It’s a new year — at least according to one of many calendars.
This is in itself fascinating, but more than that it is important — there are dozens of different New Years celebrations at different times throughout the year — each with quite different concepts and practices about what it means to celebrate a transition. Each celebration announcing a different way of being alive and a different world.
This diversity of times for the “new year” does not make things arbitrary nor is it a moment of celebratory relativity and a shallow multiculturalism. The various new years are happening in qualitatively different worlds and are connected to different moments in different cycles which have a unique importance: A new moon in spring or the rising of a constellation when a certain fish returns is not arbitrary or quaint— rather these are practices of more-than-human worldmaking that are directly connected to profound and distinct modes of change and continuity.
Not all of these celebrations have an emphasis on the new, difference or creativity— or even share the same concepts of the new, difference, or creativity. But for us at Emergent Futures Lab we take this moment of the January first New Year to reflect on how we bring creativity into our lives, and it is our resolution to bring more creative practices into our everyday lives.
But to talk about bringing creativity into our everyday lives is not to reduce creativity to personal transformation. Creativity is, for us, a practice of worldmaking — it is cosmological in scope and ambition.
Just pausing to reflect on the diversity of qualitatively different New Years traditions is already one simple way of welcoming more creative processes and actual qualitative difference into our lives. We are acknowledging that other worlds exist and other worlds are possible.
Other worlds exist where trees and mountains are people. Other worlds exist where chairs and tables are animate. Other worlds abound. And with each what it means for us to be a person radically changes. Our most basic concepts do not translate — theirs is not our world.
With this recognition of profoundly qualitatively differing modes of being alive we become more sensitive to qualitative difference — which is at the heart of all creativity.
When we can see that what might seem quite universal and ahistorical is actually very historical, quite recent and not at all universal -- we open up to genuine multiplicity—to actual other worlds.
Creativity becomes political, anthropological, and ecological — but in wholly new ways. Creativity begins in caring for difference — for other modes of being alive. Creativity begins in recognizing that all of our universal terms (including creativity) are of a world and a historical mode of being alive. Creativity is an aesthetic and an ethical project. Aesthetic in that it involves the creation of new worlds and ethical in that it involves the creation of new worlds in a reality of many worlds.
With the astonishing multiplicity of new year’s in our lives we awaken to the wonderful fact that difference is everywhere and everywhere nuanced and unique. And that all creativity is connected to practices of worldmaking and is not simply a one-off activity of novelty production (a new widget for consumers) or an exercise in detached personal growth.
What of Creative Propositions and Exercises?
We utilize the term proposition in a unique way: it is what the philosopher who coined the word “creativity” A. N. Whitehead defined as a “lure for feelings”. Propositions like “other worlds are possible” are not statements to be judged as true or false but as “lures” — a thing that draws the willing into a new way of sensing and feeling possibilities. Sensing and feel matter here — for our sensing goes “deeper” and wider than our conscious forms of knowing. And ultimately our conscious and reflective forms of knowing grow out of our embodied sensing and feeling. Any creativity interested in the qualitatively new needs to go deeper than conscious forms of knowing and imagining.
How do we follow a proposition — how do we follow a lure for feeling differently? This is where exercises and practices come into their own.
Practices for creativity give us new ways of feeling possibility and sensing into the unknownable. They scaffold the building of new habits and practices. Their repetition builds up a deep resource of embodied capacity — which can give rise to new ways of thinking.
So here is our first proposition and exercise for a new year. The basis of this exercise is that to really engage with the reality that “other worlds exist and other worlds are possible” we first need to deeply sense what it is to “be of a world.”
Proposition: We are in and “of” a world
To sense that other worlds exist we need to begin by experiencing that we have and are “of” a world. We do not live in a universally neutral reality that is experienced the same everywhere. We are made by, and only come to be ourselves, as an environment.
To embrace change we have to feel that “change” is not just a thought exercise. We think, know, sense, and feel in culturally very specific ways because of our habits, practices, language, tools and constructed environment — our chair makes us who we are far more deeply than any idea ever has…
So here is a simple exercise to begin this process:
Exercise #1 — Worlding the Self:
Set aside a minimum of 20 minutes for this exercise. For the duration of this exercise turn-off, and put away all media: radios, podcasts, phones, and silence phone notifications.
In the midst of whatever you are doing, stop and sit on the ground. Right there and then. If you are cooking in the kitchen, stop and sit on the floor. If you are writing or zooming at the dining room table, stop and sit on the floor. If you are out walking and reading on your device, stop and sit on the ground.
Stay with this without doing anything for a moment — at least a few minutes. Take in how this small change in location has shifted you out of everything. What can you see?
Sense deeply how you are now “in” a world, but that you are ever so slightly no longer “of” a world.
Now, there on the ground, start to make whatever you were doing “work” again. Do this in a provisional manner -- can books prop up your computer to afford you typing or zooming? Or do you need to lie down fully to afford typing?
Try cooking on the kitchen floor. Don’t give up — what is possible?
Embrace how hard this is. Don’t get up. Kneeling is ok. But stay with the ground.
As you try to do whatever it is you need to do dwell upon what it means to “fit” into a world — to be of a world.
When it feels right, slowly stand up and step by step recompose yourself into your world:
Sit down in a chair and notice what all comes back to you.
Hold your kitchen knife at the counter and feel how a world is recomposing around and through you.
Take some time and make some notes. Start to describe our world directly from your experience. Don’t jump to pre-existing concepts but try and find a new language that arises from your experience.
Do this exercise often. The larger goal here is to get a real sense of this world and how it makes us. The next time you do the exercise be more focused:
- How does a chair make you?
- What is the relation between your chair and our view of the mind being separate from the body?
- Why are we so concerned with elevating things from the ground?
- What is the relation between our most fundamental concepts of self and world that emerges from our use of heat in cooking?
Worldmaking Scaffolds and Beginnings
This exercise will expand your sense of being-of-a-world and allow you to have a more nuanced awareness of what and how change happens when we are so profoundly of a world.
We find it gives one a sense of modesty, curiosity and openness to what it all takes to bring meaningful change about.
Given the enormity of many of our current challenges, this is a good place to begin.
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If any of this resonates – check out Innovating Emergent Futures, our book for creativity and innovation – where we take creativity and innovation all the way down the rabbit hole.