You know what I think of predictions, right? If you need a little reminder of the perils of prognostication, consider that we’re coming up on the 40th anniversary of the late Timothy Leary’s 1967 prediction that “Deer will be grazing in Times Square in forty years.” Actually, this morning I was thinking of a line from Flashback, a 1990 film about an FBI agent escorting an Abbie Hoffman-type fugitive back to prison, a captor susceptible to influence by his captive: “The 90s will make the 60s look like the 50s, man!”
So this is more a dispatch from the present than a prediction.
Last weekend, I attended a meeting of 30 or so artists and organizers. We were not all of an age, but as I looked around the circle, I saw lots of gray hair and not a single purple streak. Let’s just say we clustered in the sixties generation demographic.
We came together to talk about a particular (and very interesting) art project, Continental Harmony. But rather than following a preset agenda, the meeting’s structure was flexible and inviting, based on an approach called Open Space Technology in which participants’ own questions and interests drive a meeting.
So here’s what I noticed as our gathering unfolded: we chose to steer our time together in the direction of integration. We had sessions on “Community Arts as Spiritual Practice,” “Reframing the Paradigm,” “Art and the Environment” and a dozen other topics. What almost all the discussions had in common is a consensual eagerness to include the whole person, the whole community and the whole planet in our deliberations. Physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual realities snuggled together in sometimes cozy and sometimes passionate harmony. And this emerged organically from the gathering. It was not imposed or forced in any way.
By the time of our closing circle, the room was humming with excitement. I can’t pretend to know everyone’s mind or heart, but I have a hunch that most of us had felt this desire for integration in our own lives, that many of us had been living it to some extent, but that our desire had been diluted with the expectation of disappointment. After all, as it turned out, for our generation the 90s hadn’t made the 60s look like anything but paradise lost. We could see the possibility of a society that would welcome us in our wholeness, where we could show up in our feelings or in our spiritual connection and not be laughed out of the boardroom. But we could see it most clearly it in our imaginations, in the dark small hours of the morning and not in full light of day.
I like to cite philosopher Ken Wilber about the liminal moment in which one age or paradigm begins to yield to its successor. One of his observations is that each new paradigm subsumes and transcends its predecessor, carrying forward everything that is of genuine value to the new time, leaving behind what has held us back (such as the narrow, purely materialist view of reality that inhibits integrative thinking). Another is that as a new paradigm emerges, there will be a leading wedge comprising those who truly comprehend its nature and validity. Wilber’s mnemonic for that is “more depth, less span,” indicating that the deeper the new understanding, the fewer people who will grasp it fully at first. As the old order disintegrates, the new integration spreads.
Serendipitous times of coming together–surprises like last weekend’s meeting–fill the space in my awareness that had been occupied by the expectation of disappointment. I think many of us have been nurturing the seeds of integration these last forty years, and now they are sprouting green. The sixties were full of excesses and oversights; the way we understand the era’s lessons now is tempered with maturity, but when we allow it to emerge, our sense of possibility is still powerful. I am keen to see what happens next.
No predictions, but an exhortation: take heart.