Bioneers: Sooner Rather Than Later
I've been going to the annual Bioneers conference held in San Rafael, California for probably about a decade, though my interest had flagged a bit in recent years. But this year's conference, which took place the weekend of October 20-22, really resonated with me.
Perhaps it was the fact that I had a great week leading up to the event. I received a generous grant to write my next energy book, had just published an article on global climate change in the Sunday "Insight" section of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the weather had turned to "Indian Summer."
Or perhaps it was the fact that the polls show that Americans have finally woken up to the false promises and outrageous lies of the Bush Administration, and a new sense of hope had been kindled. Maybe the nightmares of the past several years might finally come at an end.
Or maybe it was just the realization that the breadth of topics covered at Bioneers really captures my beliefs, values and interests. The intelligence, spiritual fortitude and emphasis on diversity evident at the conference truly inspires me. Despite the gloom and doom all around us, Bioneers seems to plant seeds of hope.
The two planeries that I caught on Friday were truly illuminating. First, there was Michael Pollan talking about the "local food revolution," arguing that increased interest in Farmer's Markets was a sign that people are longing for a deeper connection to their sources of food. He made Farmer's Markets sound so political, so cool and so underground! Living out in West Marin -- where organics and interest in eating local food is emerging as a religion of sorts -- I found his framing of the topic of food truly mind blowing. I remember moving from Wisconsin to Davis, California in the early '80's, and being flabbergasted at how some locals viewed food in such a political context. Rather than protesting in the streets, many of the vegetarians that I met in this college town dominated by agribusiness preferred the political act of eating local organic foods. I didn't quite get it then, but I certainly do now!
Then there was James Hillman, the renowned Jungian scholar, whose poetic examination of this nation's cultural evolution was nothing less than a wake-up call for the sleep-walking among us. Having been exposed to Jungian dream analysis therapy, I was amused by Hillman's play with notions of being able to find "country" in urban slang and even stranger places. Hillman brought a sense of the deep and wide to the debates about our collective future. With a title "Reclaiming the Country From the Nation," Hillman's play with words and concepts such as "archetypes" infused Bioneers with a deeper sense of reality than is normally displayed at your run-of-the-mill conference about saving our "environment."
My favorite speaker, however, was Paul Stamets, who believes that mushrooms -- as well as other forms of fungi -- are the key to our long-term survival. Why was he so attached to the dark and dank? When young and tad foolish, Stamets took some pyschedelic psilocybin mushrooms one day. He ended up climbing to the top of a tree, when a huge storm hit. He became paralyzed with fear. Stamets had a horrible stutter, and the only way he got through this tremendous test was to chant over and over again that if he survived this ordeal, he would then live a life without his annoying stammer. Lo and behold, when the storm passed and the 'schrooms relaxed their grip on his pysche, his stutter disappeared. From that point on, Stamet dedciated his life to research to the mystery of mycology.
On Saturday, I attended a session on the topic of women and philanthropy. Since I have been a benefactor of one of the presenters -- Marion Weber -- I found the discussion eye-opening in the sense that in many indigenous cultures, it is the women who hold the purse strings. It is only in industrial cultures where money has become associated with men in pin-stripes and closed board rooms. Re-examining common methodologies for distributing philantropic gifts, Marion asked audience members to "think outside the box," and to recognize issues that stand in the way of proper relationship to the green stuff that many of us seek, beg for or borrow.
The final session I attended on Sunday was about reinventing the environmental dailogue in order to wake up the masses to the tasks ahead. Moderated by Ty Cashman -- a fellow who lives "just up the hill" from me and who I featured in my book Reaping The Wind -- the panel tried to grapple with language and how to revitalize the environmental movement. While Ty wanted to focus on how to get the masses up in arms about global cliamte change (and the fact we only have a a ten-year window to save humanity on this planet), but most of the comments from panelists Susan Griffin and author David Abram were focused on more esoteric matters. Abram did have an interesting observation, however, noting that the phrase "global climate change" reinforced the notion that this was an impersonal and distant issue. His suggestion? To use the idea of a "planetary fever" to convey the severity of the current crisis, since a fever combines both hot spells and chills as well as illness. But he also talked quite a bit about the need to return to our oral traditions and connect with our fellow humans not through the trendy Internet, but in face-to-face communication.
Of course, the vendors at Bioneers are also worth noting. My favorites are always the folks at Alkemi, whose broad range of spagric formulas always present the opportunity for Sacred Journeys, Liquid Buddhas or just a simple sit under the Bodhi tree. If you are intrigued by the notion of shamans, plant spirits or lunar magic, check these folks out. I've been working with their medicines for over 5 years, and their continued exploration of the magic of the ancient art of alchemy is worth supporting.