Communities Log: The Festival Scene

EDC Orlando, photo from Insomniac Events

Festivals create temporary communities wherever they appear, relying on inputs and outputs from visitors, artists, presenters, vendors, sponsors, and landowners. Like any other community, they involve circulating traffic, including that of people, resources, ideas, etc. While “festivals” may not hit some of the checkboxes some tend to associate with intentional communities, many festivals bring with them the intention of creating a safe space for reawakening a sense of love for ourselves and each other, and are sought by those wanting life-changing experiences of connection, freedom, or ecstasy–so we feel they count.

In material terms, every community has to contend with land and zoning requirements, population limitations, the intents and maturity of participants, and economic demands. Intent varies considerably across all communities and may be heavily influenced by private stakeholders. Some intentional communities even host their own small festivals (like CoSM’s Entheogenic Salons, with live painting and international DJs), which encourages a balance of community, intention, celebration, and circulation/exchange.

Celestial Celebration at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, photo from http://www.cosm.org

As for Wholly Human, various yogic, artistic, skill-based, and music festivals have served as some of our introductions to “alternative communities.” Rosa-Lila, for example, was a (now defunct) yoga festival offering yoga sessions across multiple schools, yogic and expressive workshops, stand up paddle-board lessons, music and dance, and vendor tents selling the usual faire (essential oils, beads, sarees, massages, vegan lunch, etc.). It was a particularly white, middle-class space, which gave us some early indicators as to what to expect from similar events.

Elsewhere on the spectrum is the rave scene, where people dance and sweat and chase the feeling of being alive, coming together in an alternative state of consciousness with some alternative family. Depending on one’s intentions, electronic music events like Electronic Daisy Carnival and Electric Forest can be quite transformative and community-oriented. Coming together with thousands of strangers as if coming home to a huge family (drunk cousins included) is an opportunity to reconsider concepts like trust, love, humanity, and identity. Beyond the strictly categorized “art and music” fests, there are numerous “transformational” festivals around the world that include a greater focus on education, spirituality, and/or ecology (O.Z.O.R.A., BOOM, and Samsara have recently caught our attention).

Of course, an advertised intent doesn’t guarantee shared intent, let alone actual participation. These are the biggest intentional community lessons we’ve taken away from our festival communities:

  1. As many festivals get bigger, they leave a bigger ecological footprint (for example, an annual 5-day camping event covering 90 bass-blasted, insecticide-sprayed acres). They can also become increasingly driven by demands/expectations out of sync with the goals and abilities of its members. We’re mindful not to sacrifice the “intentional” part of Intentional Community for the sake of attracting more people. A community can’t accomplish much if it becomes unmanageable for members or visitors, and the ecology of a space contains innumerable variables of its own.
  2. There’s a huge difference between creating what we love versus running away from what we fear. Along these lines, we’re mindful of escapism and projection. Without mindfully attending to The Work, these spaces become toxic just like any other. If the intents of the community include love, connection, responsibility, and self/earth harmony and acceptance, then we want these to be consistent, human goals, not just temporary fantasies. One of the goals of the community is to support each other in being our best selves, but the community shouldn’t be the only place we experience our full humanity. It can serve as a beautiful reminder, though!
  3. Any intentional community ought to frame itself around the reality of what people need in order to live well, otherwise members aren’t well-equipped to act from their best selves. People need equitable access to healing foods and physical care, a sense of safety and belonging, a shared agreement to respect the land and its communities, space to breathe, and periods of quiet for rest and processing. We look at how humans heal, grow, and live (not just how they celebrate) and incorporate it into our planning process.
  4. Perhaps the greatest intention of an intentional community is its dedication to transformation and growth. Inclusivity and diversity aren’t achieved accidentally, especially in a culture that’s written inequality into every aspect of our lives. Inclusion and diversity allow a community or system to thrive, correcting the pains and limitations placed on human diversity by colonization and cultural genocide. Accessing that spectrum involves nourishing what has been hurt and reciprocity with our Earth. Real diversity, therefore, is about access, interdependence, empowerment, expression, and balance. Avoiding the temporary discomfort that comes with fully metabolizing these changes is like a caterpillar avoiding the discomfort of metamorphosis. If not for transformation, a caterpillar would just keep eating until the garden is demolished. But the garden needs butterflies. Intentional communities provide a safe space for growth & transformation.

Festivals can be life-changing. These communities offer a way to experience a sense of shared intent and loving connection, to know without a doubt you are not alone, and to test one’s own boundaries in a highly social, positive environment. They can also be quite costly, can overwhelm, and can easily replicate the same social ills found outside of intentional communities if the space itself is not mindfully attended to. Overall, we look forward to incorporating small festivals in our own intentional community plans as a form of ceremony, celebration, and healing.

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