A Spirituality of Shared Imagination
Whiteheadian Tips for Brainstorming
1. Honor the introverts.
2. Don't be afraid of silence and pauses.
3. Feel free to disagree.
4. Listen each other into speech.
5. Take breaks.
6. Recognize many forms of intelligence.
8. Take risks.
9. Have fun.
10. Bring food.
Brainstorming as Dancing in Space
Brainstorming can be understood as a form of corporate worship. It reaches out into a reservoir of fresh possibilities with an empty cup, hoping to have a taste. The reaching out involves faith: that is, trust in the availability of possibilities. God is the reservoir. Even as the worshipers seek water from reservoir, so the reservoir seeks to be tasted.
It might seem odd to picture God as a reservoir. So often people picture God as something more concrete and focalized. But God is wider than this and more diffuse. God is more like the sky or ocean. There's an old Christian hymn that says: "There's a wideness in God's mercy, like the wideness of the sea."
Worship occurs when people touch the wideness in whatever ways are possible for them. Brainstorming is one way of touching the wideness. It is dancing in space.
Brainstorming within the Godhead
I have a friend who believes in the Holy Trinity. She is not a Christian but she finds wisdom in Christian imagery. She believes that God is Love and that this Love is relational.
She says that when Christians speak of three persons in the Godhead -- a Father and a Son and a Holy Spirit -- they are articulating a sensibility that is almost Buddhist in tone. They are saying that Love is never self-contained, it always involves sharing with others and receiving what others share.
My friend is a dancer and sometimes she dances in churches. She calls it Dancing the Trinity. I ask her if she really believes that there are three persons inside God and she says: "I'm not sure, but if there are, they are moving together, exploring possibilities together, as we do in dance."
I ask her what they are sharing as they dance, and she say that they are sharing their imaginations.
"They are brainstorming," she says.
"To what music?" I ask.
"They are making it up as they go."
Brainstorming as We Go
Of course some of us can't dance or don't dance. We tap our feet but assume no one is listening. Still, according to my friend. we are almost always dancing. We are exploring possibilities for thought, feeling, and action with one or another of the multiple forms of intelligence: verbal-linguistic, visual-spatial, mathematical-logical, emotional, or otherwise.
I ask her what to call this mental dancing in which we always participate. She calls it brainstorming.
"It's a spiritual practice," she says. "People do it together."
My friend wants to write a book called Dancing and Brainstorming: A Theology of Shared Imagination.
She says that she'll write the chapters on dancing; she wants me to write the chapters on brainstorming. I decide to sketch out some points for my chapters.
Brainstorming as Open-Ended
Brainstorming is thinking with other people, in imaginative ways, without being hampered by predetermined ends or authoritarian rule. It is a form of communion. It is playing jazz without a saxophone.
The key is to trust in the availability of fresh possibilities. The future may be open or closed for God, but it is always open for the brainstormers. They don't like too much planning. They like to wait and see what happens. If God has a blueprint, they'd rather not know.
The Joy of Brainstorming
The joy of brainstorming lies in its chaos, intensity, and improvisational quality. Structure emerges in the activity itself, but not before the activity. It is self-organizing. The joy of self-organizing does not have to have results in order to be worthwhile. Nor does it have to be permanent. All good things last only for a short time: twenty minutes, for example.
The Storm within Brainstorming
The storm within brainstorming is its unsettling novelty. In the very act of brainstorming we experience an open future, not yet filled with definition. Our settled ideas are called into question, without new ideas immediately taking their place. This is why criticism and debate is important in brainstorming. It helps destabilize habitual forms of thinking so that new forms can emerge. Paradoxically, brainstormers need permeable membranes but thick skin.
Brainstorming and Buddhism
Thick-skinned or otherwise, brainstorming is an implicit rebuttal of atomized images of the self. As we imagine with others our own selves are partly composed of their imaginations. Their thoughts and feelings of others, including their intentions, become part of us. They are inside us even as they are outside us. We are thought by them.
Brainstorming and Plagiarism
In truth we are always thought by other people. Deep down, we are all plagiarists. If we peer into our own minds for a moment and consider their contents, we realize that most of not all of their contents are borrowed. Our language, our images, our ideas some from sources outside our bodies: other people, the natural world, the historical past, books, dreams, current events, the collective unconscious. If we have any originality at all, it is not creation out of nothing.
Creation out of Chaos
Even God does not create out of nothing, so we learn from process theologians. We learn this from the Bible. The first creation story in Genesis presents God as calling creation into existence out of a watery chaos. The Christian theologian, Catherine Keller, speaks of this watery chaos as the Face of the Deep. Brainstorming is an activity of creating with God out of the deep at hand.
Brainstorming and Agency
Even as we are thought by others we are also thought by ourselves. Individual agency remains, but it is relational agency not atomized agency. Buddhists say that this is always the way it is. Never are we skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin. Always we are relational selves who are partly composed of the many others who influence us. This is why it matters who with brainstorm with. It is a communal activity and we are inevitably shaped by others. This is one meaning of what Buddhists call "right association." It is important that our human partners in brainstorming respect our own capacities for independent thinking and that we respect theirs, too. Brainstorming includes and requires critique and debate in respectful ways.
Our brainstorming is enriched when we recognize that we can brainstorm with the universe: think like mountains, think like water, think like fish, think like cat. All successful science involves eco-brainstorming. The Nobel Prize winning chemist, Evelyn Fox Keller, said that she needed to think like genes. Thoreau brainstormed with Walden Pond; Basho brainstormed with frogs.
The spiritual side of the sustainability movement consist of people trying to brainstorm with nature and collectively arise at hopeful ways of living. They might think that the humans are doing it alone, but in fact their imaginations are co-imagined by the hills and rivers. Do the hills and rivers know they are doing this? Maybe so. Some people say that the whole of the earth is an ongoing process of brainstorming called co-evolution.
Most of our brainstorming is subconscious. We are thinking with others and thought by others at levels too deep for words and beneath the surface of ordinary waking consciousness. This is why, in brainstorming sessions, it is important to take breaks and have silence. We need to let the subconscious do its work. Dreams are a form of brainstorming, too, in which imaginative activities emerge through multiple agencies: human and archetypal. familiar and cthonic.
God brainstorms, too. The future is open for God, because human decisions are not made until they are made. God doesn't know what we will do until we do it. After we do it, God must scan the divine imagination and offer us fresh possibilities for responding to the new situation.
Co-Creativity and Co-Imagination
God needs our ideas. Even as God offers novelty to us, so we offer novelty to God. If not in the content of our ideas, then at least in the very act of coming up with them, something new is added to God. God needs something to respond to. God needs topics; we give them. So do the stars and planets, the hills and rivers, the molecules and atoms. It is true that God creates the universe by offering it fresh possibilities, and it is also true that the universe creates God by offering God such possibilities. God and the Universe co-imagine themselves in relation to one another.
Brainstorming can be healthy or unhealthy, constructive or destructive, holy or unholy, selfish or compassionate. Unhealthy brainstorming is disrespectful of introverts, overly frenetic, aimed toward selfish ends, and overly preoccupied with ends. It has adventure without peace. It is novelty without love. Healthy brainstorming is respectful of introverts, tinged with a contemplative dimension, enjoyable in its process, and aimed toward constructive ends. It combines adventure and peace. It is novelty with love.
Constructive ends are ends that serve the well-being of people, other living beings, and the planet. John Cobb's Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet offers topics which, if brainstormed about, can serve the well-being of the planet. They include "how to build healthy community" and "how to organize the economy in ways that are beneficial to human beings and the earth" and "how to reform education so that it serves wisdom."
All compassionate brainstorming is prayer. It is a relinquishment of rigidified ideas that block the mind, a sharing in the imagination of others, and a shared journey into a realm of fresh possibilities whom some name "God." Those who undertake the pilgrimage may not believe in God as a monarchical being separate from the world. Instead they may imagine God as a womb-like mind within whose life the universe lives and moves and has its being. Or they may not believe in God at all. Still, in compassionate brainstorming, they are praying.
Faith and Brainstorming
There dwells, deep within the heart of the universe, a source of new possibilities for thinking, feeling and acting which, if accessed, provides healing and hope. This well-spring of possibility is God. Brainstorming involves trust in the availability of fresh possibilities.
In this sense it is always premised on faith in constructive novelty which is, for process thinkers, faith in God.
Faith in God is like faith in dancing. If you are in the presence of others who have the rhythm, you feel it through them. Faith can be shared and felt.
Faith does not depend on an individual act of affirmation. When we are in the presence of dancers we are danced by them, even when we cannot dance. They share their faith with us, and it is contagious. Sometimes shared imagination is shared faith. It's natural response is surrender.
Not to an autonomous ego, but to the source of all new possibilities. This source is akin to a divine Beloved in whose presence we dance. We dance with the Beloved and the Beloved with us. Faith is in the dancing.
I'm sure he's right. If it is to work, it needs tension and friction, albeit with respect. But in truth, it doesn't need to work. It just needs to play. The wisdom of brainstorming is in the process itself. No need for prophets or profits. Just the enjoyment of collaborative pleasure. It's worship, after all.