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A Courageous Conversation - Project Imaginal

By: Christopher Salisbury
Founder of WildWise
Leader of Call Of The Wild and Project Imaginal Short Courses

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”       H. Thurman

Why ‘Project Imaginal’?

The metaphor of the caterpillar changing into a butterfly is a compelling one, and particularly helpful in troubled times. I first encountered it on the Be The Change facilitator training with Yaacov and Susannah a few years ago, and ever since then its been an image that’s reassured me in the times when I’ve seriously doubted the world ever getting out of this mess.

In the chrysalis stage, the imaginal cells begin to form and are at first rejected or destroyed. Then, they begin to cluster together and when they reach a critical mass of 5% of the whole, it catalyses the transformation of the rest of the cells into a butterfly. 

This programme invites ‘imaginal’ people to cluster together for a ‘courageous conversation’ about the world they live in and the life they are leading.

18-25 year olds are the demographic most likely to get radicalized, and for the most part, its in pursuit of a cause to better the world. Isis is so successful in its recruitment because it reaches into a disillusioned, disenfranchised community of young adults and appeals to the parts that are unfulfilled. Our own cultural evangelists eg. Church groups or environmental charities, rely on the same factors to catch the attention of the young.

Scott Annan, anthropologist, testified to the United Nations security council: ‘what inspires the most uncompromisingly lethal actors in the world today is not so much the Qur’an or religious teachings. It’s a thrilling cause that promises glory and esteem. Jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer: fraternal, fast-breaking, glorious, cool – and persuasive…..’

I think its clear we have to raise our game to meet this desire and longing in our youth before its corrupted by the wrong kind of fundamentalism. In case you dismiss the pulling power of organisations like Isis, a July 2014 ICM poll suggested that more than one in four French youth between the ages of 18 and 24 have a favourable or very favourable opinion of Isis, although only 7-8% of France is Muslim. Most are young, in transitional stages in life: immigrants, students, between jobs and mates, having just left their native family. They join a “band of brothers (and sisters)” ready to sacrifice for significance.

When I was in this age bracket, and seeking something of meaning I saw a flyer on a noticeboard that invited applications to be part of a youth exchange programme facilitated by the Findhorn Foundation. The proposed itinerary involved travel to the Kalahari and then to Russia and Europe, with a cultural programme that sought to foster peace in the troubled context of the cold war and the widening poverty gap of the North and South.

45 young people from Russia, UK and Botswana met over 3 years in each others countries, starting in the Kalahari desert, to live together 24/7 for 6 weeks at a time and experience a different culture and wilderness with a view to demonstrating to the wider world that peace and equality were prerequisites for the future. Needless to say. it was an epic and fraught process, which I have no time to go into here, but it was a critical experience for my life trajectory, altering its course fundamentally.

Our Imaginal programme aims to make a positive and critical intervention at this same stage in a young persons life.

It is based on the Schumacher College campus and becomes part of an intentional learning community focused on creative solutions and new paradigm thinking. The foundations will be put in place on a 2-week residential, followed by a 6 month mentoring process to support the ongoing flowering of projects, ideas and community, and the important business of being an authentic, fully alive human being.

The 3 broad areas of the core curriculum will be Self, Other and World.

Our method is through immersive learning experiences founded upon practices and processes to bring about deeper connection to ourselves, to each other, to the natural world and ultimately to the wider world. The course will also include an all night dance ceremony as part of the School of Movement Medicine’s summer Earth Dance fund-raiser for the Amazon rainforest.

If you are reading this you probably know someone who would benefit from such an experience. We would like to hear from them, and so please pass on the information to anyone who will consider it. We are still working on a bursary scheme to ensure this course does not remain the exclusive preserve of the wealthy, and to that end, there are some half-price places. We would like to increase this and so if you can make a contribution, or know someone who might donate to a fund, then please get in touch with Chris Salisbury at asap.

For further info on Project Imaginal please visit Project Imaginal Short Course