I like to think of the Pandora Project as an example of active hope – a term coined by authors Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, in their book of the same name which was published in 2012. They define it as follows:
Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have. It is a process we can apply to any situation, and it involves three key steps. First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we’d like things to move in or the values we’d like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction. (p.3)
The hope Pandora finds at the bottom of her box is active hope. It doesn’t just sit in the corner gathering dust – it is there to be acted out and acted upon. Step one, as Macy and Johnstone point out, involves taking a clear look at reality.
And here’s where I’d like to pause for a moment and consider the subtitle of their book, which is How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. The authors don’t refer in the book to this flippant subtitle, but they do allude to its point in the Introduction. Up front and in your face, they name the elephants in the room:
As our world heats up, deserts expand and extreme weather events become more common. Human population and consumption are increasing at the same time as essential resources, such as freshwater, fish stocks, topsoil, and oil reserves, are in decline…. We can no longer take it for granted that the resources we’re dependent on – food, fuel, and drinkable water – will be available. We can no longer take it for granted even that our civilisation will survive or that conditions on our planet will remain hospitable for complex forms of life.
We are starting out by naming this uncertainty as a pivotal psychological reality of our time. (p.1)
A universal psychological reality: is there such a thing? There are plenty of people whose psychological response to these converging global crises is abject denial. And there are also plenty of people whose psychological response is what Stanislav and Christina Grof call “spiritual emergency.”
Spiritual emergency shares a number of features with psychosis, and these types of experiences overlap and merge. One person’s craziness is another person’s awakening. Again: is there such a thing as a universal psychological reality? In fact, is there such a thing as a universal reality? Or is reality multifold? I like the term ‘consensual reality’ because it indicates that we choose which parts of our personal reality we share with others. We hold the power within us to shape a collective reality.
How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy? Well, with the greatest respect to Macy and Johnstone, perhaps going crazy is the healthiest response we could have to the mess we’re in; perhaps going crazy – that is, surrendering oneself to spiritual crisis and breakthrough – is precisely what is needed.
Those of us who have opened our own personal Pandora’s Box, unleashing a storm of disorder and mess into our lives, understand that survival rests on a psychological reality grounded in active hope. That is, grounding oneself in one’s own personal truth, and understanding one’s personal power to contribute to and help shape that shared consensual reality. “Because we can never know for sure how the future will turn out, it makes more sense to focus on what we’d like to have happen, and then do our bit to make it more likely. That’s what Active Hope is all about.” (p.167)