary reset button, sweeping human beings away to make room for the emergence of new physical vessels for its irrepressible life force.

I believe there is still time for human beings to come to our collective senses and begin to shape our creative output into inventions and ethical paradigms that support and enhance life, rather than torture and destroy it.

I worry about the role the media plays today in limiting and predefining children’s creative imagination.  Little children who used to spend hours playing pretend games, making up elaborate stories complete with visualizations and acting, now spend those same hours playing violent video games or passively watching commercial television, with its monotonous message that consumption equals happiness.

But I take heart from the teenagers I teach, who continually show themselves able to see through the mesmerizing power of the media and think creatively for themselves.

We human beings all need to be doing our “morning pages” in these crucial final years of the modern era, seeking to tap into the “pure positive energy of the universe” and open ourselves to the possibility of different, more harmonious and balanced creative forms.

Because I believe that women have an important role to play in this shift, I am totally dedicated to the work I’m undertaking in this month’s Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, opening up lots of opportunities for women to share their creative visions.

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

Women sharing their creative visions at the Deb Koffman open mic in Housatonic, MA

This is not just about women writers patting each other on the back and trying to advance our individual careers.

This is about women forming what Julia Cameron unabashedly calls “Sacred Circles” to propel humanity beyond the destructive domination-and-extraction model of the human relationship to our Mother Earth.

Next year’s Festival will have a special focus on women, creativity and environmental sustainability, to help us train our focus on the most urgent matter at hand: the destruction and contamination of the planet, with the resulting drastic climate change shifts that are coming in this century no matter what we do now.

Women and men worldwide need to rise to this challenge with every ounce of our creative energies.  On this International Women’s Day, 2013, I call on women, especially, to make a commitment to using our creative power for the good of the planet and all her denizens.

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