Mutant Futures Program: What selves is the future asking us to grow?
One of the most powerful ideas that I have encountered over the past decade is that we have multiple “selves”, an idea I thank Sohail Inayatullah for introducing me to about 12 or 13 years ago. Selves is not meant literally, but rather points to something that many of us experience. Sometimes we experience an internal conflict, between one part of us that wants one thing and another part of us that wants something else. The image of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other comes to mind. These are two voices pulling us in different directions.
Hal and Sidra Stone (Embracing Our Selves) discuss some of the basic selves that operate in us. There is the protector controller which makes sure that all the basics are taken care of, the bills are paid, there’s food in the fridge, we are safe and in a healthy environment. Many of us have a strong achiever, the person within us which is aspiring to accomplishments. Some of us have a strong perfectionist, that part of us that wants to make sure that everything is in its proper order. All of us have an inner critic, which both criticizes us when it feels that we didn’t do something right, and which can also be externalized — it criticizes and blames others. There are also selves from our earlier parts of our life, the playful child or the vulnerable child, parts of us that we may or may not have access to. In addition to these primary and secondary selves there may be other selves that we have pushed aside, neglected or even disowned.
Disowned selves can be troublesome or even dangerous, but on the other hand they are a source for transformation. How does this work? Sometimes we disown elements of ourselves that our society or family could not accept. Sometimes it is our choice. We got hurt showing a certain part of ourselves, so we hide it. Or some parts of ourselves have become dominant and taken over, not giving space for others.
That which we have disowned becomes like an Achilles’ heel, a part of ourselves that is a weakness. Often times we will attract the people or the life lessons from the world that can teach us how to reintegrate these disowned selves into our lives. Sometimes, it is the people that annoy us that point to our disowned selves. We will sometimes say to ourselves “this person really annoys me because… blah blah blah blah blah”… and what we are saying is that I have disowned that person’s behavior from inside me, and I can’t stand to see him or her play that out.
These can be very powerful weak signals of the self. Weak signals are like little blips on a radar screen that tell you that something is there, but it still may be a long way off. Back when I was 18, I used to see people singing on stage at rock concerts, and I used to feel this strong urge to be there on that stage, and even the feeling of envy. So I decided to join a band and start singing and songwriting. Throughout my 20s I was in and out of bands, which was deeply fulfilling. A weak signal of the self can manifest as some idea that feels crazy, exciting or purposeful. It can be preconceptual, a feeling or an urge. It can also be an unformed thought, a half-baked idea. Listening to and using weak signals of the self requires us to be sensitive to both multiple selves and the selves that we have disowned.
In the Mutant Futures Program one of the most powerful ideas that has emerged is that the future is asking us to bring forth new selves. The future knows that we’re not going to be able to address her challenges by being the same person and people that we are. The future is asking us to bring forth the new selves that are needed for a particular issue to be resolved, for a challenge to be met.
Being of service to humanity, to our society and our communities is a fundamental part of this. Personally, I got tired of the self-referential navel-gazing between thinking about who I am and what methods I’m creating. Eventually I came to the realization that who I am needs to be in reference to something far greater than myself … It needs to serve some aspect of society and contribute to resolving the future challenges that we are facing. Doing this puts our exploration of our mutant selves and mutant methods into a healing context.
Let’s take an example, violence against women. If I care deeply enough about this, and consider what kind of future I want to work towards, this can give me clues about what selves I need to grow inside me. These may be selves that I have disowned, or they may be completely new selves, or selves that I can try and copy-paste from someone that I admire. Regardless of where I get the selves, being of service and working towards a healed future for an issue that is far greater than me will give me powerful clues about what it means to become — to grow new selves. And it will also sharpen my development of a hybrid or mutant methods. The mutant methods that we need to create are hardly just in reference to what we like to do, or our personal development; they are more fundamentally about the needs that exist both now and into the future to heal and transform a social issue or challenge. I am then forced to ask, what kind of hybrid or mutant method can I work on that can address and transform violence against women? Suddenly the exploration of my inner journey and my methodological journey is sharpened and applied toward something much greater than me. This is liberating and powerful.
We can apply this logic to whatever challenge exists in the world. The world is asking us to heal it in a variety of ways. There are so many issues that we can surrender to and be of service to. This ranges from the issue of modern slavery, climate change, domestic violence, mental health, democracy and governmental accountability, and the list goes on. We all have a role to play in addressing these issues. We each can in fact play a part in mutating the future. If we know what aspects of society we want to serve and want to change, we can play a part in creating the gene edits necessary within this particular issue.
There it is. There is something the future is asking us to re-own in ourselves. What selves is the future asking us to grow in the garden of our soul? Let’s find out.
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