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Y2K Fatigue and the Co-Creation of Positive Possibilities

To an overwhelmed Y2K community organizer and networker

Dear John,

Reading your note, I have a strong impulse to move towards you. The impulse has echoes of struggling through mud and barbed wire together under fire. Who knows where these things come from.

Perhaps there's something called Y2K-fatigue. Like battle fatigue or compassion fatigue. I think its main ingredient is ambiguity-fatigue It is exhausting to continually contemplate this massive threat from a place of radical uncertainty littered with certainties that blink on and off... You have to focus your attention everywhere, and most of the people you talk to don't see any problem and simply go about their lives, an enterprise that looks to you at once both futile and enviable.

I told a friend it was like thinking the most important thing in the world is redness -- and seeing red cars, red leaves, red sunsets -- while the rest of the world is colorblind and says "What are you talking about? How can you put cars, leaves and sunsets in the same category?" ("Am I crazy?" you ask yourself. "Why don't they see??!")

I once heard that giving rats regular shocks and random shocks were both less stressful than giving them semi-predictable shocks. The most stressful regimen was a regular schedule of shocks occasionally interrupted with shocks that didn't happen when they were supposed to and shocks that did happen when they weren't supposed to. The poor rats couldn't even develop psychological defenses against the shocks. They just sank into apathy. There's something about Y2K that's like that. On Monday we may feel certain about something, only to find that by Tuesday some new evidence or hearsay or shift in perspective makes it feel like a far shot -- or worse, that its opposite may suddenly appear to be true -- while other things we thought were fairly iffy may suddenly seem as sure as sunrise. ("Where is the landscape here? Where's the ground? What is going on? Where can I stand? Am I crazy?")

How does one respond to this in anything approaching a sane way? I struggle with this all the time. At least a few things have become obvious to me. These strategies are remarkably consistent with what you'd expect the requisites would be for living in a complex, chaotic, unpredictable system:

1) Let go of outcome. Since we're not in charge (and never really were), admit that what happens is much bigger than any of us. Be willing to die, willing for all around us to suffer, willing to fail at every attempt to make the world better or to understand or to be understood, or to even grow and learn from all this. Let it all go. (I do not mean that we should expect, encourage or welcome such undesirable outcomes. I mean we can want or envision positive outcomes even as we appreciate the fullness of life with or without them. Honoring our desires without being controlled by them clarifies our minds and frees us to be fully present. I know of few forces more powerfully benign than passionate engagement without attachment.)

2) Come to terms with our own intrinsic participation in Whatever Happens. Not only are we not in control, we're not un-involved. Our role in Whatever Happens isn't something we can escape. (One consolation is we aren't alone. Everyone and everything is co-creating Whatever Happens.) This is hard for us to come to terms with because it looks so much like the guilt-based responsibility upon which our society is based ("Everything is not my fault!"); but it is a totally different thing.

Guilt-based responsibility is part of the linear cause-and-effect worldview. ("Who's responsible/ guilty/ blameworthy?" is the social equivalent of the scientists' question, "What's the cause?") But blame can't fathom the complexity of What Happens in a living/chaotic system. Phenomena arise from the whole, from the system itself. Those who stand by when events happen are creating a context for those events to unfold in the way they do -- even when they are miles away obliviously watching a sitcom. Even inanimate objects are participants: Roads are participating in the death of pollinators (by reducing flora, by enabling the transport of pesticides, by contributing to ozone depletion). Everything participates. It is pointless to point. The route to better conditions is through increased awareness of the whole, and a more radically expansive sense of all our roles. This includes the previous item -- letting go -- because co-creation means we're not in charge of outcomes, we're just vitally important participants in influencing them.

3) Look for positive possibilities and ways to partner them into greater probability. Meg Wheatley and David Spangler taught me about living in a world of possibilities. We could say, inspired by the poet Muriel Rukeyser, that the universe is made of possibilities, not atoms. They are everywhere. They are everything. Some say God (or the devil) is in the details. I say God (and the devil) are in the possibilities. Every moment is filled with them. Although we don't get to control how they turn out, they are very responsive to our actions, our beliefs, our caring. That is the edge of co-creativity where Life resides.

A friend recently proposed that it is pride that makes us think we are responsible for more than those "whom God has appointed to be in our care." This is true, if we're talking about a linear world of cause-and-effect responsibility, ruled by a linear God. But I see reality as bigger than linear. I see it as an infinite, infinitesimally dense web of co-creation, a sea of mutual participation. Spangler has called this "a co-incarnational universe."

So perhaps we can imagine the God of our co-incarnational universe appointing everyone and everything -- past, present and future -- to be included in the scope of our influence -- and thus of our caring attention -- but not in the scope of our direct responsibility. We are neither guilty nor innocent; we are consciously or unconsciously involved. In everything. Our actions matter. Our awareness matters. Right here and right now. Because we are a factor in the Life of Everything.

This ultimate application of the admonition "Think Globally, Act Locally" points towards what we might call "participatory responsibility." Are we playing the best role we can imagine, given the limits of (our infinitely expandable) awareness?

I care about the larger whole and all the Life within it, and I act in my own life with the purest awareness and intention I can muster towards being a worthy participant in the unfolding of positive possibilities for all, for the whole. And, of course, I fail, over and over. And within those failures are more positive possiblities for me to find and engage...

So I look for the positive possibilities in Y2K. On the one hand, I sometimes feel that our chances are slim and that ultimately it is only by the grace of God that "we will make it" (whatever that means to each of us). On the other hand, I realize how much we often undermine our chances by losing touch with our intrinsically co-creative role in the unfolding of Y2K, in the fate of the possibilities that are there. That role includes inspiring each other, evoking our best selves, calling forth the best possibilities no matter how small That is the essence of participatory leadership and we each can do that -- for ourselves, for each other, for the world.
Faced with a wall, a man said to his comrade,
"We can go no further." His comrade said,
"But there is a crack in the wall." The man
said, "But the wall is so large and the crack
is so small." To which his comrade said, "A
crowbar in the crack, and we'll be on our way.
Or set a few seeds in it, and they'll take that
wall down for us in God's own good time.
Which shall it be?" They were soon on their way.

We are the faces and fingers and feet of the God of Possibility. It is through our participation -- although not only through our participation -- that God works wonders. (Just as it is through our hands, but not only through our hands, that we work our own wonders.) Our efforts and caring -- even when we "fail" -- provide a changed context for the efforts and caring of others elsewhere, tomorrow. The Whole evolves through our roles, through the active Being of each and every one of us.

This is bigger than taking personal responsibility, bigger than letting others take care of us, bigger than taking care of each other, bigger than setting up institutions to care for people, bigger than realizing the role of history and environment and culture in how we all behave, bigger than knowing that inaction and action are both forms of participation, bigger than being aware of the upside and downside of every form of participation (and taking action anyway). It is each and every one of these things, and more. It's all true. It's all real. But it's only possible to enter this Reality to the extent we let go of outcome and become more compassionate, eager, aware agents of Positive Possibility.

So what is possible here in Y2K for us, for those we love, for our communities, our societies, our world? Do the chances look slim? Do the outcomes seem impossible to grasp? Often they do. But isn't that what makes life an adventure? Some people say that's why we stay alive, from day to day: to find out what happens next. All games and adventures are built out of uncertainty (if we knew what would happen, we'd soon lose interest). Humans thrive on challenge, on the unknown. But we can have too much challenge, too much uncertainty. However, if we look closely, we'll find that that only happens when we've become too attached to outcomes. In the moment of that realization, our challenge becomes "How well can we learn to let go and stay engaged?" That's a real trick. The real trick.

To be alive is to find out what's possible, to see how far we can push/cajole/invite the flow of reality into the channels of positive possibility.

Which is often hard. I want to see a better, more sustainable, more humane, more meaningful culture. I have often felt that we don't have much of a chance of getting it. Too often, the more I learned, the more the social and psychological dynamics seemed stacked against us. And then I'd encounter a new innovation, some unexpected allies, or a sudden turn of events that opened doors I didn't even know existed. I've come to believe that things are getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster, simultaneously. And so I've found myself bouncing back and forth between optimism and pessimism. "Things are going to work out well." Or: "There's going to be real disaster!" It's been really exhausting.

But lately something's changing about all this. I've begun to notice how the whole optimism/pessimism dichotomy is a death trap for my aliveness and attention. I watch myself acting as if my sense of what might happen is a description of reality. And what I notice is this: whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act. That's so important I'm going to repeat it. Whether I expect the best or the worst, my expectations interfere with my will to act. I've started viewing both optimism and pessimism as spectator sports, as forms of disengagement masquerading as involvement. Both optimism and pessimism trick me into judging life and betting on the odds, rather than diving into life with my whole self, with my full co-creative energy. I think Y2K calls us to transcend such false end-games like optimism and pessimism. I think it calls us to act like a spiritually healthy person who has just learned they have heart disease: we can use each dire Y2K prognosis as a stimulant for reaching more deeply into life and co-creating positive change.

And so I've come to conclude that all the predictions -- both good and bad -- tell us absolutely nothing about what is possible. Trends and events only relate to what is probable. Probabilities are abstractions. Possibilities are the stuff of life, visions to act upon, doors to walk through. Pessimism and optimism as both distractions from living life fully.

More and more, I'm seeing myself as an ally or midwife of positive possibilities. Those possibilities need me to help them move towards becoming real. True, we often need miracles, but miracles can only go so far. Miracles need us to meet them halfway. I'm trying to move as far towards the miracles as I can, and draw them out.

I'll probably never know if I've moved far enough, if we've moved far enough. But the movement, itself, is so alive I can hardly stand it. And I keep meeting incredible companions like you (whose value to me evoked this response), and doing unbelievable things together. The world could not be more filled with possibilities than it is now. On the wind I smell good food cooking out there somewhere. My appetite for what could be lifts me to the road again, over and over, where I get covered with dust, tired, sore and discouraged. And then I smell it again, and the sun rises.



PS: A note on wisdom, related to this, which I just found in papers I was cleaning up (heaven knows when I wrote it, among all these stacks of paper)... "I see God in the infinitely complex and co-creative power of nature. When Jesus said we should be like the lilies of the field, he was surely inviting us to sit there and gaze at the clouds. But perhaps he meant more, as well. Perhaps he was inviting us to participate in the wholesome patterns of nature woven from strands of wisdom laid by the hands of a wise God and/or by the trials of four billion years of evolution. We people can never hope to replace this wisdom with some substitute derived from our own intrinsically small-picture intelligence. But we can learn and follow this natural wisdom. This insight informs permaculture and aikido, as well as meditators."

PPS: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my own thinking here. I hope it is of some use to you, for it arose from my caring about you. We have a very long and amazing road to go yet.