5, 10, 20, 50 years from now
Richard Louv talks about overcoming the dystopian trance and adrienne maree brown talks about the vital importance of visionary fiction. In an effort to dust the cobwebs off my own capacity for creative thinking, I settled in one evening with the question: what kind of life would I be excited to live 5, 10, 20, 50 years from now? I had received the advice to start small. Instead of trying to imagine the whole world in vivid detail, try my life or a small corner of my life. The other reason I wanted to start small was because while I have every reason to love life fully, I so rarely do. More often than not, I experience my days and weeks as a kind of burden. Clearly, there was room for visionary fiction right here.
I have long put off this kind of exercise. In my habitual way of thinking, I can’t even imagine my house still standing five years from now. And a twenty to fifty year timeline evokes nothing but fear and doubt that myself along with just about all life on Earth will still be here in any recognizable form. So I knew I’d have to listen a little deeper than all that. What might my life look like five years from now?
The image of an oak-ish tree came to mind immediately. A broad, gnarled tree, growing stronger with each year it survives the dry summers and wet winters. In this image, that development translated into my relationships growing richer over the next five years, along with my joy and experiences of deep connection growing richer too. Qualities I already offer of holding peace will grow stronger. My ability to articulate appreciation will grow stronger. That seemed like a great vision for fives years out.
What about ten years from now? Again, immediately an image came to mind. This time of the tree bearing fruit. Perhaps the tree was like an olive or persimmon tree that grows for decades before fruiting. This image made me so happy. It felt so right. To be clear, the fruit and ripening was not an accomplishment reached nor significant impact finally made; a stamp on the world that I could call my contribution. It was more the result of a process that had started long ago and whose time had simply, naturally come to this.
The question of twenty years brought more resistance. Twenty years is when I’ve been told life supporting systems will pass irreversible tipping points, spinning out far further than today into extremes and instability. This is the timeline I hear most often of when apocalyptic visions are supposed to take a dramatic turn for the worst. I asked my imagination if it can try a little harder. Can I see anything out beyond those fears? The image that came to mind was the branches and canopies of other trees coming into view. A microclimate starting to form from the relationship between individual trees. In my imagination, this meant really seeing the effects of other people transforming their lives too in such ways that we were all clearly coming together as one forest. I saw the installations of Living Buildings and restoration of wildlife habitats in urban spaces starting to show signs of age and maturity.
Can I go fifty years out? At first, I felt loss. Surely by this time in my life there will have been great loss, but I also felt repair. Next came the image of offering my strength, of having lived so long, to others younger than me. I saw wrinkles in the trunk bark of this tree; I felt wrinkles around my eyes and a soft smile. As I imagined this, my 34 year old self was smiling too. I imagined what it might feel like to be 84/85. I was sitting down and could feel a quiet joy inside that didn’t fade but was always with me.
When I let these images go, and reflected a bit on the exercise, I noticed several things that surprised me. First, that the narrative took the shape of an internal landscape. Of a life walked with a commitment, in this case, to be guided by a desire to love life. The lack of external details came as a bit of a relief. I still assume the future is extremely uncertain. But that it can be navigated through as a kind of trail-less hike in the fog, where we might only see clearly the landscape around which we have to choose our next step. Another surprise was how closely it mapped to three sources of inspiration for me. The model of life stages mapped to the seasons offered by 8 Shields. The observation offered to me by a mentor: it sounds like you want to become a rainforest. Clearly, she is spot on. And the practices of being guided in all things by a clearly articulated commitment, as offered by the Strozzi Institute.
Can I walk back now from the 50, 20, 10, 5 year vision to one year, one month, a week, a day, an afternoon, an hour in my everyday life? Are there any blocks or habits that keep me on a different trajectory (thinking back to that fact that I often experience life in any given moment as a burden)? The biggest blocker that came to mind was Business As Usual mind. My habit of orienting my energy and awareness around external accomplishments and overemphasis on narrowly-defined, cognitive activities: thinking, reading, reasoning. Business As Usual comes from Joanna Macy and refers to things we do that perpetuate an unsustainable status quo. I see my habits of prioritizing work over people and external goals over connection as falling into this category. When I focus on work at the exclusion of gratitude, when I fail to give a quality of timelessness to people and my time outside, I go to sleep distant and disconnected.
Spending more time outdoors, working towards nature connection, has brought this way of being into sharp relief. When I stepped outside this morning into a relatively gentle storm, and my senses extended in all directions: towards the smell of Bay Laurels, the rumble and growl of thunder far away, the feeling of wet wind on my cheeks, thick drops of water falling on my head. An experience of being fully alive and so in love with life. Work is also very often a joy for me, but one that comes at a high cost, unless I find a way to integrate this expanded awareness in which gratitude flows freely and comes easily. Integrated with the practical demands of sitting inside most of the time, at my computer, or in the company of others with computers. Perhaps through prayer, a mantra, some kind of practice, strengthening what 8 Shields refers to as the Storyteller’s Mind, I might be able to bring the storm with me back to my desk. In the Storyteller’s Mind, we call up in vivid details the sensory details of what we experienced outside. The state of expanded awareness, of deeply felt aliveness, and often, love of life. That can be carried wherever I go with the powerful partnership of mind and imagination.