Imagining the future

 

Here is an idea for a project that may already be in existence:

Anyone from around the world can submit a short story or artwork about a day 30, 50, or 100 years into the future. It will be set in a world they would like to live in. The story can lean in a more realistic (nuanced) or utopian (idealized) direction. And it can focus more on social and technological changes, or a more personal view, or both. This may especially be a good project for school kids or students at any level.

Creating and reading stories about possible desired futures helps us mentally explore what type of future we would like to live in, and may support us in creating that future for ourselves.

When we think about the future, it’s easy to take what’s in existence and project it into the future, and perhaps also to polarize and think in terms of best (utopian) or worst (dystopian) scenarios. That’s natural and unavoidable. What’s more likely is that there will be shifts and changes we couldn’t predict (or very few predicted) and that it won’t be as good as we hope or as bad as we fear.

Some also tend to think in terms of technology rather than social changes, while the two go hand in hand, and social changes often bring about a deeper transformation. (Women’s rights, democracy etc.)

Here is a brief framework if I were to write such a story. I’ll write it as if written from the future, around the turn of the next century (2080-2120), sometimes looking back.

Global and regional

We have a combination of regional and local governance for most issues, and global governance on the big picture issues (long term survival of humanity). Nation states are less important and only a few are left, although many current regions correspond to the smaller nation states of the past.

Regional differences

Some individuals, groups, and regions are strongly devoted to thrivability (sustainability) and the bigger picture, and other groups are less big picture oriented. People tend to move to areas of like-minded people, and this helps us test out ideas on a regional scale and we get to see what works and what works less well.

Sustainability baseline

There is a regional and global sustainability baseline. We have organized ourselves individually and collectively according to ecological realities, and this is ongoing and keeps being refined. There has been a reorganization and realignment in all areas of human life (economy, production, transportation, energy, etc.) and also reflected in health care, education, and even our entertainment and religion. Ecological and big picture awareness is, by necessity, reflected in all areas of human life.

For most of us, this is just to the extent required and they do it just because the systems they live within have changed. For some of us, it’s a much deeper and more all-encompassing alignment.

Structural changes leading the way

Structural changes have led the way. We have structures in place so that what’s good for the social and ecological whole is also what’s the easiest, most convenient, and most desirable in terms of individual behavior. For most people, living in a more sustainable way happens effortlessly and almost invisibly. We just do what’s easiest for us to do, within these new ecologically informed structures.

For instance, since inexpensive energy is available from solar, that’s what most of us use. And since most products available are made to last and be repaired, and are modular so we can update components rather than the whole thing, then that’s what people we buy and use. And since we have various forms of collective and individual forms of transportation that are nonpollution (including in terms of noise), and these are readily available, that’s what we use.

All of this has been put in place through structural changes, and largely through incentives. These incentives make it attractive for companies of all types to do what’s ecologically sound and that in turn makes it easy for regular people to do the same.

Realizing the benefits all around

It’s a given that we mostly seek out, create, and use solutions attractive at all levels. Including for the larger social and ecological whole, for future generations, and for our communities, families, and ourselves. I know that in the early history of sustainability, many people saw a dichotomy between these but that’s long in the past.

More inclusive sense of us

Policies and worldviews reflect a more inclusive sense of us. More of us realize that including all of Earth into our sense of us is good all around. It’s good for us since it gives us a sense of belonging to a wider community and to the Earth. It’s good for the Earth as a whole, for ecosystems and nonhuman species, and for future generations. And that, in turn, is also good for us, it creates an environment that allows us to thrive. Many of our stories reflect this more inclusive us, as do much of our philosophy and religion.

More integral

Variations of a more integral view are common. These place all areas of human life and experience within an overall framework.  (Ken Wilber’s integral model is an early example, one that seems quaint now.) People still specialize, but they tend to do so within these larger integral frameworks. That allows for research and thinking that’s more free of the old artificial boundaries between academic disciplines.

Gratitude for past generations

Our heroes today include many of the sustainability pioneers of the past, both groups and individuals. These went against the mainstream view of their day (which was very narrow and quite misguided in many ways), and made it possible for us to have the world we have now. One that does take ecological realities into consideration and has created a better life for most of us. It’s still now perfect, by any means, but many of us today are working on it.

Social challenges

Many challenges of the past are less current today, but we do have our own. Overall, we are much more allowing of minorities – in terms of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background and more. More and more of our regions have good social safety nets so people won’t have to fear for their basic survival. (We realize this makes for much better societies overall, and better lives for all of us.) The problems of the past with large multi-national corporations is mostly in the past  with our current system supporting smaller and more regional worker owned companies. (It made a big difference when we got rid of the old stock market system.)

Our main challenges are regions where they don’t have social safety nets and where society is in general disarray. We also have groups not devoted to an ecologically informed way of life. And we do, of course, have natural and man-made disasters in different regions. I doubt that will change very soon if ever.

Health and spirituality

We see health in a larger picture than you did. The old divisions between society and individual health, and mind and body, are largely gone. When we look at individual health, we also look at the social and ecological system the individual functions within, and we also look at both mind and body. These are all parts of the same system. As mentioned above, people specialize but they do so within different integral frameworks taking the larger picture into account.

More people today use spirituality in a more pragmatic way, free of the old religions and traditions. At the same time, we do also have people nourishing and continuing the traditions since they realize there is value there. And we do also have some fundamentalists within the different old religions, trying to hold onto what was.

Science and technology

We keep exploring space and have bases on some of the closer planets and moons. Although our main focus is on the long-term survival of humanity and the Earth, most of us recognize that we need to become a multi-planet species for our long-term survival. (As many did in the past as well.)

Technology is more seamlessly a part of everyday life. We have found a sort of balance between technology and our natural human life. As before, some are more into technology and some prefer a more un-assisted and natural life.

The rights of nonhumans, ecosystems, and future generations

At some point, more of us realized that nonhuman beings, ecosystems, and future generations needed to have a voice in our political and legal systems. So we gave them a voice. We did this for their sake since they are living beings and gradually were seen more as us. And we did it for our sake since their well-being is intertwined with ours. Giving them a political and legal voice informs us about the bigger picture in a different way. We now have university training and degrees for people who wish to make this a career. In some regions, companies are required to have these roles filled, and many do anyway since it benefits their decision-making process and position in the market.

Adult development

This is still a slightly, sensitive issue, although it doesn’t really need to be. There has been a great deal of research on adult development, especially in terms of social and ecological orientation. We know that it’s common to deepen in appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life as we mature, and also that this orientation is stronger tendency some people – even early in life – and less so for others. All of that is fine. And we also want to nurture this orientation and deepening in people in general, and we do that through education, entertainment and more.

Surprises

As always, there have been surprises. We have had surprising developments in science and technology, things none or few predicted. And in our social changes, things have happened – both good and bad – that were similarly surprising and not expected by many. I won’t give many details here since I don’t want to give it away to you from the past 😉

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Various

In the regions that take care of people and life more intentionally, people live until about 100 and tend to stay healthy much longer than in the past.

The intelligence and emotional life of animals are more fully acknowledged than in the past. There is much more sense of kinship of all life. (The idea that humans are in a special category compared with other life is seen as belonging to the past and a bit misguided.) This means that even animals in captivity are treated much better than in the past, and given a more natural life.

Some regions have set aside relatively large areas for nonhuman life. Human interventions in these areas are quite restricted.

The idea or realization that all life has intrinsic value (or value to itself) is much more common today than it was for previous generations. It informs policies and human activities to a greater extent.

Fewer people belong to traditional religions. Especially in some regions, it’s very common to use insights and tools from a wide range of spiritual traditions in a pragmatic and practical way. Research into these approaches has been going on for a long time now, and we know much more about how and why and for whom these work.

In general, our view of the world is a bit more open and inclusive compared to the early modern and scientific era. It’s more accepted to do research into topics that previously were shunned.

Since most regions have a decent social safety net for its people, fewer people are radicalized and disgruntled compared to the past. This is not universal since some fall through the cracks, some regions have less of a safety net, and there are occasional social or ecological disruptions that bring out the best and worst in people.

Artificial intelligence in different forms is used in many areas of life, often quite seamlessly and as a support that feels quite natural. The fears that some people had about AI in the past is seen as belonging to an early period of AI where people feared what they didn’t understand.

Biomimicry is a natural part of just about any design process, whether it’s buildings, transportation, or even production. The aim is to enhance and enrich ecosystems through human activity, including travel, housing, and production.

We are much more cautious with toxic chemicals than in the past. We see the early modern period as quite misguided in this area, and going overboard in using toxic chemicals in everyday products.

Oil is used sparingly and only as needed today. Most of our energy is from the sun, wind, ocean, fusion, and a couple of sources not known to earlier generations. Most regions use a mix of these, and also a mix of centrally produced energy and energy produced very locally.

We are not living in a utopia, although certain aspects of our lives would certainly seem that way to past generations. We have solved some of the core problems of a hundred years ago, mainly in terms of living a life – at all levels – more aligned with ecological realities. Many problems remain, and our solutions have created their own problems. And really, we wouldn’t want it differently since challenges are part of what makes us grow and thrive.

We intentionally nurture a sense of connection to the larger social and ecological whole, to future and past generations, and to the universe as a whole. We know how important this is for a sense of meaning and well-being, and also in informing our actions and choices as a society and individuals. (Past generations called this the Universe Story, the Epic of Evolution, Big History, Practices to Reconnect, and similar things.)

Since more have a more pragmatic approach to spirituality, using tools and insights from a range of traditions, science and spirituality are seen as going hand in hand. We use science to explore these tools and the states and experiences traditionally seen as belonging to spirituality, and the insights from this research inform our application of these tools. Science and spirituality are just two ways to explore reality, and they often converge.

I guess I should say something about climate change since I know you from the past are interested in it. Yes, there has been climate change, and yes, we know it was largely human created (just as you knew). We have had to adapt to rising sea levels and regional shifts in climate. And, of course, we have aligned our life with ecological realities to a much greater extent than you did. We would have needed to do that anyway, climate change or not.

In terms of healthcare, there is a stronger emphasis on prevention informed by the mind-body-larger-whole connections. As mentioned earlier – there is more of an integral and systems view on health, and we know that prevention is the most effective use of our focus and resources.

One of the major problems in the past was the inequality of income and access to essential resources. That’s still a problem today, especially between regions and within some regions. There is a much better undertanding today that our lives are interconnected in very real and noticeable ways. (Especially global ecosystem health, migrations, and spread of diseases.) Some regions have a strong emphasis on this work, and most acknowledge its importance. It has helped greatly to curb the power of multinational corporations, and have them follow basic international social justice and sustainability regulations.

Another major problem was overpopulation, and that was one past generations were reluctant to address. In less developed countries, overpopulation was a problem in terms of access to basic resources. In more developed countries, it was a problem because of over-use of natural resources. The former was very obvious and directly impacted the people living there, the latter was no less of a problem but more hidden – at least for a while. Today, addressing overpopulation is taken for granted because we know and have seen how important it is. And as we have known for a long time, education and good social safety nets are the most effective ways to reduce or prevent overpopulation.

In the past, taxes were used in a somewhat misguided way. Now, most regions are much more intentional about taxing what we want less of (use of virgin natural resources, pollution), and not taxing or subsidicing what we want to encourage (including work). Also, many regions focus on a deeper form of democracy than in the past, with citizen councils, instant runoff voting, more thorough and instant fact checking of politicians, and mandatory voting.

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Jeff Foster: Rejoice, you’ll be dead soon.

 

Rejoice, you’ll be dead soon.

That means that every moment from now on is more precious, more worthy of your full attention, your loving presence, your gratitude.

The dream of ‘more time’ can make us complacent, send us to sleep.

The shock of realising our absolute impermanence can wake us up.

Come on. Be sillier today. Let your heart pound and be penetrated today. Make a fool of yourself today. Give up the hope of finding happiness in the future, and break open into the happiness of this holy day, this only day.

You don’t need more time to be present. You’ve been given another day. Life is a gift.

– Jeff Foster

Any image of the future is an image, and that’s the only place I can find the future. When these images are invested with energy – when they are unconsciously associated with sensations in the body – they seem real. They make the future seem real to us, and a particular future seem real. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s understandable and is even helpful to some extent. And at some point, we are invited to take a closer look. When I recognize that my images of the future

First, I may recognize that my images of the future are images while they still have a charge to them. They may be seen as images, and felt as more real and solid than that. Then, as I separate out the images and the sensations, and examine each at a time (and take time to feel and allow the sensations), the two may separate more naturally and the charge of the images lessen or releases more completely. My images of the future are recognized as images, and since the charge is less or not there anymore, they also don’t feel so real and solid, or they don’t feel real and solid at all.

This is an ongoing exploration. Images about the future come up. They may feel real or have a charge. I explore them with gentle curiosity. Something shifts and something in me becomes more aligned with what’s actually there. (Images and sensations.) And then something else may come up I am curious about, including images about the future.

I also wanted to say something about “the dream of ‘more time'” that can make us complacent. When our images of the future seem real and solid, it’s easy to put off things into the future. When they are recognized as images, it’s actually easier to do things right now. After all, that’s all I have. If I want to love an unloved part of me, there is no time like the present. There is no time other than the present. If I want to rest with what’s here and notice it’s all already presence, there is no time like now. And that’s the same with anything else. Of course, this goes along with a trust that if something is important, and it’s not happening now, it will happen in “another” present. (Aka in the future.) And if it doesn’t, that’s OK too.

Ahead of our times

 

There has always been groups ahead of their times. I am obviously very biased, some of these seem pretty obvious, but here are some things I see as pointing forward in history.

A deeper respect for more of human diversity (ethnic, sexual etc.) and the unique gifts, insights and perspectives of each of these groups. This will be reflected more in media and storytelling. (Going far beyond what we see now.)

A deeper respect for all life. Including all life in the circles of “us”. A recognition that this deep respect for all life is essential for our own well being and survival. It’s good for us because it aligns with reality and what we already know.

A transformation in how we organize ourselves at all levels and areas of life. A deeper alignment with ecological realities in all areas including economy, production, architecture, engineering, transportation, education, energy use and more.

A deeper acknowledgment that we don’t know. A science that’s more integral, holistic, and inclusive. A science that has removed some of its current blinders.

A deeper sense of deep time, evolution, Big History, the Epic of Evolution, and what it means for all aspects of our lives.

A more integral and holistic approach to health. One that includes body, psyche, society, ecology, and spirituality.

A genuine and thorough scientific approach to what’s traditionally been the domain of spirituality.

A shift from policies that favor corporations and the few to policies that favor most people, ecological systems, and life.

Giving a voice and power to nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future generations. Giving a voice to the voiceless in politics and the legal system. Simply because it’s the right thing to do, and it ultimately benefits all of us.

A shift from religions to spirituality. Holding ideas and ideologies more lightly, recognizing and emphasizing the universal core of all religions, and focusing on the practical aspects of spirituality.

Regenerative design. Design of buildings, cities, regions etc. so that we support thriving ecological and social systems.

A shift from treating animals as a resource “owned” by humans to thinking, feeling, experiencing beings with value of their own. A shift from seeing ecosystems as a resource to living systems with value on their own. A shift to giving nonhuman species, ecosystems, and future nonhuman and human generations a real voice and say in our decision and policy making. (As best as we can.)

As someone said, the future will probably not be as bad as we fear and not as good as we hope. I think the areas above will continue to develop and gain momentum but I don’t expect all of these to become mainstream to the extent I imagine they can be. They will be strands in how we humans experience the world and among many other strands. I also know that the way we see these things now will continue to develop and that our terminology and ideas about many of these things will relatively quickly be seen as obsolete. I am also hesitant even writing this because it’s just about identical to what I said and wrote about in my teens, and that suggests that I haven’t matured or developed much since then! (Which in some ways is true.)

There are many more finely grained things that probably will happen, at least among some people. For instance, it’s pretty certain that psychology will finally catch up to more of what different spiritual traditions have known about, explored, and developed over centuries and even millennia. Different states of experience. Enlightenment in the sense of what we are – that which experience happens within and as – noticing itself. The effects of body centered/inclusive practices. The effects of inquiry, and what different forms of inquiry can tell us about how the mind works. The effects of some forms of prayer such as the heart prayer.

Any scenarios about the future reflects what’s here now. It reflects my own world as I experience it. It reflects my ideas about the past and present projected into the future.

Dream of a future

 

I notice I have a dream of a future (or several dreams, related to each other) that still hold some charge for me.

My sense is that these dreams can be very helpful in our early life. It gives us optimism, hope, drive, excitement, a direction and more. It certainly did for me.

And as I have had my dreams crushed in different ways (sometimes after having lived them for a while), I notice I would like to take a closer look at what’s going on.

Is there a way to see these dreams more as they are, and still move through life in a way that’s satisfying and feels right?

How would it be to see the dreams more as they are, and see what happens? How is it to be more sober around my dreams? (Not to abandon them, or put them down, but see them more clearly.) How is it to instead, perhaps, live from my heart? My guidance? From what feels most alive here and now?

Is it possible that my dreams may limit the options I am aware of and see as possible for me? Do I limit myself if I hold onto my dreams too closely? If they have a role in motivation, at least for a while, may they also lead me to limit myself and my life?

For instance, as many others, I have a dream about a certain type of relationship (deep soul/heart connection, deep alignment, deep sense of rightness), and a certain type of life (from the heart, with love, in service, in joy, deep sense of rightness), and more.

I remember a situation where my relationship dream was activated. I see it as an image, and feel it too.

Look at the image. Take your time. Is that image the dream? (No, it’s an image.) Is that image the actual future? (No, it’s an image here and now.)

Feel the sensations. Allow them their space. Are those sensations the dream? (No.) Are those sensations the actual future? (No.)

More images, words and sensations may come up associated with this dream, including anxiety about it not happening, and I can look at each of these in a similar way. I get to see how my mind creates this dream. I get to see (and feel) some or most of what it’s composed of. There may be less sense of urgency, and more ease around it.

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Knowing what will happen

 

It’s interesting to explore how my mind constructs what seems obvious from a conventional and unquestioned view, including ideas of time, space, control, body, objects, matter, a me and I, and even ideas of clarity and confusion, identification and so on.

For instance, there is a sense that I know what will happen, at least to some extent. So I look at the components of my experience: words, images and sensations.

Do I know what images will appear next? Do I know what images will appear to my physical eye? To my inner eye? Do I know what image will appear next second?

Do I know what words will appear next?

Do I know what emotions and body sensations will appear next?

Do I know what sound will appear next?

When I look at my images of what will happen at any point in the future, are those images what will actually happen? Are they the actual future?

When I look at my words of what will happen at some point in the future, are those words the actual future?

And I can do the same with time. Is the word “future” the actual future? Are my images of a timeline, of an abstract future, and of specific events in the future, the actual future? Are the associated sensations the actual future? (And what about the past, or present, or “time”, or space?)

Wanting to know about the future

 

In my late teens and early twenties, I found myself exploring astrology, palmistry, and speaking with some psychics. Mostly, I saw it as part of a well rounded education – along with learning about art, history, literature, science and so on. And partly, I had a thought that it would be helpful – or perhaps comforting – to know something about my future.

Knowing about the future

In a conventional view, it’s clear that I cannot know anything for certain about the future. An astrologer, palmistry person or psychic may tell me something, and I cannot know whether it will happen or not. In my experience, something similar has happened a few times, and has not happened other times.

The same is true when my experience tells me something about the future. I may expect someone to smile back when I smile to that person, and it may happen or not. I may expect to wake up tomorrow morning, and it may happen or not.

And the same it even true for science. I may have experienced a book consistently falling to the ground when I drop it, and science may tell me it will because of gravity, and yet, I cannot know it will happen next time I try. It may, and – if I am honest – I see it also may not.

Everything – in my mind – may point to something happening, and it may or may not actually happen. Even when something happens that’s similar to my earlier images, it’s never the same. When I look closer, I see that what happened was something entirely different (mainly because as it happens it’s not an image).

Assumptions

I also see that a desire to know about the future may rest on a series of assumptions:

I need to know about the future. It’s better to know about the future. It’s comforting to know what will happen.

I can know about the future. I can know for certain about the future. I know [….] will happen.

I know what’s good and bad. Some things that may happen (make a list here!) are good, and other things (another list!) is bad.

There is a future. Time exists. Future exists.

I need to know what will happen because…. It will make me safer. I will feel better. I can prepare for it. I can change it.

Taking images of the future as true

And I notice how painful it is to take ideas about the future as true, whether these images point to something I tell myself is desirable or undesirable.

When I have images of something I see as desirable, I may try to manipulate situations to make it happen. I experience stress because it may not happen. I may even become a bit complacent assuming it will happen no matter what.

When I have images of something I see as undesirable, I try to manipulate situations so it won’t happen. I experience fear and stress thinking about it.

In either case, if I take my images of what may or will happen as true, I tend to live as if it will be true, and it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A kind universe

Taking a closer look at this, I see that the universe is kind. I cannot know anything for certain about the future, and that’s very liberating. And I usually don’t have access to information about the future, apart from what experience and science tells me, and that’s also kind.

Scenarios

That said, it’s often helpful to explore scenarios. It’s one of the gifts of imagination and thoughts. I can imagine different scenarios about the future, decide which ones seem desirable and which one don’t, and aim for one and not other ones. In that sense, images of the future – independent of their origin – may be very helpful, especially if I recognize them as simply images, innocent questions about the world.

Gathering up past, future, and present

 

Before falling asleep in the evening, and after waking up in the morning, I like to take some time to explore the sense fields. And as I often write about here, one of the things I explore is the three times. How does the past, future, and present appear in the sense fields?

I may begin with bringing attention to each sense field – sensations, sight, sound, smell, taste, and thoughts/images – one at a time, and notice what is there.

Then, I close my eyes if they are not already closed, and notice how I have an image of my body laying there in the bed, in a room, in a building, at the outskirts of a small town, next to a forest, in a country, on the Earth. All of that happens in my own world of images. It is the movie I play for myself about the world. I recognize it all as images.

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Although eating honey is a very good thing to do

 

poohs-party

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.
~A.A. Milne

Even a simple Pooh quote is a question and invitation for investigation.

When anticipating eating honey, it is easy to see that the joy of sweet anticipation is all in the mind. If we like honey, that is.

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