In an era dominated by fiercely complex problems of global dimension,
the ability to see the world more clearly is essential
to the survival and well-being of the human family.
-Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity (NY: Harper, 2010, p. 85)
Do you disagree that we are living in an unprecedented moment? That this is not a time of “great transformation”? The evidence for those claims is presented on the Time of “great transformation”? webpage accompanying this page.
If our present global moment is unprecedented, both evolutionarily and historically, then one of its characteristics is that as a whole it is incomparable to any other time. Like a great wave breaking over our heads the first time we’re in the ocean. This is both novel and also quite frightening: it is to be in truly unknown territory with no map or guidebook or prior experience to gain our bearings. That said, when particular aspects of our present moment are selected, and attended to equally selectively – for example, that we are in a mass extinction event; or, that there is a population explosion; or, that there is enormous economic disparity between the rich and the poor – there is precedent for each of those aspects and therefore some way to understand them (there have been mass extinction events in the evolutionary past; particular civilizations have undergone population explosions in the historical past; there are numerous historical examples of enormous economic disparity between rich and poor within civilizations).
So, we need to learn to think in two quite different ways, at two different levels, simultaneously:
First, at the level of the whole moment, to think about the present as unprecedented and incomparable, and thus novel, unknown, and frightening, into which we need to make our way without guidance.
Second, at the level of a selected aspect, to think about the present as having precedents that are known, understood, and familiar, that we can look to and learn from that can help guide us.
Another characteristic of our unprecedented moment: things are volatile, uncertain, changing. About the only generalization that you can make that holds?, is that you can’t make any generalizations that hold. In a sense, all bets are off. Or, by the same token but inverted, all bets are on – but it’s impossible to calculate the odds!
Therefore, unlike a more stable, predictable moment in history, all kinds of contrary and contradictory possibilities seem equally likely or similarly plausible. Which is very uncertain, and contributes to our anxieties and the way in which the present is frightening. What is certain, of course, just like an ocean wave building up and building up… is that at some point, it will break.
What this characteristic of unpredictability and volatility, and therefore all kinds of contraries seem equally possible, invites is all manner of dark, end-of-the-world imaginings. The wave that breaks, might be a tidal wave of enormous destruction. Science fiction scenarios of viral apocalypse, civilizational collapse into barbarism, rise of fascist authoritarianisms, and so on. Unfortunately, alot of these seem plausible…
Fortunately, contrary scenarios that are more hopeful, visionary, or utopian can also be imagined. And some are plausible! Whether the future takes the form of an apocalyptic nightmare or a hopeful vision does depend crucially on the actions we take collectively and their consequences. Is there a critical mass of possibilities building, for apocalypse? Yes. Or for political nightmares like 1984 or Brave New World? Yes. Is there also a critical mass of possibilities for more humane, nonviolent, or democratic futures building? Yes. Or, a critical mass building for an ecological era in which humans live collaboratively with our nonhuman neighbors, respectfully on the Earth? Yes!
Notice that what is very crucial here, and for which we do have choice and agency: is how we choose “to story” the critical mass of possibilities. Perhaps THE key part to the transformation that needs to happen, is in how we story – ultimately, “how we worldview”, with “worldview” here being a verb – this moment and how it relates to past and future, how it relates to ourselves and to our history, and how it relates human being to spirit, to nonhuman being, to the Earth.
So this website is intended for use in helping bring about a critical mass of possibilities towards an ecological vision of a potential future. I have put together here various elements of who I am and what I do because this is the background from which my particular contemplative ecological perspective emerges (“Background / About me”); also a number of disparate sources that present contemplative spirituality, ecological awareness, and a way of combining these into contemplative ecology (“What is contemplative ecology?”); and finally how all of the above coalesce into an organizational coherence (“Institute for Contemplative Ecology”).
Putting all of these elements together – and they, in turn, are linked far beyond this website throughout the Internet, and linked to the researches and hopes and visions of others, locally and across the globe – becomes a coherent perspective to imagine an ecological future, and to guide our action in the present such that we can transform our world into a hopeful one that survives the crises and volatility of our current unprecedented moment.
It is guaranteed that the wave will break. But it might be that the wave that breaks… will be one on which we can surf out, safely. If we prepare ourselves to catch that breaking wave at the right moment.