The Mutant Futures Program: Self-Discovery and Alignment
It was said that at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi there was a message at the entrance to the court: “Know Thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). As Parker J. Palmer (A Hidden Wholeness) argues, many of us an early age experience a split, where in order to protect ourselves we begin to hide aspects of ourselves. As this process deepens, we can even forget that certain parts of ourselves exist. These parts of ourselves have been functionally disowned. “Knowing thyself” becomes a lot harder.
Self-discovery is one of those very tricky things. Some people seem to live life as if they have always and will always deeply know themselves. People like Mohammed Ali, Martin Luther King, or Arundhati Roy, Greta Thunberg. But for many others it feels challenging, a real struggle. My own journey has been mixed, strange but sometimes magical. On the one hand throughout my life I never gave my inner artist the legitimacy it well and truly deserved. It has played second fiddle to other aspects. On the other hand from a fairly early age I venture into the realm of self-discovery, journaling regularly, and exploring uncommon paths. My inner work in my 20s journaling every day eventually led me to the transformative spaces of futures studies and action research.
My experience is that when there is deep self-discovery magic happens. One part of this is that when we become clear about what our purposes is and who we are, we are imbued with a direction that allows us to find those opportunities that we most need. But it also brings a tenacious-ness, resilience and persistence. We will not be easily stopped by obstacles. They become simply problems to solve in a longer journey. A more subtle aspect is that we attract the right people and opportunities into our lives. This was my experience in my early days as part of the futures studies, action research and alternative globalization communities.
But life is this constantly evolving process. Even when I have discovered something profound about myself, the following year or the year after there is still something more to be discovered. Life is so often asking us to peel back the onion layer one more time, to discover ourselves more deeply.
In 2017 I felt like I was having an existential crisis. Part of me was filled with regret and sadness, thinking about how I had failed to fully engage the artist inside me. From an early age I had strong artistic tendencies, wrote poetry, music, fiction. As a young adult I played in bands, and during my PhD work I made documentaries. Throughout my life I have engaged my artist in various ways (it has never been fully disowned, just placed as “second” to other selves). But still I was filled with this feeling that I was missing something. I began reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, a profound book about reconnecting with one’s inner artist.
I had also been running the Mutant Futures Program at that point for a few years already. And in a retreat that we did I remember that this was the issue that I needed to do work on. During the Mutant Futures Program we did a process called CLA of the Self, created by Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojevic. The process helps us to explore our inner selves and metaphors for our own lives and to reimagine and reframe in more empowering ways. We also used Oliver Markley’s re-imaging visualization.
Working with the issue of the disownment of the inner artist, I came to two metaphors. The first metaphor was a vortex that I was falling into. This represented both the feeling that I was losing an existential part of myself, but at the same time this new drive or imperative to become an artist seems out of control — it would gladly throw away the rest of my life. Would I abandon my existing work? How would I support my family? This was the double bind. If I go down the artist path I lose much of what I have built. If I don’t become an artist I am not being true to myself — I am a person pretending to be me. The second metaphor was of a human trampoline. And it was a uncanny way for the metaphor to help resolve the double bind. What it basically said was, go and play and do your art, but you need some rules, you need a community to play with, and you need a safety net. The meaning of the metaphor was all too clear. Integrate the artist and the playful self into my work with a community. Create rules that protect me and others. Make sure the basic safety net is there (e.g. $$).
What I experienced coming out of that process was what Sohail Inayatullah calls alignment. This is where the strategies that we take are aligned with our inner metaphors and core narrative. As he has often argued, culture eats strategy for breakfast. We can create lots of strategies but if the inner culture of our lives will not fully embrace them, then they will not work. This is what I and others have experienced when we picked up a business book that tells us to boldly write pitch. I have done this. A pitch is written but when I speak it it just doesn’t come out with any conviction, passion or attraction. Who was the self that was writing the pitch? The strategies are dead on arrival.
What I experienced after doing the Mutant Futures Program was this sense of deep alignment. After the course I experienced a flow in the kind of work that I brought forth. I began to integrate art, play and my existing work more fully. I began to connect with the communities that would support this integration of art, and play, with my work.
There are many ways of doing this self-discovery. This is arguably an ancient and archetypal journey for any human being to take. Many feel they are in just the right place that they need to be, and that is great. But others may feel that there is another layer of the onion to peel, to discover themselves more fully. I encourage anyone in this camp to listen to that inner voice, listen to the weak signals of the self, and follow the wisdom of your intuition.
For more information on the courses see the following links: