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Back to the future

A friend writes, “I have thought long and hard about the legacy we are handing down to the kids of the world.   I can't believe what they will be facing: before some of them are barely in their 30s the world as we know it will most likely be unrecognizable.  

“With the thought that we must resist pessimism, when I ask kids what they think about the state of affairs of the world, there are many who are quite concerned.  And many more who seem to be so afraid that they just push through the discussion and go back to ‘party mode.’  I know my own 14-year-old is very resistant to talking about it...A blanket of silence comes over him as his eyes look at the future.  I know this is based on fear. 

 “When they hear things about the environment or the wars, the economy, they really don't know what to do with the information.  It seems like college segueing into a job, or the idea of growing up and raising a family, or owning a home, having animals in the wild, even having a planet that is not ravaged with storms, are dreams that no longer seem feasible to offer to them.

“Sometimes I feel like telling my son to just run free, don't go to school anymore--live! live! live!—there may not be much time left for you.  But instead we plug along with business as usual, all the while hoping that I’m not cheating him out of the last years of freedom from strife he will experience.”

The book I’m reading these days, “The Cultural Creatives,” by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson (Three Rivers Press, 2000), points out many positive threads running through contemporary culture that are easily overlooked because they are occurring outside the worldview of mainstream media—which are neither left, nor right, according to this analytical lens, but “Modern” (definition to follow). The rise of the Cultural Creatives is the most important of these trends.

When the book was written, back in 1999, there were 50 million Americans (26% of the population) who had rejected “Modernism” (the dominant worldview, which says that the modern/urban/First World way of doing everything is right, with free market capitalism for all, and loser status for everyone who doesn’t get with the program) and “Traditionalism,” which says that the old ways, which may never really have existed, are the best ways and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket because of moral decline brought about by Modernism.  Moreover, the percentage of “Cultural Creatives” is growing because neither Modernism nor Traditionalism are a sufficiently comprehensive or accurate view of the world as it currently is.

One of the factors that has limited Cultural Creatives’ empowerment is that they “all face in the same direction and don’t realize how many of them there are.”  Moreover, we feel isolated and alienated (a perspective we share with Traditionals) because the dominant media don’t reflect our view of the world. 

This election may have helped to change that.  Not so much because of Obama, but because of all the progressives and women who were elected despite torrents of cash being spent on their defeat.  Money did not overcome people power, and more Americans were awake and paying attention than any of us might have predicted.

But back to the question of the world the young people will inherit.  The book tells the story of a program in Tennessee called Peninsula  Village, where addicted and disturbed teens come after they’ve failed or fallen through acute treatment centers, psych wards, halfway houses, jail, and onto the street.  They know that if they don’t find a way to live constructively this time, their next stop is probably the morgue.  According to the book, eight out of ten teens who complete a year at Peninsula Village return to school, find jobs, and stay off drugs.  (Those are the results that get measured, but they are reflections of the change within them, not the change itself.)

Founder Patte Mitchell modeled the program after the process of a Native American vision quest and medicine wheel: leaving the old life, crossing a threshold into the unknown, and integrating what they discover into themselves so that they can then return to their communities and help to heal their communities as well.

“It’s not playtime,” Mitchell says. “When you decide to spend the next year or so on a vision quest, you’re setting out on a grave and difficult journey.  When I designed the Village I saw that kids needed a way of life they could take with them into the world. And I knew it had to be something that made spiritual and physical sense to them.  The kids tell us that when they leave the program and start to get into trouble, they know what to do. They lay out the stones of the medicine wheel and they remember how to sit for awhile and look at their own doubt and fear. They know how to descend into the dark of their own feelings and how to reconnect with a sense of balance. This then tells them who to trust outside themselves, what they need to let go of, and what they need to keep.  They know that if they let go of something big, they’re going to feel emptiness. And they know how, when they’re ready, to move to the place of prayer.

“I think that what technology has taken from these kids is knowing the naturalness of things.  They don’t notice sunrise, high noon, sunset, midnight. They need living images to be anchored in their bodies, so they can be anchored into life and can trust their connection to each other and to the great round of Being. We have this place inside that’s meant to be fed with imagination and rich images, but with these kids there is a vacuum, and they are bereft. The modern world gives them nothing they really need.  So what we do at the Village is a way to get both inner support and community support for their life’s journey. And they learn that they have to give to others as well as get,  that like the wounded healer who becomes a shaman, they have great gifts after all, and a contribution to make in this life.”

Of course what she says about teens is applicable to all of us: the modern world gives us little we really need; when we give up something big, it’s natural to feel empty for awhile; that the natural world, our natural selves, and community can “save” us, etc.

Spencer Martin (spiritual leader of the Methow) and I have talked with Glenn and Carolyn Shmekel, of the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, about collaborating with the Methow Valley Teen Center to offer rites of passage and vision quest experiences on our property.  Our property is not as wild as we might like it to be…so perhaps it would just be a jumping off point.  We’d also like to include teens from the Colville…many of whom don’t actually get to get out into nature as much as one might think.

Most teens don’t need a yearlong residential program; what they need is nature and community—a community that recognizes them as contributors, not problems.  As for the world they’re inheriting, have Yipdoggies seen the KarmaTube video (4 minutes, HD) of Generation We?  I don’t get the ROTC/military inclusion, but apparently, the Millennials, the largest generation in American history, are strongly progressive and ready to kick some political butt on behalf of social justice and environmental preservation: http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=2836

May they live long and prosper!

And so it is.


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