While we face the unimaginable pain of ecological and social collapse, we also have the opportunity to reimagine and rebuild. We can acknowledge the crippling paralysis that is triggered by the experience of fire, as well as, paradoxically, the life-changing vision-building we can engage in as we rise from the ashes of grief.
A new era is undeniably upon us. It is stark and blunt and arrived with all the subtlety of tsunami waves crashing overhead.
This era is filled with systemic, global horrors that announce themselves all at once, rolling over one another and filling up all the space of our minds until we are looking at so many fires at once that the idea of water feels like a hazy dream. We are engulfed in flames. And yet, that water is not a hazy dream you conjured from the Shire-inspired depths of our imaginations; water is a foundational element of our planet’s makeup. It is a foundational element of our body’s makeup. Water moves through us as long as we are alive.
Before we get to the water, I need to pause and acknowledge the onslaught of horrors we face. The era of nonstop global climate disaster is upon us. We have a modern global pandemic. We have soul crippling racial injustice we refuse to solve. We have such dramatic economic disparity that an increasingly infinitesimal percentage of the population is hoarding the majority of our resources, leaving an increasing majority helpless and mentally unwell in the face of planet-wide disaster. We have a standstill political system designed to uphold the status quo and burn out the activists. Young people have increasingly fatalistic outlooks on the future and consistently decreasing mental health.
As you well know, we have fire after raging fire, literally and metaphorically.
This post today is about acknowledging the crippling paralysis that can be triggered by the acknowledgement of fire, as well as, paradoxically, the life-changing vision-building we can engage in as we rise from the ashes of grief.
We are grieving the end of an era, one filled with impossible promises and crushing illusions. Among many illusions, we were told that in exchange for endless hours of labor, crippling tuition fees, bankrupting healthcare costs, dwindling communities, devastated natural spaces, and the best years of our life dedicated to endless workweeks, we would get to buy any material item we wanted at a moment’s notice.
In exchange for the death of true leisure time, this promise ingrained in us the belief that we could be more materially comfortable than the wildest dreams of any of our ancestors. Of course, when we looked at this set-up logically, we knew this promise could never be maintained by the finite resources of the earth and the delicate balance of ecosystems we depend on.
As this promise crumbles around us, what kinds of life-changing vision-building will arise from the ashes of this grief? What flavors of truth reveal themselves as the mirror of illusion shatters?
I’ve worked as a high school humanities educator for some years now, and as a traditional activist on and off. At this point, I can identify two main approaches of activism, both of which must work in relationship with the other in order to propel change:
Identifying the problem
Building the vision
As long as I can remember, I’ve been deeply stuck in the identification stage, both as a student and a teacher. I’ve spent years looking at so many issues of injustice and hegemonic belief systems from different angles, perspectives, and theories. However, very little of that time has been spent envisioning what a fire-proof, regenerative life would look like. I’ve dabbled! We’ve dabbled! Not dived.
From my observations, it seems like we have collectively become stuck in the identification approach. Without this approach, the building stage would be unwarranted and without motivation. It takes so much energy to envision and build that we need this “identification” motivation to get anywhere. It is a crucial stage where we find out what we must address in order to address it.
I want to own that as an educator, I’ve spent most of my time identifying “the problem” with my students. I help illuminate the invisible strings of hegemony that puppeteer so many crucial aspects of their lives.
But when we would get to the portion of the class where we envision a better future, I have them do this on their own -- to use their own imaginations and research skills to create ideas for change. I wish I had spent more time with them reading respected theorists or authors who have put forth their own visions of a crazy, creative, new and improved world. I am not as familiar with these works; I don’t see them as often.
But reading others’ visioning practice as a way to build tools for envisionment is crucial! We need models for everything. This is day #1 of teacher school: always model. Forgot to model? Go back and model. “Modelmodelmodelmodel” - every school of education graduate school professor ever.
When we offer examples, it doesn’t mean we are encouraging the student to solve the problem in the exact same way as the model. But they need an example of what visioning looks like in practice in order to build their own process of envisionment.
This need for models exists in me, and probably you. I need examples of what alternative lifestyles look like before I can confidently build and customize my own.
That’s why I’m creating this blog.
Through my journey of observing and experiencing other ways of being, I hope to inspire you with models of what this kind of envisioning practice and embodiment of creative visions looks like. These models hopefully act as a jumping-off point for your own practice of creating change in your life. You have your own challenges and discontents, your own values, your own flavors of creativity. You have your own tools and dreams and ideas of what utopia looks like. As we enter this journey together, I hope you share some of your visions with me too. Relevant side note: community is one of my primary values, and I can’t imagine any of these dreams manifesting without the varied and diverse input of the collective. So feel free to share!
As you wait for the next post where I begin to share some of my models, I invite you to keep your eyes open for people around you who are modeling aspects of visioning and building in their own little ways.
Maybe they’re approaching work with a different idea of what “success” means (less emphasis on status and more emphasis on fulfillment, relationships, and leisure time?). Maybe they’re speaking to their friends in a more heart-forward, vulnerable way than you’re used to. Maybe they’re turning their water intensive lawn into a drought resistant vegetable patch.
Draw some of that infinite energy towards yourself and use it as inspiration for your own process.
I look forward to joining you back here soon.