Climate science these days predicts a frightening future for our progeny as the human population spikes to unprecedented levels while we carry on living as though there’s no tomorrow. The latest salvo from the UN International Panel on Climate Change in September 2018 gives us twelve years to get our act together before the inevitable climate apocalypse.
We’ve heard it all before. Been dinned into our ears for years – food and water scarcity, crop failure, torrential rainstorms, coastal erosion, desertification, forest fires, species depletion, civil unrest, mass migration, incarceration of child refugees, homelessness, rampant opioid addiction, youth alienation, gun violence, self-harming and suicide. This past weekend there were 14 incidents of gun violence in Toronto alone, a record high for the city. As the disaster de jour menu grows daily more dire, so does our indifference to the immediacy of the threat.
The universal dissociation from fact to fantasy in developed countries is so conspicuous we can’t see it or else we deliberately turn away from it by electing politicians to office who invest heavily in disseminating what they themselves describe as fake news. Life’s a movie these days and we the players are airbrushed actors programmed through the algorithms of big data to consume impulsively regardless of the consequences. The live-streamed seduction of digital technology has now become indispensable in our kids’ social lives. They are permanently distracted by it and so are we. But there’s hope.
19.1 The Old Testament
The Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years ago this July reminds us that the impossible is possible. We can start with young people themselves by introducing alternative ways of finding continuity and community during times of social stress and fragmentation (such as our own) through cultivation and practice of the arts. Let’s pull back a bit from full on consumer frenzy by creating a bit of contemplative space around ourselves, keeping a wary distance from the relentless brainwashing of social media.
We can encourage young people to live simply, creatively, honestly – straight from the heart – through art. But first, maybe we should ask ourselves a vital question: is the whole idea of our presence here on Earth just to make money and protect our personal property and political space? Is that the best we can offer our kids? Or can we find ways to live more fully by taking genuine care of one another and the planet?
Reflecting on the human predicament these days His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to a simple, straightforward, and somewhat startling conclusion. “The planet,” he says, “does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” How can we encourage young people to take up this calling?
No matter where we come from or where we live in the world we face a defining moment with climate change, which is the biggest challenge our species has ever faced consciously and collectively. This is a major tipping point. Rather than deepening our depression and despair, however, it could also evoke common cause bringing us together as never before, including the Manhattan Project, Apollo 11 and 9/11. But we have to find the will for real change and that’s going to come from our children, and theirs.
For many astronauts and cosmonauts the voyage into deep space was a transformative experience. Pavel Vinogradov flew to space three times aboard Soyuz bound for Russia’s Mir Space Station and the International Space Station between 1997 and 2013. He describes the effect of his space missions this way:
“Space flight change the perception of all people regardless of their nationality, their religion, the place from which they started, be it South Asia, or America or Russia. The Earth is small. You look at the atmosphere that protects us, at this very narrow blue strip above the surface of the Earth, and then you realize, ‘What are we doing?’ We try to divide religion, this religion is good and that one is bad; we divide resources, gas and oil. The first thought you have is that many things which people do are not worthy of the name of the civilization called humanity.”
Recognition of our mistakes is the beginning of change and the doorway to wisdom. Historical records show that human progress favours learning the hard way. On the Garden Path we recognize our failures as opportunities to learn and perhaps even realize deeper meaning in our lives.
Meaning and a noble purpose inspire and set humans free. To find meaning and turn things about at this late stage is a moonshot for sure. So we start with small, specific actions. Little things that amount to opening the door of our space capsule and stepping out into the real world. One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.
19.2 The New Testament
Two steps, that’s all it takes. First there’s education and then there’s political action. Leaving aside the Pandora’s box of politics for the moment – except to suggest that, given the death of democracy, the Occupy Movement and Extinction Rebellion are the only viable political alternatives we have left today – we chose to concentrate on education of youth through intuitive thinking, art, narrative, poetry and music. Bear with me – it’s not as simple-minded, or easy, as it sounds. We set the bar high with sound pedagogical parameters – critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity – but we keep it on the light side. If nothing else we’ve learned one immensely valuable lesson from kids: play is the default setting for all human learning.
We draw upon the experience of young people from Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, at the Butterfly Peace Garden and Monkey’s Tale Centre during years of civil war and the tsunami of 2004. We share the lessons of those hard times in the Garden Path Out-of-the-Box Curriculum, a starter seed kit for reconciliation with oneself and with others who may come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and share contested space.
For present day purposes in our own country of Canada, progressive education means creating a new story, one that young people can embrace because it will be one they make themselves. It will focus on possibilities, not problems. A reboot of youthful imagination brought to bear on today’s problems can begin to make a small but significant difference in a localized context.
We will start by making art with poor and marginalized people in our own back yard – at neighbourhood schools, in local sports grounds, homeless shelters, city parks, abandoned factories, derelict mansions, decommissioned crack houses, community centres and houses of worship – anywhere that will have us. We open the doors of the Falling Sky Studio and invite people to learn from, and contribute their truth to, contemporary political debate through exploring and exploiting our Out-of-the-Box Curriculum to the fullest.
The images you see here are the work of young Muslim artists from Sri Lanka who used art as their compass in discerning a meaningful way forward around the time of the Easter church bombings when hatred and fear ruled the day and adult leadership was either non-existent or too unimaginative, intolerant, or compromised to help. Why can’t we do the same thing with our happy daze kids here in Canada? Is it only when apathy explodes into anarchy that we begin to pay attention?
Personal transformation and social transformation happen simultaneously. We will embark on the Falling Sky project this fall with a small cohort of inner city youth, homeless people and refugees in Toronto or Hamilton offering them tools for transformation and teaching them how to use them so they can pass them along to their peers. We will provide time and space where they can eventually run a Falling Sky Studio in their own backyard, responding to present-day crisis of social alienation and anomie by strengthening themselves and their community from the inside out.
We are committed and we are confident about the success of this collaboration in extremis based on lived experience. We did it in Sri Lanka during a war and tsunami so why can’t we do it here? By choosing to name our project the Falling Sky Studio we invoke ancient Irish wisdom regarding the prospects of survival during a colonial Zombie Apocalypse, which in the case of the Irish people featured 800 years of British imperial rule.
It was commonly held truism of the time that, “Even if the sky falls,” (something the Irish consider commonplace) “there will be a tiny hole to get out through.” Yes, we champion an impossible cause, but this only whets the appetite for greater struggle. “All for naught or not at all.” That’s the spirit that got us going in the first place and keeps us going today.
19.3 Apocalypse Now
What to do about the apocalypse then? Swallow it by correcting course, like Allan Ginsberg recommends. This means our personal apocalypse, social apocalypse, political apocalypse, ecological apocalypse, eschatological apocalypse and, to finish it all off in grand style, the grand finale apocalypse with a glazed nuclear cherry on top. Let us pause, bow our heads and give thanks. May we never partake in what will certainly be the last Last Supper.
Ever since Adam and Eve got their walking papers from Eden we are destined to wander on in exile without protest. Well, exceptions may be made to total surrender in silent acquiescence. You can scream if you wish, aloud or silently, like the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, or you can sedate yourself with the finest big pharma fentanyl, rant about foreigners taking over our country, or go for broke declaring holy war on terrorism.
But might it not be possible that we are the terrorists? Last weekend 20 people where killed and 26 injured while shopping at Walmart in the Cielo Mall in El Paso Texas. A similar incident took place on the same day in Dayton, Ohio. Pogo the Possum got it right during the Vietnam War when he said, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”
We must face this truth, just as the Vietnamese artist and poet Tien Cao did reflecting upon what happened to her own family when they fled war and then confronted what it means to begin all over again on a foreign shore.
if you retrace your past
you can see every step
has been a stone
one foot leads to the other
until they meet
It’s the standing still part our civilization just doesn’t get. We are forever on the run and there’s no hiding place down here anymore, least of all perhaps in places of worship or at the local Walmart. We have been at war with nature and ourselves since biblical times so we have become clever masters of self-deception. Mindfully creating art is one way of slowing down and stepping back so that we can take a better look and see just who we are and what we are doing to ourselves and people around us – indeed, the whole world around us – in the name of progress. Is what we see around us really progress?
Walking the Garden Path means transforming the toxic banality of our culture into dream and portent through silent regard of the present moment in every moment. We begin again this way, in dialogue with young people based on this premise. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” Samuel Beckett once said. So let’s ask our kids what a different world, their world, would look like were they to try again. We don’t want them to tell us – we’re too stupefied by the smokescreen of adult self-importance to understand. We want them to astonish us through original art, poetry, music and performance, and through their ability to communicate deeply with one another.
The process of the Garden Path, including the Falling Sky Studio, takes time. It is definitely slow track, not a fast track. It is contemplative in nature. With the mirror of art we look into our collective soul and recognize the sacred heart of humanity beating there. Program design, management and delivery, documentation, fund-raising and financial accountability are all interwoven in a complex web of coordinated activity. Realization of such a vision is a step-by-step process requiring silence, space, and a deep understanding of creative process, teamwork, patience and commitment over the long term.
Garden Path Serendipity (GPS) Inc. has been established to help this process get started. It is officially incorporated with the Province of Ontario as Garden Path Art and Education Programs Inc., a corporation without share capital, as of April 11, 2019. The objects for which GPS is incorporated are as follows:
- To advance education by providing leadership training programs to children, youth and adults.
- To advance education by providing interactive workshops on topics related to the performing and visual arts with children, youth and adults.
- To advance the public’s appreciation of the arts by producing public art exhibitions, presentations, and performance art(s) events.
- To relieve conditions associated with disability by providing workshops for children, youth and adults with physical and psychological trauma.
- To develop and provide education and training programs to members of the general public in developing nations in Asia.
GPS Inc. provides an administrative structure in which the poetic processes of the Garden Path can harmoniously evolve. Thirty years plus program experience from around the world combines with poetic and playful endgame rites, but to be honest, there’s a missing piece, and that is legs.
We need brilliant, young people full of jam to walk this talk and land on the Moon without ever leaving Planet Earth. They are the tiny hole we must find. They are the only hope. It’s time for new blood and a new way of looking at things.
We will introduce the Out-of-the-Box Curriculum in Canada this fall in a 12-session course of Mystery Painting workshops, with either of the following program options: 1 session per week over a period of 12 weeks, or 3 sessions per week over a period of 1 month. The workshops will proceed through 3 levels of transmission (Beginning / Intermediate / Senior) over the period of a year or more, culminating in certification of practitioners with proven teaching skills as Garden Pathfinders.
In the days to come we will inform you of our progress and we may ask for your help if possible by donating to the cause. You may do this through the Community Counts Foundation which is a registered Canadian charity. Your contribution will help us support local initiatives in Canada as well as help our team in Sri Lanka fabricate new sets of Out-of-the-Box Curriculum toys in Sri Lanka.
We will also sponsor the Image Arc auction of original scaled-up Mayachitram (Mystery Paintings) from Sri Lanka to support future Garden Path projects. The Falling Sky News – debut issue due out this September – will keep you informed.
Many years ago the American writer Walker Percy asked a question which remains unanswered and more relevant than ever today. “How does one live a life of meaning in a depraved and predatory society?” Answering that question is the real moonshot.
David Walsh, Robbie Chase, Rosemary Barnes, Conrad Richter, Bart Kreps, Karen Drury Smith and myself are the GPS Inc. flight crew. Prepare to launch, folks… and thanks for counting down with us.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
August 10, 2019