On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, massive, overwhelming, incomprehensible disaster struck the northeast coast of Japan. Life for those in the region would never be the same.
This book is about the awakening that follows disaster. About the minutes and hours and months and years that come after now. It is about what happens when we’re smacked on the side of the head and open our eyes, startled out of the trance in which we have been living our days. It is about the opportunities always present, often invisible, to create the lives we want, now.
As the waters from the tsunami flowed back into the ocean, as the last bricks fell from buildings almost destroyed, people began to turn to one another. They grieved, they laughed, they prayed. And they asked, what now?
This book is about my journey with the Japanese people over the last six years. I write about my own story of awakening after plunging into this disaster. I share stories from people who found where to take their first step, and the next. I offer the tools and processes and worldview I introduced as people came together to discover and create what comes after now.
This book is built around two big ideas. The first is that after disaster, we find our way forward, together. We come awake, together. Disaster obliterates the past, plunges the present into chaos and co- coons the future. We need each other to see and build the new. The second big idea is that we don’t have to wait for the overwhelming tragedy of disaster to make the communities and lives we want. We can engage each other with respect, curiosity and generosity and begin to co-create what we want, now.
We live in a period of precipitous, unpredictable change. The book is for those who want to make this time of transformation more livable and less insane. It is for those engaging with others around questions that matter and who have something inside that keeps ask- ing what else is possible now. We are the hospice workers and midwifes, honoring the old and letting that which is ready to die go. We welcome and co-create our new normal. I no longer think of us as “agents of change” — that implies that we have control of the outcome. We need to let go of the pretense that we can know what will result from our actions. We need to embrace radical uncertainty, showing up as fully as we can each moment, each breath.
In Japan and all over the world, we are living in the messy middle where many old forms are falling apart and new possibilities are in early stages of development. The ground is pulled out from under us on a regular basis. It is important to not get distracted and try to clean up the mess — trying to make everything perfect, removing the ten- sions, covering over important differences. Our work right now is to learn to coexist with the messiness. We need to keep trying things, to keep learning. We need to remain focused on our purpose and follow the braided strand of intention and surrender as we find our way for- ward — with each other.
Whether it is changing our lives or changing something in our communities, it is almost impossible to do it alone. None of us is equipped with all the knowledge, skills, intelligence and experience we need for the work on the long road of transformation. We need to pool our talents, our skills, our resources. We need to create new structures for learning, ones that make it possible for us to take the time to chew our own experiences, to learn from each other’s insights, and to interact with those from outside our immediate systems who have other knowledge and wisdom we need. All of this requires community. Hopefully this book gives some clues about how to reach out, find and form that community, and get on with what needs to be done.
Through this book, I share what I have learned in Japan — be- fore and after the Triple Disasters — and from working around the world with people building community and new futures. I tell stories of my experience and the stories of others who have worked hard and long in Japan. I share the ideas, methods and processes that have been helpful to me in this work. I invite you to use these in your work, creating community and finding the new future.
I hope this book is beneficial as you create your new story. I hope it helps you find the confidence to begin and to continue. Read it from cover to cover if you are so inclined. Pick it up from time to time and look at different sections. Treat it as a farmer’s almanac of ideas and possibilities to ponder and explore.
NewStories, the nonprofit I established in 2000, supports people everywhere who are discovering what is AfterNow. In our Learning Lab, we find ways to support those who offer their leadership in these uncertain times. In our Action Lab, we provide space for promising initiatives in different parts of the world. In our Stories Lab, we work to understand and reveal the role stories play in this time. We also pro- vide strategic convening services, working with communities and organizations who are ready to create a new normal. Come visit us at www.NewStories.org and www.afternow2.newstories.org
And please, connect with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter where I am, not surprisingly, bobstilger.
Blessings on our many journeys.
June 18, 2017