Future Creative Learning and the Power of the Imaginal
by Anneloes Smitsman, PhD, Earthwise Center, and Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue, r3.0
This is part 4 of a series of 9 articles to promote the just released r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint, discussing the profound changes that are needed to educate ourselves and next generations on how to imagine and come to a regenerative & distributive economy. At the end of this series, r3.0 is inviting readers to a free 2-hour online workshop on January 26, 2022, 4–6pm CET. You can already register by sending an email to hello@r3–0.org, mentioning your full name, affiliation and country you will be joining from.
Futures are imaginal ‘possibility spaces’ to dream into and explore, envision, renew, transform, and ignite a deeper shift of being and understanding. One of the key challenges for educators today is how to facilitate a sense of hope and engagement in our future becoming, while our planetary situation is worsening and tensions between people are increasing. The word ‘future’ or ‘futures’ can evoke many different feelings and associations. For some, it can bring a sense of hope, inspiration, and possibility; whereas for others, it may evoke images of looming threats, danger, collapse, and growing uncertainties.
The explorations of this article are based on chapter 4 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint, which launched 7 September 2021. This Blueprint includes 7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability, the third of which is “Learning as Future” and the focus of this article. To read a brief introduction of the Blueprint, click here.
Learning as Future
Learning as Future supports us to develop our future literacies and become future creative — by developing our imaginal capacities and learning how to work with the transformative dynamics of life that open up by activating future potentials. We’ve explored Learning as Future through the following perspectives, which are further explained below:
- The Cosmology of Futures.
- Imaginal Capacities for Exploring Futures.
- Futures Literacies and Future Creative Learning.
1. The Cosmology of Futures
To begin, first a brief exploration about the ‘cosmology of futures’ from a living system’s perspective. Quantum physics tells us that information can appear in various states — dualized as ‘either-or’, or in a superposition state of ‘both-and’ (Currivan, 2017). Research from the fields of consciousness studies suggests that the manner in which we perceive and communicate information — whether dualized as ‘this or that’, or unified as ‘both-and’ — reflects the states of consciousness that we are in (Penrose, et al. 2017; Smitsman and Houston, 2021).
Based on my own research in evolutionary system dynamics, I have taken the position that ‘futures’ are ‘superposition’ states of information — quantum states of simultaneous possibilities that enable a system to evolve, renew, and learn (Smitsman, 2019; Smitsman and Houston, 2021). If all the trajectories of life were predetermined and predestined, learning would be reduced to a mere algorithm or computational process. However, research in child development shows that children do not make predominantly algorithmic choices, and instead apply their imaginal capacities for initiating new and often unpredictable trajectories that attract their development forward (Smitsman and Smitsman, 2020). One could even say that the very nature of development is our capacity to restructure at higher levels of complexity.
Unfortunately, it is precisely this future creative capacity that is so often stifled in mainstream education, and suppressed in the processes that require us to regroup, rethink, transform, and create the new pathways for regeneration and thriving. In the previous article of this series, I explored how the structure of reality is informational and how materiality itself is a particular form of information — i.e. digitized information. This informational perspective of the universe (emerging from the new paradigm sciences) is a fundamentally new understanding of our physical universe and the role of consciousness. Let’s explore now further how this applies to ‘futures.’
If the structure of reality is indeed informational, then it follows that time itself is also a flow of information from potentiality, to possibility, probability, and actualization. Furthermore, it follows that what we call ‘future’ is information in a state of potentiality — i.e. meaning the future exists now as informational potentiality. This further implies that the only ways to access future potentials is from the present (you may think of the past, but that thinking is happening in the present).
The presence of the future exists within us as a holotropic (wholeness) attractor for attracting us forward into the further realization and development of the multiple potentialities that our life and consciousness afford.
We can experience this holotropic attractor of our future potentials as our desire to keep learning, growing, and developing; and a sense of looking forward towards the possibilities that the future may afford us. Children naturally explore their future potentials as part of their developmental process.
All living systems are designed to be future creative by enabling new choices, new combinations, and new structures from the manifest AND potential information that is available within and to the system (Smitsman and Smitsman, 2020). This understanding is essential for transformative learning, in particular for how education can support people to develop their imaginal capacities and enter into the appropriate future creative states of consciousness.
You can’t access future potentials from consciousness states that are not resonant or compatible with the consciousness of the future information that is explored. In other words, merely thinking of or worrying about our future does not make us future creative, and does not catalyze future-directed learning. Many great ideas and initiatives fail to manifest because people are not in the appropriate consciousness state for accessing, activating, and engaging their future potentials.
Now more than ever teachers, coaches, therapists, facilitators, mentors, social workers, (and anyone who is in one way or another involved in the facilitation of learning) require to understand how we as humans can access our future potentials. Why? Because, if in times of increasing crisis and systemic collapse we don’t know how to activate the presence of new thrivable structures that can carry us forward, the likelihood of whole system transformation through systemic breakdown increases significantly. If we continue on this trajectory towards systemic breakdown, untold suffering and hardships will follow and we are clearly not prepared to deal with that. Systemic breakdowns can also take the shape of depression, suicides (attempts), violence, conflicts, mental and physical diseases and disorders, revolts, war, and loss.
2. Imaginal Capacities for Exploring Futures
Living systems are also imaginal systems, which is the basis for how living systems are able to transform and renew themselves. Life is not deterministic and cannot be programmed. Accordingly, the imaginal is not just something that is unique to humans, life itself is imaginal! Our imaginal capacity is precisely what distinguishes living systems from machines and robots, and even artificial intelligence. Consciousness, as physicist Sir Roger Penrose explains, is not just algorithmic or computational (Penrose, 2020). Instead, it is a process that leads to understanding, which enables us to make choices in ways that are not deterministic, which can also result in the most unexpected outcomes.
Our imaginal capacities extend beyond our imaginative capacities. Imagination is often attributed to internal mental states through which people can fantasize, visualize, or imagine things. Imagination can start the process of connecting with the imaginal, however the imaginal is a realm in consciousness that is nonlocal (non-physical, i.e. not in space-time) and goes beyond internal mental processes.
Imaginal consciousness is a nonlocal state of consciousness that connects us directly with the infinite potentials of the unified field of consciousness for accessing the deeper transformative powers of life.
People experience this as a sense of flow, higher or cosmic coherence, unity, deep intuition, lucid dreams, depth perception, altered states, synchronicity, alchemy, and awareness of the simultaneous co-arising nature of reality and simultaneity of past-present-future from timelessness.
It is through the imaginal realm within us that the presence of future potentials can be felt, intuited, and sensed as future possibilities. Once activated, these future potentials stimulate a flow of new ideas, and perspectives, which form the basis for developing our future capacities. As the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
By imaginally engaging futures, we in-form new structures for manifesting the explored possible futures. The future of life enters us into our daily reality as inspiration, ideas, dreams, reflections, and realizations, as well as our innate desire to learn and develop. When we nurture in people their desire to learn, grow, develop, and evolve we are nurturing their future becoming. For education to become transformative it needs to act as an attractor — a lure for our future becoming.
To summarize, it is through our imaginal states of consciousness that we access and become aware of the presence of the future in us and within life itself — here and now. Futures literacy begins by developing our imaginal capacities, and by structurally leaving spaces open within ourselves and the systems and cultures we form part of — to dream the higher dream and receive our future guidance. This is especially important for those educational systems that have become too analytical, result-oriented, rigid, bureaucratic, and stuck in factory modes of learning.
We can by design make it possible for people to experience transformative realities, but not by imposing rigid systemic structures and predetermined learning modes and testing. Developing capacities for regeneration and thrivability begin by being supported and ‘allowed’ to be imaginal and imaginative!
Imaginal Practice for Journeying into the Future of Learning
During the r3.0 BP9 Working Group session of April 5th, 2021, I facilitated the following imaginal exercise for envisioning together the future of education of a more evolved civilization. This practice serves to enter you into, and imaginally explore, these future potentials from within you.
“Trust that you are born with the capacity for entering into imaginal consciousness. This capacity is effortless and as natural as breathing. You have done it many times before already, yet perhaps not realizing this was happening. Relax your mind and body, and release any tensions or expectations.
Now give yourself permission to spontaneously experience any visions, feelings, sensations, or senses that emerge. No need to analyze any of it, just simply let it flow.
Relax and take a deep breath. Make yourself utterly receptive now, relax your mind and create an inner space for experiencing something new.
Make yourself really receptive, open, and available to the future, to what is calling us to explore future possibilities of learning for regeneration and thrivability. Trust in the deeper wisdom that is guiding this possess.
Take a deep breath and connect now with your future potentials of a world and time where humans are regenerative and have learned how to thrive together and with our planet. Trust how these potentials already exist within you as a possibility for us to experience and co-create.
Now feel your imaginal powers activate as you enter more deeply into the imaginal state of consciousness. You now have the capacity to transcend and transform any activities of your mind and go deeper.
Now imagine how the future potentials of a more evolved consciousness start to activate within your future potentials. Feel this activation growing stronger, awakening whole new possibilities and forming a bridge between where you are right now and the futures that are just beyond the horizon of your mind, even beyond what we currently know.
This future of a more evolved consciousness is inviting you now to go on a journey. Imagine how these future potentials grow into a sphere of light, an orb that manifests in front of you.
This sphere of light invites you to enter and becomes like a wondrous vehicle that enables you to transport to a time and place further into the future where it will be sharing with you the future of learning from this more evolved state of consciousness.
With the help of this traveling orb, enter the world of this future possibility. Now that you have entered this future world, allow it to share with you the new ideas, understanding, visions, and feelings that help you understand the future of learning and the greater possibilities for our education…. [explore for 5 minutes, or longer].
When you feel ready, you may now return via your traveling sphere or orb of light to our present time. You can bring with you whatever it is of this future world that can support you in our present world.
Enter fully into our present time now, being fully present in your body — here and now. When you feel ready you may complete this practice by opening your eyes and gently moving your body.”
Write down your experience and anything that came to you during this practice.
3. Futures Literacies and Future Creative Learning
The informational understanding of the presence of futures is radically different from seeing futures as something that do not yet exist or can only be anticipated. Future exists now, yet in an informational state of potentiality that is nonlocal.
Anticipatory systems and processes can help us sense and activate future potentialities by shifting our present state of consciousness into an imaginal future state of consciousness. It then becomes possible to actively sense and explore the information of future possibilities. The UNESCO Futures Literacy Framework (FLF) and Futures Literacy Laboratories (FLL) provide many valuable guidelines for using anticipatory processes for exploring multiple futures.
By combining imaginal and ecosystemic capacities we develop our capacities and understanding for co-creating thriving worlds and futures. Future potentials get activated by a combination of:
- The necessity for change conditions, and;
- Imaginal engagement of our future potentials as future possibilities.
By learning how to engage future potentials imaginally, we also develop the capacities for working with complexity. Imaginal states are able to integrate and process greater amounts of information, without this leading to overwhelm, because these are states of higher coherence. Developing an experiential understanding of higher and more complex orders of reality is essential for becoming ecologically conscious and capable. This is often lacking in mainstream education and essential for future education.
Developing Future Creative Capacities
Now more than ever we need to develop our future creative capacities in order to stop repeating the painful lessons and patterns of the past. We know very well how to design a world that doesn’t work, a world that is not regenerative. We also know very well how to create wars, divisions, and destroy our habitats. Let’s truly learn from all we have set in motion, and change the experiment to learning how to co-create a thrivable and regenerative world that does work for all. However, to achieve this major shift we have to become the required people first.
We cannot just design our way into the future. We first need to learn how to embody and become the future consciousness of a regenerative and thrivable world.
Living systems are naturally future creative by enabling emergence and by creating possibilities for new life-based possibilities. We too are living systems, and we often forget that from the onset of our human life we have been learning rapidly and in ways that allowed us to manifest and develop our future potentials. Human learning and development are naturally future creative, if not stifled by education, economic expectations, and cultural dogmas. From birth onwards, children learn to explore, engage, and evolve the potentials of past, present, and future information within themselves and their environment (Smitsman and Smitsman, 2020).
In other words, we have many innate capacities and potentials available that we can learn to direct and engage differently. To support people (and yourself and each of us included) to develop our future creative capacities, we offer the following guidelines:
- Enact and embody the consciousness states of your future potentials — You can only activate a future potential from the consciousness state of that future potential, and not from old patterns or modes of consciousness. Just like the imaginal cells of the butterfly start to form through the butterfly consciousness of a winged creature, and not the caterpillar modes of a crawly creature.
- Become an imaginal cell for a regenerative and thriving world — Look for ways that you can link up with other imaginal cells to form the imaginal organs and systems of our future becoming.
- Become aware of what you in-form with your intention and attention — By shifting your intention and attention you can shift the way information flows and manifests within and around you. Invest in the future of a thrivable world by applying the power of your intention and attention wisely and consciously.
- Actualize regeneration and thrivability by embodying this in your life — Become the world you wish to live in. Explore how you can embody the future potentials for regeneration and thrivability and activate this within the systems and cultures you form part of.
- Shift your stance to shift your experience of reality — Your stance is a combination of your attitude, posture, and ways of being and relating in the world. When you shift your stance you literally change the flow of information within and around you, which also shifts what you attract and engage from the field of possibilities. New stances create new futures.
Facilitating learning for regeneration and thrivability begins with each of us. We inspire learning by living these realities ourselves. Nobody else can develop the future creative capacities for us, this is a journey we each need to take. Ecological awareness begins with self-awareness and listening to the feedback of life. One of the primary capacities for developing our future creative capacities are our sensing capacities. We each are born with multi-sensory capacities, yet unfortunately, many children are discouraged at a later age to explore those capacities further.
Resilience as a future creative capacity for thrivability fitness
There is one further ecosystemic concept worth exploring as part of Learning as Future and that is the concept of resilience. The more formal definitions of resilience tend to focus on the capacity of a system to bounce back (or return to an earlier state) by recovering from internal or external shock. We propose a developmental understanding of resilience from a future creative perspective.
Living systems do not just adapt and self-regulate their internal dynamics in response to shock or change (conventional understanding of resilience), they also learn from inner and outer shocks by developing new stances and behaviors with a greater future-fit for accessing and exploiting the informational potentials that become available during change. In other words, resilience is essentially a developmental learning process that is future creative (Smitsman and Smitsman, 2020). This evolutionary understanding of systemic resilience is essential for the (re)design of our educational and economic systems and curricula. This developmental understanding of resilience is also essential for education for survival-preparedness.
While faced with increasing possibilities of irreversible eco-systemic collapse and runaway climate change, it can be tempting to prepare for tomorrow by solely focussing on survival-preparedness. The mindset of survival tends to lock people into dualistic stances, which hinder our transformative capacities. When people aim for surviving, rather than thriving, their focus becomes more short-term on securing against risks and threats. Resilience, however, is essential for survival-preparedness, yet not by only focussing on protection from shock or aiming to return to earlier states.
Resilience as a developmental capacity makes us more innovative and creative to work with shock as transformative potential.
Accordingly, survival preparedness is best to be developed within the larger context of thrivability fitness. Education for thrivability fitness prepares people to work with collapse and death in life-affirming and thus regenerative directions. Namely, by exploring the opportunities that collapse and death afford for generating new systemic patterns that are more conducive for life to thrive. The saying that “to live more fully we need to die a little each day”, is fitting in this context.
To complete this section, we recommend that education for regeneration and thrivability is developed through the following three-fold focus:
- Facilitating death and transition — Support people to understand and trust in the necessary role and purpose of death for enabling new cycles of life. Initiate an honest and supportive inquiry about what needs to die from within ourselves and in our human worlds in order to become regenerative and stop the ecosystemic collapse that we are causing. Facilitate learning conversations for how we can die with dignity and transition between the various stages of death and new cycles of life.
- Facilitating regeneration and healing — Support people to understand the vital conditions for regeneration and healing, and how we are each born with innate healing capacities. Apply the 13 qualities of life for exploring how we can regenerate our human consciousness to become as life, and for how we can apply this ecological awareness for the regeneration and healing of the ecosystems and cultures that play an essential role for our planetary wellbeing, health, and prosperity.
- Facilitating birth and emergence — Support people to understand how new life comes into being, from conception to birth and onwards. Facilitate learning that develops our awareness of emergence, and our nurturing capacities for assisting new life to come into form and enter our world. This can apply to new human life as well as to conception and the birth of new ideas, projects, or any other living beings who require our help to come into the world. Apply the actualization process of the 5 stages of future becoming for ‘midwifing’ and nurturing the birth and emergence of new future possibilities that can evolve our systems and cultures towards thrivability.
Source: Extracts from chapter 4 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint.
Other articles in this series
The Call for Educational Transformation
by Anneloes Smitsman, PhD, Earthwise Center and Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue, r3.0
Creating Contexts of Meaning for Transformative Learning
by Anneloes Smitsman, PhD, Earthwise Center and Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue, r3.0
Exploring Transformative Learning as Life
by Anneloes Smitsman, PhD, Earthwise Center and Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue, r3.0
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Smitsman A. (2019). Into the Heart of Systems Change. Ph.D. Dissertation. Maastricht University, the Netherlands. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.28450.25280
Smitsman, A., Baue, B., and Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9. Educational Transformation –7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability. r3.0.
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Smitsman, A. & Houston, J. (2021). The Quest of Rose: The Cosmic Keys of Our Future Becoming. Book 1 of The Future Humans Trilogy. Independently published via Oxygen Publishing.
Smitsman A. & Smitsman A.W. (2020). The Future-Creative Human — Exploring Evolutionary Learning. World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/02604027.2020.1810536
Note: this article first appeared on the Medium Channel of Anneloes Smitsman on November 29, 2021. It was very lightly adapted for reposting on r3.0’s Medium Channel.