The Imagine Festival at Orcas Island, which I attended in early September, presented some refreshing perspectives on the state of the world, present, past and future. Against a backdrop of stunning Gulf Islands serenity, blessed rain ending a drought, and conscious music, dance and visual arts, equal time was given to workshops on a variety of transformational practices and topics.
Setting the tone was a young woman of the Lummi Nation, named Pulxaneeks, who spoke on Indigenous Right Relations. She encouraged the awareness that we all have been colonized, and colonizer, victim and perpetrator. It is not enough to say we are “from the earth,” or “from everywhere.” It is unhealthy and unfair to bypass our particular cultural lineage; better to acknowledge and integrate the true and full history of where we came from, what our ancestors survived to bring us into the world. And those ancestors include not only those in living memory, but those in the historical past, and those unrecognized in history, and those further back, who lived in ways in harmony with the natural world, instead of at war with it. In the beginning, and in the end, we were and are one human family. We are all indigenous to the earth, and share the responsibility to honor that heritage.
Dovetailing with this connection with ancestors was a workshop by Charles Eisenstein called Emissaries from the Future. With the disclaimer that we could consider it an exercise in channeling, or improv theatre, as we chose, we merged with the character of a being two hundred years in the future, who then travels back to our time and answers any questions we have for them. The loop came full circle for many, foreseeing a return to indigenous ways; or rather as a spiral, with new awarenesses and advances developed (notably telepathy), and the obstacles to sustainability somehow overcome.
In the workshop called The Space Between Stories, we were called to identify our lives and the world we inhabit as a series of stories, and to recognize the spaces of greater truth between those stories. Wisdom, we demonstrated firsthand in this participatory workshop, comes from opening, listening, responding to what others bring to that space.
It is not a solitary burden, to speak and create a new, more meaningful language. Rather it is an opportunity to share insights and arrive at solutions through dialogue and mutual exploration. Opening to collective wisdom is an improvisational art, trusting, in humility.
It was remarkable and profound to share such core awarenesses and beliefs, so at odds with the dominant paradigm of our culture’s institutions, in a group of a hundred like-minding participants and in the festival at large; and to realize this is a sizeable, powerful, aware and energetic subculture manifesting transformation in the midst of, or outside of, or in spite of, the manufactured madness that is hellbent destroying the planet in its own image.
With these growing neo-tribes, even if only an ephemeral “festival culture,” we glimpse a part of the vision painted by Seth Godin in his book, We Are All Weird: The Rise of Tribes and the End of Normal. Maybe the dominant paradigm is now only an illusion, a mummy of nostalgia.
Applying what Jeff Wells calls Rigorous Intuition, we investigate our part in the story. As citizens of a colonial empire we are conditioned to identify with the values and roles of the colonizer, overwriting our natural and core relation with the earth and our natural ancestors, our birthright. Forgetting our own oppression—molded into the box called “citizen” by birth and over generations—we take sides with the dominant national “we,” the engine of state that pursues an agenda of ceaseless war for global hegemony.
It makes me wonder, are they (whoever “they” are) or we (whoever “we” are) then “evil”? The Lucifer Effect documents the Stanford Prison Experiment, where college students slipped quickly into roles of brutal guards and submissive prisoners. One of the startling findings of the study showed the “prisoners” paradoxically accepting, as part of their submission, the values and arbitrary logic of the “guards,” much as WWII concentration camp inmates were known to wear insignia of their SS captors.
I recall debates with peers who, contrary to innate feelings for human justice and dignity, parroted elitist claims of the sanctity of “national security,” “property rights,” and other catchwords of the capitalist class. We are conditioned from birth to buy into a paradigm that controls our so-called civilization for the grossly disproportionate benefit of a relative few (whether 10 percent or a .01 percent) while millions die and suffer… their fate largely kept remote from our havens of shared privilege.
Yet, in the face of such patent harm, we are called to discard the tempting label of “evildoer” and to see each fellow prisoner in a system of global abuse, as a fellow perpetrator and victim, and to invite the purer natural being to step into the space occupied by that story.
In my latest novel The Last Book, the transformer-hero Felix Krull, a “confidence man” in his own past, recognizes on a national stage the operation of a con game at the highest levels. Confronted with the battle between the controlling Hierarchy and the rebellious Panarchists, he has a conversation with Chico San Pedro, dissident spokesperson, who tells him,
We are all people of the earth. Not citizens—denizens. Residents. Our rights derive from Mother Earth, and the Creator, not from our fellow creatures, or any government imposed from on high. We are capable of running our own affairs for the general welfare, at the local level. All the rest is needless complication—only for the benefit of those who would exploit us and our sacred Mother.
A decentralist manifesto, to be sure. Perhaps that long-fictional “withering away of the state” may have a role to play in the human story after all, before the last book turns to pixel dust, before Nature closes the curtain on “our” gladiatorial circus.
In Blessed Unrest, How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, Paul Hawken describes the confluence of “environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization.” This rising tide is a movement that “does not aim for the utopian, which itself is just another ism, but is eminently pragmatic.”
In pragmatic terms, the long view is required. The corrupt and dysfunctional institution of state “democracy” must yield to “a reimagination of public governance emerging from place, culture, and people.”
As synchronicity would have it, both before and after my trip to Orcas Island, I temporarily misplaced my passport. The anxiety of losing that icon of national identity brings up a shadow deeper than mere inconvenience and insecurity. It’s about what it means to be a citizen of that artificial construct we call “our” country, and what it might mean otherwise to be a denizen of the earth—from time immemorial and, looking forward, seven generations and more into a living future.