In considering this image 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 being and before that, critters with eyes 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, that 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 couple of months in the new year are an especially appropriate time to reconstruct and 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, Fr. 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. That every individual is unique and precious, urges 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 calm, other times turbulent. Always, 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. They write a new story for themselves because they want their presence and actions 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. Among them today are innovators and social engineers—agents of positive change and social development. In business and industry they’re working on alternatives to carbon-based fuels, sustainable ecology, responsible forest management, animal and watershed conservation, health promotion, nutrition, applications of nanotechnology, energy-efficient transportation, and the exploration and commercialization of space. These and others like them are the visionaries, authors, life-coaches, globally-consciousness, motivational speakers and teachers who champion improvements in every field. And they’re easy to identify because they live principled lives and walk their talk. Integrity trumps financial gain.
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 the work may seem to others. They’ve 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. Many of them were either the founders of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) or are current leaders in them. They deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged, and supported—by all of us, including the mass media. Many are subscribers to this blog.
Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.
About This Image
I’d been photographing an ocean of corn fields all day around Blunt, South Dakota. 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 that were 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 gives it value has more to do with where the subject and presentation take me when I give it some serious attention.
I invite you to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography