A very cool side-effect of attending the legendary Bioneers conference this year is witnessing the dawn light outside my window – I can just see the last sliver of the waning moon each morning as I wake up in enough time to get ready & drive over the bridge.

I was really excited to be sitting in the audience as it began yesterday morning. Bioneers is one of those gatherings that several thousand people hold as a sacred yearly ritual, and the warm welcome from co-producers Nina Simons & Ken Ausubel made me feel that I would definitely be one of them in the future.

Plus, from a professional standpoint, I am thrilled by the whole Beaming Bioneers concept they’ve pioneered, of broadcasting the conference plenary sessions into 18 US cities (from Anchorage, Alaska to Marion, Massechusetts) via video satellite, to be presented along with relevant on-the-ground sessions offered by their local partners. This seems like a great model for the future.

Nina summed up the Bioneers ethos "It’s all alive; it’s all intelligent; it’s all connected;
we’re all relatives" as she congratulated us in our
collective efforts to write ‘a new co-creation story’ and the
conference was of to a fabulous start.

The plenary sessions didn’t
disappoint, and two of the five particularly moved me. The first was a stunning presentation/performance by the students of DestinyArts, a spoken word/dance/movement center run by the spectacularly cool Sarah Crowell. The kids were amazing, and I have to say that lots of us aging idealists pronounce our desire to include and attract younger people in our projects and organizations, but Bioneers puts its programming and love and attention where it needs to be to actually make that happen – this audience had a huge percentage of people under 30, and the energy was HOT.

Besides my body’s response to the beat of these vibrant dancers, my heart & mind were both extremely responsive to Sarah, whose presentation was entitled "The Courage to Walk in Beauty". She began with an invitation for us to turn to the people around us and introduce ourselves, recognizing the beauty we saw reflected there & then speaking it out loud, and went on to talk about how she uses this recognition of beauty in each other to help these kids take "big wide strides with ‘I belong here’ in them. She ended by saying "Let us not be a generation that is afraid to look into each other’s eyes and find something beautiful there…" Now this is a girl whose message I LIKE.

The next plenary session I was so struck by was given by the gifted psychologist & thinker James Hillman. He was urbane, clever, articulate and at ease even when wayward snippets of broadcasting verbiage kept finding their way into the sound system (he just addressed them like they were garbled voices in our heads or something. 🙂 He delivered a beautifully drawn short essay; his main point being that as thinking beings we have criticised all the ‘positives’ out of our lives – one can no longer make a positive statement without needing to justify it – in today’s sophisticated intellect everything is polarized and presented as oppositional. He gave a long list of examples, saying it is time we went beyond the binaries of current thought, back to Aristotle and the ‘excluded middle’ to return some nuance to our understandings of reality.

Like the Coyote Trickster figure of Native American mythology, he encouraged us to turn everything we know upside down, just to see what it looks like. Instead of bemoaning the fact that America is a nation of adoloescents and youth-obsession, let’s throw our money & energy into the youth – for education, for health care. Let school begin at 10:30 or 11 to follow their natural sleep pattern rather than force them into a schedule that works for administrators and building cleaners.

He went on in this vein for some time, playing a sort of devil’s advocate hand, suggesting that rather than be upset by the apparent apathy & lack of national political interest in electing our highest offices, we do what Americans are best at and ‘drop out’, simply ignore what we know is corrupt and not worth our time, and not show up for those elections. Instead, he championed those cities who have taken the lead on issues like climate change, fuel emissions, human rights, minimum wage, etc. rather than let the national government set the agenda & limits.

I was a little disappointed during a later session where he was meant to be presenting on something called "When Stories Change, the World Changes" as part of a small panel, but as it turned out there were so many panelists that he only had 10 minutes to briefly share his thoughts on the narrative models our current stories are based upon – Christianism, Scienceism, and Economics, and as a whole, the session never did get around to actually discussing how changing our stories might change the world.

Ah well, Hillman’s exemplary plenary session alone was good enough to justify the price of Friday’s ticket.

I was very disappointed by a session on "Internet Interventions & Cyberspace Strategies", however. Maybe it’s just a case of knowing too much, but with some notable exceptions, I found the presentation a bit patronizing, and there were several things that as I thought about it, I found downright objectionable.

One of them was the fact that proprietary products were recommended without any acknowledgement of that fact, or other choices as an attempt to be objective. Another was the way that open source applications are casually referred to as ‘free’ without clarification. I’m afraid I rather traumatized the otherwise quite nice young presenter from Drupal by cornering him afterward with my demand he admit that in truth he or some other programmer would change several thousand dollars to install it, which would otherwise be impossible for a layman (or even someone quite experienced in codes other than PhP & MySQL) to do. He did admit it, so I let him go. 😉 No really, from the heat that came up for me in that encounter it’s clear there is a lot more I want to say about this whole subject, so I’ll be addressing that in a future post.

I hate to end this report on such a negative note when I started out so filled with love & happiness :-), but the truth was I found the ‘old style’ conference model (that my experience at Bioneers so far would seem to suggest they’re still following) a bit underwhelming. I’m much more excited by the newer Conference 2.0 models of more open interaction with the presenters and among the audience, which in this case especially is full of amazing people doing amazing things.

But it’s getting late – time to go off to my 2nd day now… I’ll report back on my further adventures later.

>> Next: Day Two…

Leave a Reply