Reality is not a given.
– Orland Bishop
In a conversation with a friend yesterday the question arose, “What are we to expect to happen in the next decade?”
Elon Musk had come up earlier in the conversation, and I said, “You know, if we asked Elon Musk that question, he might take it very differently. His answer might start with, ‘I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,’ and then describe what he intends to make of the world.” Maybe he would say, “There will be twelve thousand low-orbit satellites circling the earth. You’ll be able to get broadband internet in the Alaskan wilderness. We’ll all be linked together in an Internet-of-things.”
A kind of fatalism haunts predictions about the future, as if it were an objective, pre-existing reality that simply happens to us. Tell me what is to be, so that I may plan my life accordingly. Elon Musk’s answer takes the question in a different way by assuming his own power and agency in determining what that future will be. He is speaking from a metaphysical truth—that self and world, inner and outer, are not entirely separate, and that the question of what the future will be intimately involves ourselves.
One might easily agree that we can shape the future as a collective “ourselves,” but my hypothetical Elon Musk makes it about himself. Why does he think that? It isn’t only because he has vast wealth. Lots of extraordinarily wealthy people feel helpless in the face of the future, and their attempts to create it end in failure. The power he wields is what I call prophetic speech. Prophetic speech is the ability to speak a potentiality into reality. (It also includes the prophetic warning, which speaks a potentiality out of reality.)
Elon Musk seems not to feel at the mercy of a predetermined future. No one assured him before he launched them that there would be tens of thousands of satellites beaming millimeter frequencies onto every nook of the planet. No one assured him that it was realistic to start a new electric vehicle company. Quite probably a lot of people said the opposite. Yet he knew better. Therefore, he did not say, “Tell me what is to be, so that I may know what to do.” He said, rather, “Here is what is to be. Now I know what to do.”
Elon Musk owns assets worth some $162 billion. My assets are less than half that, yet I believe I have something to learn from him and from others who wield the power of word. Not all of them have or had money. Nelson Mandela. Martin Luther King. Neema Namadamu and the women of Maman Shujaa. Subcomandante Marcos. The indigenous peasants who established the Peace Village of San José de Apartadó. A four-year-old orphan named Jacqueline (story starts at 44:40 or 7:45). And many more whose names we shall never know, whose mighty achievements are invisible through the modern lens of scale. Their lack of money did not lessen their power to invoke miracles. That is the kind of creative power necessary to manifest a future I call The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. It differs from Elon Musk’s vision, but who knows where the twisting paths of creativity, disappointment, regret, and renewal may lead?
Two things are required to wield the power of prophetic speech. First, one must actually see a real vision in order to speak it into existence. The prophet cannot create on whim or fancy. Human beings are the receivers and not the creators of true visions. The vision must be true, and one must actually see it; otherwise, no one will believe you when you say, “Here is what shall be.” No matter how hard you persuade people of its necessity and feasibility, and even if they verbally assent to it, still they will not play the roles necessary for its manifestation.
Put a different way, the world was already pregnant with the possibilities that Musk, Namadamu, Mandela, Marcos, and the rest declared into actuality. Please understand that I am not putting these individuals into the same moral category. Yet they have something in common: the power of word, which can be the instrument of any potentiality, good or ill.
The second requirement is the bow into service. The vision granted to the prophet has chosen the prophet as its instrument. She must then agree to be that instrument, for which some kind of sacrifice will be required, a letting-go, a dedication to this, and therefore not to that. To serve one future and not another entails the loss of what might have been and who I might have been. Something will be lost and something will be gained. It is inescapable.
For me a third thing is required as well: community. When I behold a radiant vision and then turn my eyes back to the world as it is, I may come to doubt whether what I saw was real. I need others to confirm it. “Yes, what you saw is real, I have seen it too.” Many who are reading this have played that role for me in times of doubt. Sometimes they do it through words. More powerfully, they do it through the example of devotion. Because, their devotion would waver if they didn’t know that what they served were possible. When I witness kindness, generosity, healing, forgiveness, or courage, I know I’m not crazy. Such acts are the vision showing itself to me anew.
A vision that one can speak into existence, live from and live into, need not be a blinding mystical experience or dream or psychedelic encounter. The future reaches into the present to beckon me, taking the form of all I witness. Many futures do that, asking which I shall choose.
I wrote my last essay, Mob Morality and the Unvaxxed, in the vein of prophetic warning, hoping to undo a future by naming it (and thus making the choice more conscious). My next one will gather threads from a more positive timeline, beautiful and, I hope readers will recognize, possible. It depends on a change in how human beings see each other. Here is a paragraph I wrote already. The rest is still mostly in my head.
The biggest crisis facing humanity today is not vaccines or their skeptics; it is not infectious disease, chronic disease, overpopulation, or nuclear weapons. It is not even climate change. The biggest crisis is a crisis of the word. It is a crisis of agreement. It is a Babelian crisis of communication. With coherency among us, no other problem would be hard to solve. As it stands, the prodigious powers of human creativity cancel each other out. The crystalline matrix of our co-creation has burst into shards. Why? It is not from lack of skill in communicating. It is from a habit of perception, a way of seeing each other that shares a common root with Girardian scapegoating.
In my meditation now I am mapping society’s crisis of the word to the ways in which I too have fallen short of deploying its full power. By analogy, it must come from a way of seeing myself that is not true.
The mistaken ways I see myself (and that modern people are conditioned to see each other) are not simply the result of a wrong idea. The wrong idea—that anyone is less than fully and divinely human—is just one level of a multi-dimensional state of being, state of culture, state of trauma, and state of evolution.
In short, the ways I undercut myself, judge myself, and confuse genuine uncertainty with self-negating false doubt all scramble the inner communication required to speak a true vision into form. I’m learning that to be who I am, unapologetic and unafraid, is crucial to being able to say, “Here is what shall be.”
A few years ago I had a session with a healer who worked entirely on my solar plexus. He said, “I want you to be more like Donald Trump.” No, not to belittle others, but to dare to take up some space in the world, to dare actually to be here. A profound death/rebirth in a psychedelic journey reinforced the message as I rediscovered the power of the primal words “yes” and “no.” I realized that I’d lost touch with both, listening instead to what I or others thought they should be. Is it OK to feel a yes? A no? Is what I feel valid? Looking outside myself for validation, I’d ceded the ground of creativity and robbed my visions of their animating force. If the prophet himself isn’t a full yes to the prophecy, he is no prophet at all.
It is edgy for me to claim the right to say what the future shall be. One stumbling block I encounter in embracing the power of word is the idea that I would be a dictator, imposing my will over others. However, dominating force has no part in the power of prophetic speech. The naming of a potentiality is an invitation for others to come into agreement with the named. Elon Musk could not put twelve thousand satellites in the sky himself or force it to happen, not with all the money in the world. A lot of people—regulators, bankers, investors, board members, etc.—had to come into agreement. Why did they? Because they shared certain values, perhaps. Because it fit their conception of progress. Because it redounded to their financial interest. Because they all draw inspiration from the defining myth of modernity that I call Ascent. One of its expressions is the myth of technological utopia. It is not the future, but it is a future.
Another future beckons, and in the spirit of invitation I will speak it more directly and less abashedly in coming months and years. It is quite different from the vision of technological utopia, although perhaps in some mysterious way convergent with it, as it bears the similarity of denser and denser interconnection. Because I know many others have seen it too, I also know that many will hark to and amplify the invitation. This is not a single person’s vision; it is a vast potentiality that speaks with a million visionary voices. Again, visions are not created, they are not owned, they are not even found; they are beings in their own right that reveal themselves to those who seek them. A More Beautiful World is seeking us. It finds us through our seeking of it. I will share what I have been shown, so as to kindle the fire of recognition in those who have seen it too, who have also walked the path of half-belief, doubt, and healing.
A lot of scary futures are showing themselves to us today: totalitarianism, social breakdown, ecological collapse, civil conflict. People want to know, will these really happen? What will the next year bring? Let us take ownership of those questions. Yes, what is going to happen? Let us no longer ask. Let us tell.
This is the practice of sankalpa. Speak your intention it as if it was already true. Share your vision as if it was reality. "As if" thinking is powerful because it recognizes that on some level, your dream *is* reality. Us westerners gotta reclaim our imagination and visionary capacity and retrain our minds to not dismiss them.
It's not just the word that has prophetic power. Art of all kinds can do this too. I know you're a word guy, but some of us are more visually or musically inclined prophets.
I sometimes use my design skills to make little magical acts. Yesterday I created a graphic that manifests a dream I have that Canada will create a Department of Holistic Health that will promote diet, exercise and holistic practices instead of merely pushing vaccines, self-isolation and fear. Check it out: https://www.instagram.com/p/CTDoswNvfNn/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
May it be actually prophetic!
I'm looking forward to walking with you on this journey Charles. It's time for us Gen Xers to step up into the role of "elders in training".
medicinepathpodcast.com (my invite is always open!)
Some personal context for Charles expressions of prophetic hopes in his. latest essay. The following words by him are taken from a 2017 essay "The Age of We Need Each Other" It was an experience he had while working through feelings of failure.
"I had a vision of a spiritual being that came to me and said, “Charles, is it really your wish that the work you do fulfill its potential and exercise its right role in the evolution of all things?”
“Yes,” I said, “that is my wish.”
“OK then,” said the being. “I can make that happen, but you will have to pay a price. The price is that you will never be recognized for your role. The story you are speaking will change the world, but you will never get credit for it. You will never get wealth, fame, or prestige. Do you agree to pay that price?”
I tried to worm my way out of it, but the being was unyielding. If it was going to be either-or, how could I live with myself knowing in my heart of hearts I’d betrayed my purpose? So I consented to its offer.
Of course, time would tell that it wasn’t actually either-or. What was important in that clarifying moment was that I declare my ultimate loyalty. Once that happened, recognition and prestige might or might not come as a byproduct, but it wouldn’t be the goal. After all, the work I do isn’t “my” work. These are ideas whose time has come and they need capable scribes. Our true wages in life consist of the satisfaction we get from a job well done. Aside from that, well, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike."