In considering this image of clouds for contemplation, the theme that first came to mind was “immensity.” However, in keeping with my propensity to trace subject matter back to its origins, I observed that every human who ever lived has seen skies like this. Curious to know when an atmosphere developed on the early Earth, I turned to my science database and found that it occurred about three billion years ago. While there, I came across a statement by cosmologist Brian Swimme that made me decide instead to reflect on the theme of “emergence.” He wrote—
The universe is not a place, it’s a story or an irreversible sequence of emergent events.
It’s an ongoing creative event.
The universe as a whole, and each being within it, is permeated with the power of emergence.
As a consequence of this perspective, he said the challenge for each of us is to find our personal story within the great “epic of being—the universe story.” This struck a cord because one of the dominant reminders of the past year has been the realization that our personal realities are a construct, the we are the authors of our experience, particularly in how we respond to what’s happening around us, and also in the choices we make in terms of exposure to the realities of others. The first few days of the new year is an especially appropriate time to reconstruct, to recognize what’s authentic and core to our being and then to re-write the story that emerges from it.
Within the image of the clouds, on the left-hand side, a tiny jet-trail brings to mind an image of the Earth and its biosphere as an incubator wherein each life that emerges creates and contributes an individual story to the greater stories of community, nation, species, planet and universe. I highly recommend The Universe Story, which Brian Swimme coauthored with one of the great ecological minds of our time, Thomas Berry.
If the individual stories of human beings going back 40,000 years ago were represented by blips of light, and the intensity of each was determined by its contribution to the whole, an animated video of this process would begin with dim flickers in Africa that accelerate, spread and burst into a globe of bright, pulsating light.
From an evolutionary perspective, the individual human lifespan is so short as to appear insignificant. But from a personal perspective it’s quite the opposite. Observing that every individual is unique and precious, calls me to consider the significance of story and storytelling. In truth, we live and breathe in an atmosphere of stories. And each, like the dust and water particles that form clouds, contributes to the quality and movement of that atmosphere. Sometimes is’s calm, other times turbulent. Always, it’s vibrant and alive.
In whole-systems science and positive change theory, innovators are sometimes referred to as “emergents.” These individuals literally emerge from within the status quo but are not satisfied with it. Having experienced the dysfunction of no longer workable ideas, emergents dream of better ways to live and work. And as soon as possible they adopt them. The write a new story for themselves because they want what they do to matter beyond a paycheck, status or notoriety. They are their own people, authentic to the core, the modern-day equivalents of the “rugged individuals” who settled the American West.
We recognize some of them today as social engineers—agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they are working on alternatives to carbon-based fuels, sustainable ecology, forest, animal and watershed conservation, health and efficiency promoting applications of nanotechnology, energy efficient transportation and the exploration and commercialization of space. They are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, thinkers, motivational speakers and teachers who champion improvements and innovations in every field. They are easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk. Integrity.
Less dramatic but equally deserving of the label emergent are family members and neighbors, everyday people who are quietly living moral and ethical lives, people actively looking for ways to work more creatively, smarter and kinder with consideration for all. They do a good job and take pride in it, no matter how menial it may seem to others. They have opted out of popular culture, preferring the more quiet and substantive values of personal enrichment, fulfillment and service.
Because the contributions of emergents have survival value for the planet and all its inhabitants, I see them as paving the way toward a positive and more sustainable future. For this reason alone, they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged and supported—by all of us, including the mass media.
Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.
About This Image
Title: Cloud Mass
File #: CDC5012
Location: Blunt, South Dakota
I’d been photographing an ocean of corn fields all day. Walking back to the car I looked up and took this shot of the clouds. Only weeks later, when I zoomed in on the image to eliminate some dust spots on the lens, did I notice the little jet trail. This is an instance where the image wasn’t what I would consider a “stand out,” but as I was reviewing my files, looking for something suitable for contemplation, it caught my eye.
It’s becoming clear to me that to be evocative, an image doesn’t always need to be a photographic Wow! What makes it evocative has more to do with where the subject and presentation take me when I give it some serious attention.