I suggest we distinguish two streams of time: one that runs from the past into the present and another that runs counter to this current. We are familiar with the first: it is linear time, tied to the law of cause and effect. We have, as yet, little affinity with the second. Unlike the Greeks, who developed elaborate rituals to avail themselves of this current, we have no tools to put it to use.
I don’t believe it’s entirely unknown to us as we utilise it in every new insight and creative act: unobserved it serves groundbreaking ideas and inspires innovative approaches. In fact awareness of this current is as common as it is commonly overlooked. We apply it in every moment we appreciate art: The music we hear is never just the music of the moment alone. We hear the totality of the piece through every cadence. As we listen we anticipate what is to come and weigh what we hear against the scale of the whole. Even if we have never heard the piece before we sort of know what to expect.
Writers do the same when they write. They are sensitive to this second current. They meet it the moment a story takes over, a tale tells itself; a passage develops a life of its own. Suddenly they are in the presence of more than themselves. They realise that the tale is beyond their telling, the composition beyond their ken. Making use of their imagination, they have been made use of by their muse.
The muse is real and capable. In fact more capable than the writers themselves.
The self that is active in such moments relates to our ordinary self as the future to the past. It is not who we usually are but who we aspire to be and long to become. This part of ourselves is more potential than reality. It is still in the process of becoming and has, by virtue of its nascent nature, a natural affinity with the future. It is this becoming, growing, potential self that we apply in every creative act, and that we must employ if we wish to learn what the future has to teach us today.
In the Delphi Project we experimented with this second current through collective imagination. Our aim was not story-making in the way described above. We hoped that the use of metaphors in community would lead to a similar place. And it did.