Benjamin J Butler is a leading Futurist, Strategist and Philosopher based in Asia. He is affiliated with the World Economic Forum, Bridge Consulting, Futur/io, and the Lifeboat Foundation. He is co-host of the soon-to-be-launched Quantum Futures podcast. Benjamin presented a Scratch Talk at Wonderfruit 2019 as Aramos the Wizard. The full recorded presentation will be released soon.
I think it’s undeniable that we are living in a time of great change and disruption. Sometimes I like to say we are living in this Great Paradox: things appear to be getting better and worse at an accelerating pace! I have written elsewhere that we might be facing a revolution on the scale not seen since the Agricultural Revolution 12,000 years ago or the Industrial Revolution 300 years ago. Perhaps even bigger!
It shouldn’t be a surprise that many are confused, disoriented or even fearful of the chaos that seems to be engulfing their worlds. And this is why we need to tap in to our inner genius more than ever. If you look at the skills of the future as identified by the World Economic Forum and other bodies, they all mention things like creativity, emotional intelligence, complex problem solving, and people management, and perhaps inter-disciplinary knowledge. I say we need to find our ‘Inner Wizard”: this is what’s going to get through us through this chaotic period!
There are 6 dimensions to the Wizard, which are all inter-linked.
1) The poet: this is about the very eyes through which we see the world. The poet looks at the world in wonder. I see this as the foundation of being the wizard, as it’s a source of inspiration and energy. Einstein has said that “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” When we look at the world in a positive way, we can get through the highs and lows of life.
This sense of wonder also enables us to learn more. When we are struck by wonder, we become more present and our minds open. When we live in fear or anxiety our blood is full of cortisol and our imagination is closed.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has suggested that our “cosmic curiosity is genetically encoded”. Basically it’s part of our DNA—and you can see the way children interact with the world. Yeats has said that “the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
I recommend that you frequently go into nature and capture its magic—perhaps journal or read or write poetry. Or dance and sing in an exotic location. Recover your sense of aliveness.
2) Shaman: the shaman is about deeply connecting to nature—a remembrance that nature doesn’t belong to us. It’s not a refrigerator we dip into when we need something—but we actually belong to nature. When we spend time immersed in nature, running wildly through the forests, jumping into natural rivers and lakes, and looking into the eyes of other creatures, we connect to our primordial self, and an ancient wisdom comes through us. More scientific studies—and research by the military—are showing that the human body and mind is more powerful than we ever imagined. Going back to nature is a perfect stimulant.
In many cultures, people would go onto the land to find what their life’s mission is. As the old world breaks down, it’s crucial that you find anchoring in your purpose. Being fired up by your life’s purpose will also give you the energy to push through all the turbulence. Where is your North Star?
You can connect to the Shaman by time spent in nature—but be as wild as you can. And perhaps even consider doing a Vision Quest, where you spend a few days contemplating your purpose.
3) Sage: the Sage is able to connect to his or her inner wisdom, the inner GPS with which we are all blessed. It’s not about acquiring new knowledge; it’s more about removing the blocks. In fact, in the timeless Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, it says that adding something each day is the path to knowledge—but removing something each day is the path to enlightenment. We can do this through daily meditation, but more than this we need to be constantly present, aware and vigilant of our external and internal environment. Then we begin to see the deeper stories which influence us, and we can transcend them. Try being conscious of your breath and aware of your environment all day long (or at least as much time as possible) instead of merely ticking a box with a daily meditation.
The Sage acts with wisdom, love and compassion. If you are trying to build something in the world now, or you’re an activist, it’s so important to work on your inner sage. So many well-intentioned people—like Social Justice Warriors—are running around acting from anger and with little wisdom. This will never change the world in a positive direction. As Tolstoy wrote, everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves. Change yourself first.
4) Wanderer: there is an innate desire in all of us to wander, to plunge ourselves into the unknown, even if it’s a bit scary. Sometimes in our lives we get a calling to embark on an odyssey and if we listen to it, we must enter dark caves, scary-looking forests and do battle with monsters. But along the way we will meet allies and mentors to help us. As Joseph Cambell has written, “the cave you fear to enter, contains the treasure you seek.” Ultimately you might end up in mortal combat with the dragon and eventually slay him. Of course, the dragon could be the ego, and with its death you unleash something so much more powerful within you.
When you realise that life is dynamic and changing, and not meant to be static, you stop getting attached to building castles on foundations of sand. You become less obsessed with controlling everything, and you feel the vitality of life.
The more and bolder you wander, the more you will learn about how the universe truly works. as the explorer WH Murray has written:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Cultivate your wanderer by throwing yourself into the unknown as much as possible: I give my aspiring wizards (clients) all sorts of approaches and challenges which raise their adaptability and resilience—hugely important skills for the future. It could be a month-long wander in the mountains or a foreign land or a new project. But you can foster it constantly by walking to work every day by a different path to raise your neuroplasticity, or starting new hobbies. If you are quite a cerebral person and like reading in your spare time, perhaps you should take up salsa dancing or do something with your hands like a craft. Smart educators like Sir Ken Robinson or Rudolf Steiner realised we need to cultivate our holistic intelligence.
5) See-er (Prophet): They say that we have 3 eyes—2 eyes for looking and 1 eye for seeing. This is the mind’s eye. As a child I found it quite difficult to look at things in isolation without seeing it in context. It caused me no end of stress. You couldn’t just explain a plant to me in isolation and then get really micro. I needed to understand the soil from which it drew nutrients, the forest ecosystem in which it dwelled, and the sky and cloud above which gave it water. As the Buddhists might say, the plant is made up of the clouds, the soil and the dying animals and trees around it. This is a more systematic view of life, which we aren’t taught in school generally. At first, when I struggled in school I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but in the end I saw this way of seeing a blessing not a curse. To see the patterns and trends—and to get glimpses of the future—we need to clearly look at the whole.
For this one, needs to cultivate a clarity of mind which isn’t clouded by strong beliefs, stories, and ideas. Most of the ideas in your head are from someone else. As Krishnamurti once famously said: “The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.” Because young children’s minds are not full of concepts, notice how they are incredibly perceptive. Often my daughter used to spot a tiny little bird in the branches of a tree before any adult would notice it.
True seeing requires a very high level of awareness, which you would have started to cultivate as the Sage. You must also get used to letting go of old ideas. Meet people from all walks of life and experts and non experts in all fields. And if you have a different idea about something, don’t sap your energy trying to persuade them why they are wrong; learn from them. Perhaps even go away and do a lot of research from their perspective. If nothing else, you’ll develop greater empathy (instead of identifying them as the enemy) and if you are REALLY lucky you might find your own view was wrong, and learn something new!
The Seer delights in looking at the world as a whole, and constantly seeks inter-disciplinary knowledge. If you are an economist, for example, you’ll learn so much about the economy if you study psychology and human nature, rather than merely mathematical books about econometrics!
6) Magician: the magician is the creator that’s within us all. It’s not merely that intangible creativity we all have, but it’s the special ability of the human being to turn something that’s in our mind into physical reality.
I think creation is something fundamentally human. If you recollect the opening scene of the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey,, the humanoids eventually figure out how to use a bone as a weapon. Then in that iconic moment, the humanoid throws the bone up in the air and it turns into a spacecraft.
The famous inventor of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla, once said “I do not think that there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success. Such emotions make men forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” Yes, we are totally wired that way.
The Magician also has a certain faith. If you begin something, the universe will conspire to help you. As Julia Cameron once wrote: “As you move toward a dream, the dream moves toward you.” This is the world of synchronicities and coincidences.
When you speak with successful creators, like an entrepreneur, they often say they were sure of the exact trajectory from A to B to C. In fact, so often the path seems impossible. But they do it somehow.
The Magician learns how to manifest things into this world, harnessing the power of the human mind. We often go well beyond what we imagine our limits to be. I recollect an experience 20 years or so ago when, along with 20-30 other foreigners, I got to learn calligraphy from Japan’s ‘greatest’ calligrapher in a Zen Temple in the ancient Capital of Nara. The teacher also happened to be a Zen Master. I don’t recollect him speaking much about technique, although I am sure he said a few things, but it was more about attitude and state of mind. Then it was just me, the brush, and a white canvas. I didn’t really want to be there, as I regarded my handwriting as the worst in the class. I could write Japanese characters, but in English my handwriting was messy. So I had already surrendered and completely let go of the outcome. Then this idea dawned on me: as I had no good technique, what if I just felt love as I write the character for love. So with my arms relaxed and with a beginner’s mind, I drew the character. It didn’t seem so bad and I repeated the exercise.
What happened turned out to be a miracle, because later many of my friends mistook my work for the great calligraphers work! In that one moment, I let go of all ideas that I couldn’t do something, all ideas about technique, and I merely focused on one thing. It was a profound teaching.
We are living in a very confusing and quickly changing world. To navigate these waters, it’s time we tap into our Inner Wizards.