I have just been granted a glimpse of the future. This glimpse was not just a further clarification of the dystopian vision that informs the writing of the likes of Jim Kunstler, Matt Savinar and, until recently, my own scribbling. Rather, it was one of those transformative moments in which one's entire world-view shifts on its axis and locks into a new orientation.
I'll admit that this tectonic shift didn't come as a complete surprise to me. If you have been following my writing over the last couple of years you may be aware that my thinking has undergone a significant change. I have moved from a position that was utterly apocalyptic ("Quick, wake up and kiss your children goodbye!") to one that saw some small modicum of hope in the areas of grass-roots community action and personal spiritual development. I knew there was something going on that linked those two domains to create a significant force, but until Sunday, October 26, 2008 I had no clear understanding of what was happening or what it meant.
That Sunday I drove six hours each way to attend a three hour symposium presented by a group that was completely new to me. They are called Awakening the Dreamer, and the symposium is entitled "Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream". I came back a changed man, and I can't recommend this organization highly enough.
This is the first group I've found that effectively links a full understanding of the converging crisis of civilization with the massive grass-roots social movement described by Paul Hawken in "Blessed Unrest" and also to the blossoming personal consciousness movement. What comes out of this synthesis is a coherent picture of where we are, how we got here, where we are going and what role we play in this change as individuals.
When I emailed an environmental activist friend about this group, he responded that it sounded interesting, but that another friend of his preferred a different organization, Transition United States. He asked me what I thought of it. This article identifies what I feel is the fundamental difference between groups like Transition US (and the million or more similar activist groups world-wide), and the perceptions of Awakening The Dreamer.
Let me start out by emphasizing that the positive changes I now see coming would be frankly impossible without the existence of all those grass-roots activist groups. On the other hand, in order to truly understand their significance requires the higher level perspective provided by Awakening the Dreamer.
Initiatives like Transition United States amount to a progressively more sophisticated re-positioning of deck chairs on the Titanic of civilization. The people driving these efforts are like very smart generals – they are extremely good at coming up with innovative new strategies and tactics for fighting the last war. They hope to make the current civilization sustainable. This is simply not possible, and any effort that is focused solely on that objective is doomed to failure. We are already past the tipping points in the critical underpinnings of our culture. The problems in the ecological, energy and economic domains I've been harping on for the last couple of years are accelerating, and even rear-guard adaptation initiatives are now revealed as forlorn hopes.
I'm now convinced that the only route that will salvage the human potential is transformation. I'm not talking about "transforming our economic system" or "achieving sustainability" here. I'm talking about a full-blown step-off-the-edge plunge into an unknown and unknowable future. I'm talking about caterpillar-to-butterfly stuff.
What takes this hope out of the realm of new-age woo-woo for me is the existence of the social movement that Paul Hawken has described in "Blessed Unrest". Hawken has characterized these eco-spiritual-social justice groups as "Gaia's antibodies", a description that I have promoted for a while now. However, after what I saw in the "Awakening the Dreamer" symposium, I think they are in fact much more than that. I think a more appropriate metaphor is that these groups are our imaginal disks – those groups of new cells that appear spontaneously and rather mysteriously in a caterpillar's body to catalyze its metamorphosis into a butterfly.
While Transition US is in fact such an "imaginal" group, their comprehension of their own true nature seems too narrow. They see themselves as just a bigger, smarter, better organized version of the myriad groups that are already working on local issues everywhere. Of course these groups are utterly essential, but not for the reasons people think. Their value in terms of the direct effects of their work (their "antibody" function) is vastly outweighed by their value as carriers of the new paradigm, catalysts of the new thought patterns and focal points that work to spread these philosophical changes into their communities – their "imaginal" function. "Awakening the Dreamer" is one group that fully comprehends this aspect of the unfolding changes. The reason they include the spiritual dimension in their mission statement is the same reason that many of us have started seeing the shift in spiritual terms. The change that's coming is so profound that the only way to understand and communicate it is with spiritual language.
Here's why I think this perspective is realistic, and not just another pipe dream of a transhuman singularity. The symposium screened two pieces of video by Paul Hawken. One was from 2005 or so, in which he was introducing the movement to an American audience. In that presentation he said there were about 250,000 of these groups world-wide. In an interview taped earlier this year he said there were now between one and two million of them. This means that a massive amount of value-forming is happening beyond the reach of our culture's guardian institutions. The growth rate is explosive, and given that these groups are nurturing the new world-view, that means the penetration of the transformative value system is reaching a level where it is actually permeating our culture.
Of course this will not prevent the sh*t from hitting the fan during the coming decades as our ecology unravels, the energy situation becomes more and more parlous, and the economy of growth self-destructs under its own weight. At this point nothing can prevent that. What this new perspective gives us is a realistic hope of humanity coming out the other side with a new culture that actually works, and a powerful reason to keep going in the face of mounting chaos.
That is why I have decided to put my shoulder to this particular wheel and get involved with the "Awaken The Dreamer" project.