Contemplayful Activism

by Craig Green

The more I reflect on the human condition, the more it seems self-evident that our ability to creatively contemplay together is key to disenthralling ourselves from the sour, puckered mass hallucination that is mistakenly referred to as “reality.” In this endeavor, I’ve long been guided and buoyed by contemplayful writers who lucidly illuminate this art of arts. Below are some choice seeds of contemplaytion that I’ve mused on for years.

I first read Alan Watts as a teen. I found his penetrating insight and witty eloquence electrifying. I still gain fresh insight and rejuvenation whenever I dip into his writing. Here’s a potent kernel from his book BEYOND THEOLOGY:

One should not be ashamed of wishful thinking, for this is just what all inventive and creative people do. They are dreamers, and they find ways of realizing their dreams because they wish and dream effectively. That is to say, their wishful thinking is not vague; their desires are imagined so precisely and specifically that they can very often be carried out. The trouble with many religions, accused of wishful thinking, is that they are not wishful enough. They show a deplorable lack of imagination and of adventure in trying to find out what it is that one really wants. I cannot conceive any better way of trying to understand myself, or human nature in general, than a thorough exploration of my desires, making them as specific as possible, and then asking myself whether this is actually what I want.


In a similar spirit, Susan Griffin’s essay on “The Politics of Imagination” beautifully illuminates how the contemplayful spirit can galvanize social change movements.
Juicy excerpts:

Vision is a collective activity. The act of perception is not simply an intellectual accomplishment, it is also a psychological choice. What one is willing to see is dependent on what others see. The emotional ability to perceive, know, or eventually imagine is affected by the social atmosphere.


Like artistic and literary movements, social movements are driven by imagination. I am not speaking here only of the songs and poems and paintings that have always been part of movements for political and social change, but of the movements themselves, their political ideas and forms of protest. Every important social movement reconfigures the world in the imagination. What was obscure comes forward, lies are revealed, memory shaken, new delineations drawn over the old maps: it is from this new way of seeing the present that hope for the future emerges.


Imagination is endangered by the limitations of the ego; the danger is of being restricted to a canvas that is too small. Social movements can free the mind and enlarge the imagination. And what is also true is that, wittingly or unwittingly, one is always part of a social body. In the awareness of this participation one can experience a largesse, a widening of consciousness, a communion that brings consciousness beyond the smaller boundaries of self. As Robert Desnos wrote: No longer to be oneself but to be each one.


How is it that a great mass of people thinks? It is perhaps something like the way a wave passes through water or through molecular space. By a kind of chain reaction the way is laid for a certain pattern of thought, for certain ideas. Slowly, through countless signs, verbal and nonverbal, the unthinkable becomes thinkable.

Here’s Griffin’s full essay.

How do these evocations resonate with you? Do they stir you up? Scare you? Spark ideas? Do you have a working context for joining with kindred spirits to dream together, to lightly and fiercely ask the deepest questions of how we might live?

Contemplayfully yours,