IV. Process: Openness and Opportunities
The process of transition between truths
To reinforce an established belief/perception that is false/harmful is easy, all it takes is repetition. To intellectually break apart that belief takes time. For a culture to shift from one established truth to another may seem impossible because while we may sense a more complex reality, the simple explanation appears in our minds effortlessly.
There often isn’t room, in course of our day to challenge the old ways in the moments in which they appear, as they deepen the psychological grooves into which we collectively fall. To shift the balance with which we unnecessarily cause harm would then perhaps not be a million little confrontations as we limp through our day, but instead a conscious collective step, where for a moment we gather around an alternate story and tell ourselves it could be true.
Burning Man, among other things, is a 50,000 person festival organized around alternative principles, that, where practiced, where reflected in structure of events interactions and experiences, shows how different the experience of self and community can be merely by consciously electing a different set of organizing truths.
Does this mean everyone who attends abides? No. But though you can find every vice and pattern of the parent society–because people at Burning Man come from that society, you can find, what you cannot in the parent society, an often seamless expression of more fulfilling authentic and harmonious interactions, ideals that seem impossible from the evidence of our experiences in ‘the real world’.
The ten principles of Burning Man are: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, Immediacy.
I reference this event, not to say it is necessarily the proper model for civilization, but because as the experience of many first-timers suggests, it is surprisingly easy to adapt and thrive in an environment where an alternate pattern has been set, when the participant is willing.
Not all of the beautiful human possibilities expressed there were present at the outset, at the conception of the event, but the alternate foundation would in time give rise to creations, connections, interactions that while novel, are fundamentally reflections of that structure. The full expression of an alternative takes time, as people first see the need for one, and then think, and then act, to bring it to life.
We don’t experience the world as it is, but upon the ripples of the truths we stand on.
That is to say, we really don’t know what is possible, and to resign ourselves to what we see in the mirror of the human condition as it is now is to overlook the fact that we can consciously create our structure based on the type of experiences we want. People already do.
Burning Man, as with many other innovations toward a better world, is hidden behind the idea of the ‘type’ of person who goes there, and so too, then, for many people, are the lessons we have an opportunity to take away from such innovations.
Every person approaches each moment differently, and so will necessarily carry away a different experience. To merely define something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘theirs’ or ‘ours’, particularly without knowing of the variations behind what is seen as one place, one thing, is to forget the microculture each one of us carries with us into the world that, more than any place or person we encounter, sets the stage for our growth.
There are different ways to process what could easily be summed up as a ‘bad’ experience. We are all seen differently and so have different recurring challenges. But where we share the same challenge, some will interpret it in a way that fosters compassion, somehow, connection, while someone else will interpret it in a way that fosters hate, distance, ignorance.
There are worlds of difference between openness, and briefly challenging one’s prejudices only to retreat to and harden them the instant leaving our comfort zone results in discomfort.
Discomfort isn’t always a message about what is true out there. Aside from legitimate threats to personal safety it is often a conflict inside that we project onto what triggered that discomfort. We can retreat from and attach a negative label to what we think ’caused’ it but at the cost of confining ourselves at a distance from the world, and its lessons, which take the form not as knowledge of others gathered at an impossible distance from their story, but as knowledge of the clouds in the sky of ourselves.
Openness is both the cause and the effect of clearing that inner sky.