The Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow

The Fabric of the Future: Women Visionaries Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow

by M. J. Ryan

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The Fabric of the Future is a landmark work, containing the writing of some of the most original thinkers, scientists, and psychospiritual visionaries of today. Forty women psychologists, writers, consultants, activists, and artists offer a template for the next millennium and picture a future characterized by balance, integration, harmony, and hope.


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The Fabric of the Future is a landmark work, containing the writing of some of the most original thinkers, scientists, and psychospiritual visionaries of today. Forty women psychologists, writers, consultants, activists, and artists offer a template for the next millennium and picture a future characterized by balance, integration, harmony, and hope.

Joan Borysenko, Brooke Medicine Eagle, Shakti Gawain, Starhawk, Gloria Steinem, and Marianne Williamson are among the contributors to this essential collection of wisdom designed for today's women.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A trendy and jargon-laden celebration of contemporary feminist thought, edited by Ryan (A Grateful Heart, not reviewed, etc.). Ryan has solicited essays from 40 feminists in preparation for the impending millennium. The contributors are ethnically, though not ideologically, diverse. The essays sound remarkably repetitive, even employing the same tired phrasing (metaphors involving weaving abound). Ryan compiled these essays, she says, because she wanted to know what she should be doing þto navigate through these turbulent timesþ of change in education, technology, health care, etc. But the essays generally uphold the traditional þfemaleþ values (Ryanþs terminology) of relationality and empathy over the traditionally þmaleþ value of action. In other words, readers looking for answers will find few of them in this book, which offers almost no concrete solutions to the global problems it bemoans. Rather, there are countless references to sacred feminine energy, Gaia, the Goddess, and womenþs ways of knowing (strangely, religious feminists have found common essentialist ground with fundamentalists, who claim that women are inherently more spiritual then men). Some essays are, of course, superior to others. China Gallandþs thoughtfully proposes the black Madonna as an excellent symbol because of her þmultivalent darknessþ which absorbs all races and their sufferings. Marianne Williamson and Gloria Steinem both venture into contemporary economics and break the bookþs mold by offering some solid recommendations for political action. Also, in þWhose Millennium Is It?þ Yoruba writer Luisah Teish reminds us thatall of the anxiety and expectation focused on the millennium spring from a linear Christian view of time. With few exceptions, a modish, almost syrupy anthology with little intellectual stuff to recommend it. (Author tour)

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Red Wheel Weiser & Conari Press
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Women Visionaries of Today Illuminate the Path to Tomorrow


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1988 Conari Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57324-197-7



"Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead or what use it will make of our anguished searching. The most any one of us can seem to do is fashion something—an object or ourselves—and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force."

—Ernest Becker

For three years, I was part of a conversation group of nine people ranging in age from the thirties to seventies who met weekly for two hours in a living room. Often we talked about our purpose—why did we keep showing up every Wednesday night and what were we supposed to be doing together? But we also talked about the particulars of our lives—not so much for support or "gossip," but to see if we could uncover some underlying patterns that were true for us all. We were professionals and working people—dentists and teachers and principals and book publishers and seamstresses and handymen and psychiatrists—and what became clear over time is that each of us was undergoing profound shifts. Some were self-initiated, the result of an inner call: the teacher decided to become a teacher trainer, the seamstress decided to look for work with more meaning, the handyman's body signaled that he needed less physically challenging work. The rest of us were undergoing transitions that, in some sense, were the result of vast social changes. Health care, education, publishing—all were industries experiencing upheavals that we were very personally feeling the effects of. Over and over, we would conclude the evening with the recognition that the old forms were breaking down and the new had yet to emerge.

I began to notice that it wasn't just our group. Everywhere around me, I heard stories of individuals wanting to pause in midstream to heed some vague inner call to slow down, to stop; people spoke of experiencing a sense of waiting, that there seemed to be something wanting to emerge, but no one was quite sure what it was or what she or he should do about it. They too seemed to feel that our institutions were crumbling around us, and had a deepening sense of anxiety about the future. For all of us, there were both subtle internal kinds of changes as well as the need to respond to the external changes that were happening all around us.

In our group, each of us dealt with the changes in their own way, navigating the whitewater rapids as gracefully as they could. But I have never been the patient type. I became tired with all the breaking down—I wanted to know what was breaking through. More specifically I wanted to know what I could do to help the breakthrough happen. In times of change, says my friend Dawna Markova, two questions are always urgently asked: Who am I now and how do I connect to the whole? For me, the second was much more vital. I knew who I was, but I wanted to understand how the changes—interior and exterior—that I was experiencing related to the larger shift that was happening and what I could do to join my individual life to the great stream of consciousness that is flowing into the future. I'm a good kid; I'm willing to do my part—if I could only figure out what that was.


"In the absence of certainty, one must have courage. Courage requires overcoming our fear of the unknown.... We are afraid of the letting go that chaos requires because we believe our world will fall apart without strict control. And yet the new science of chaos theory tells us there is an underlying order to the universe that does not require our control, and that chaos can be a gateway to quantum leaps in improvement."

—Daniel Kim

As we sit poised at the brink of a new century and a new millennium, there is little doubt that we are in the midst of a vast transformation: of business, education, and health care, of relationships to one another and to the Earth, and even of consciousness itself. As Norman Lear, the veteran TV and movie producer said recently, "I have developed a rather keen appreciation of the troubles and joys of ordinary families, struggling to do the best they can in our crazy times. There is no longer any dispute that the foundations of modern society ... are being shaken to their very depths. We are living through a wrenching transition—economically, culturally, spiritually. The old certainties are gone and the new ones have yet to crystallize."

There has also been a great deal of conversation, in magazines and books, of what this shift might be; a great deal of talk, often phrased in very general terms, of "healing the planet" and "living more in harmony with natural rhythms." But the more I read, the more it seemed that there were precious little specifics about what we need to be doing in order to get from here to there, or what specific kinds of tools we need to navigate through these turbulent times. Shallow rhetoric seemed to abound yet true wisdom seemed elusive. Being a pragmatic New Englander, I was frustrated by the lack of specificity—what should I be doing? I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I resolved to ask the leading women thinkers of our times from as wide a variety of spiritual and philosophical orientations as possible one very pointed question: Practically, what do we need to be doing at this point in our psychospiritual evolution. I asked those skilled in the psychospiritual realms because I believe strongly, as Jean Houston articulates in her article, that "the action on behalf of the redeeming vision has never taken place in society until it has been played out in the soul." So I wasn't asking so much about forms and structures—about business and health care and government—as the evolving state of our psyches. I asked Buddhists and Christians and Taoists and Jews; Wiccans, astrologers, Tantric practitioners, and "New Agers"; Black women and white, Native American, Asian and Hispanic; Black and white Africans; lesbians and straights; artists, environmentalists, business consultants, therapists, and even a couple futurists. My emphasis on women was not because I wished to promote separation, but rather because I had the sense that it is primarily women who are leading the way of this social and cultural transformation, and women who are most actively in search of help in the process.


"There are years that ask questions and years that answer them."

—Zora Neale Hurston

I sent a letter that began with Zora Neale Hurston's quote above, articulating much of what I have said here. You hold the result in your hands—a tapestry that incorporates the warp and woof of each individual voice, yet amazingly creates a picture that is surprisingly unified in its broad strokes. I hope you enjoy seeing the common threads that weave through the pieces—many women, for example, have been influenced by one another's work and several give credit to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique as being a pivot point in the transformation that is happening how.

But the strongest thread that unifies most all of the pieces is each woman's sense, no matter how she puts it into words, that what is trying to be born is a world in which what have been traditionally called "feminine" values—receptivity, intuition, empathy, relational thinking, etc.—are as honored and supported as traditional "male values" as linear thinking, action, differentiation, etc. Each woman articulates it differently, has a different emphasis or perspective, and many do not use the term "feminine" at all quite intentionally, believing that it only fosters a sense of division between men and women and that there are other, less loaded ways of discussing the same values. But if you think deeply about what each woman is saying, you will discover the thread there somewhere.

I began to believe that this "feminine" consciousness is indeed what is struggling to emerge in full bloom and that therefore it was no coincidence that I had asked women to be the contributors to this book. Then, one day, one of the people in my Wednesday night group said to me, "If you are doing a book on this, you must include Barbara Marx Hubbard. Come and hear her speak." And so I did—and came to see not only that the role women have to play in the future is nothing less than, as Hubbard puts it, evolutionary. As Hubbard and other contributors point out, we are at a unique place in human evolution. Never before have women lived so long past childbirth and never before have women en masse had the kinds of access to education, careers, and psychological awareness that they now enjoy. The creative potential that we women represent, with our different skill sets and values than men, is a force that has never before been unleashed in the world. Through her speech, which is adapted here, I began to see what my part might be—helping women deliver their messages to the world is not just my job as an editor, but my contribution to the great changes underway.

As you read through each woman's perspective, I hope you get a strong sense of the possible future. For as we face the challenges of our times, having a strong vision will be what keeps us going. Not one of the women here claims the future is guaranteed to be rosy. Rather, as Joanna Macy says so articulately, "There is no guarantee that we will make it in time for civilization, or even complex life forms, to survive." Thus, she continues, "I consider it an enormous privilege to be alive now, in this Turning, when all the wisdom and courage we ever harvested can be put to use and matter supremely." To harvest all the wisdom and courage we need, we need each and every one of us contributing.

That's why I also pray that The Fabric of the Future helps you find your own part in the possible future. I hope you are brought to new ways of seeing, understanding, and incorporating your own personal story into what is unfolding all around us. For this is not just a static reading experience—woman or man, you are being invited, indeed urged, to add your colors to the loom. As Jean Houston so eloquently responds to Zora Neale Hurston's quote at the end of her powerful essay, "These are the times. We are the people. And we are living in the answering years." May we find our way—together.

—M. J. Ryan



"At the boundary, life blossoms."

—James Gleick

The pieces in this section set the stage and provide the context for where we are and how we got here. They unfold in broad, strong sweeps, viewing the evolution of humankind from a vantage point that allows us to see the effects of our historical choices. From this height we can also see the fine strong lines of something new emerging, a pattern beautifully capable of reweaving the tapestry of life.

We begin with futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, who looks at the changes that have led us to this moment of psychological history and offers a profoundly optimistic view of how evolution itself is helping us through this transition. We then go wider with philosopher Jean Houston's mythic look at where we've come from and where we are going. We need myth, she claims, at times of breakdown and breakthrough; right now we are in a period she calls "the rising of the soul of the world."

Riane Eisler then asks us to consider how much the way our intimate relationships are constructed affects our social, political, and economic lives. We are being called on, she maintains, to reorganize those relationships into what she calls a partnership model, an equal partnership between men and women, with respect for what has been traditionally considered "feminine" values. Z Budapest encourages us to reflect on the way larger forces, specifically planetary forces, have been shaping the changes we've been experiencing in the last one hundred years.

"We are collectively giving birth to the intuitive, receptive, transformative, and enduring nature of our human potential," writes author Jamie Sams, while noting that this doesn't mean the transition will be easy. "In Native American legend, the time between worlds is described as the wobble," and so she offers daily practices to find "new points of balance."

While we are considering the big picture, let's be sure to include all of us, not just white middle-class folks, reminds Yoruba priestess Luisah Teish, who notes that even the notion of the new millennium comes from the Christian paradigm: "There are other cultures with different spiritual traditions and calendars." She also calls on us to make a "radical shift in conscience as well as consciousness."

Joanna Macy and Margaret Wheatley call us to the environmental aspects of the big picture, Macy notes that we must make an "epochal shift from an industrial growth society, dependent on accelerating consumption of resources, to a sustainable or life-sustaining society." Such a change requires a profound shift in consciousness. Wheatley names Gaia "the feminine energy that compels us to care about the future of Earth" and encourages us to give up our mechanistic view of life and tell a new cosmic story, one that fits more accurately the way life really works—namely, that the "purpose of life is to explore newness" and as such, we don't need to fear change or chaos.

We begin to narrow our focus a bit now and put ourselves into the picture. Anthropologist Angeles Arrien asks us to orient ourselves in these times of change by seeing where we are in relationship to eight gates of initiation. Jungian analyst Marion Woodman reminds us that we need to feel our way through this threshold time so that we don't simply succumb to fear. And Daphne Rose Kingma reminds us that ultimately the new millennium is about love, "but only if we are willing to become the artists who, con amore, create this new world."

Barbara Marx Hubbard, President of The Foundation for Conscious Evolution, is a futurist, author, speaker, and social architect. Her name was placed in nomination for the Vice Presidency of the United States on the Democratic ticket in 1984; she advocated a Peace Room in the White House to scan for, map, connect, and communicate what is working in America. Her latest book, Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential, sets forth a spirit-motivated plan of action for the twenty-first century culminating in a vision of a "co-creative society"—what it might be like if everything works.

Awakening to Our Genius: The Heroine's Journey

Something radically new is happening with women. We feel it within ourselves as an upwelling of creativity, of frustration, of the desire to be more, to find life purpose, to express and evolve ourselves and our world. This sense of increased power and purpose is, I believe, a phenomenon of an evolutionary order, not merely an historical order. "Evolutionary" means it will lead to transformation rather than reformation or incremental improvement.

We happen to be the generation born when an unprecedented set of changes is occurring on our planet. Suddenly we have reached a limit to growth on our mother planet. We have to stop overpopulating and polluting, we must coordinate ourselves as one body, handle our own wastes, shift from nonrenewable to renewable resources, distribute food to all members, redesign failing social systems in education, health, finance, the environment. We are the first generation to be required to undertake these immense new responsibilities.

Yet there are no schools for managing a planet, no experts in planetary management to guide us, for no one has ever done it before. "Space Ship Earth came without an operating manual," as Buckminster Fuller said. My metaphor for this planetary change is that we are undergoing a "crisis of birth" toward the next stage of human evolution. It is dangerous, but natural. It has taken fifteen billion years of evolution, from the Big Bang to the present to develop a planetary species on Earth that is aware of itself as a whole and must become responsible for the future of the whole system. The entire story of creation has led to the birth of a species which must learn to cooperate and co-create on a planetary scale. If we can get through this next thirty years, we can see beckoning before us a future that can fulfill the aspirations of the human race. For the very powers with which we might destroy ourselves, especially in advanced science and technology, are, if properly used, the very same powers with which we can transform ourselves. This, as we shall soon see, is where women come in!


To place the rise of women in this evolutionary context, let's look at three key developments that happened in the 1960s as natural events heralding the emergence of the next stage of our evolution.

The first was the development of space travel. We left Earth alive, penetrated our biosphere, and set foot on a new world—the moon. We found that there are materials of a thousand Earths in our solar system in the moon and the asteroids. By stepping onto a new world, we saw that we are one world here on Earth, and that we have the possibilities of many new worlds in space—we have an immeasurable physical future. There are no known limits to our physical growth in a universe of billions and billions of galaxies. There is no resource shortage, no energy shortage, no space shortages for us in the future—if we can make it through this period of change.

Excerpted from THE FABRIC OF THE FUTURE by M. J. RYAN. Copyright © 1988 Conari Press. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

M.J. Ryan is an inspirational speaker and human development expoert, and author of several bestselling books including This Year I Will…, The Happiness Makeover: How to Teach Yourself to Be Happy and Enjoy Every Day and Attitudes of Gratitude. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her family.

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