I attended an outstanding talk this past Tuesday, one that left me feeling its reverberations all week.
Duane Elgin is the author of Voluntary Simplicity, first published in 1981 and now out in an updated edition for the "new normal" post-crash economy. I read it a long time ago, and bought another copy on Tuesday, deciding it was time to add it to my personal library.
Although I can't say it transformed my life, it made me think about a lot of things along the lines of "Live simply, be complicated." I certainly don't achieve that -- witness my periodic whining here at the Cafe about how darned busy I am -- but I have made strides toward it.
Perhaps all this primed me for the impact Elgin's talk had on my psyche. He was a great speaker but not a showman. He made it a participatory experience by involving the audience in mini-discussions and several shows of hands on key points. We came out of there feeling like a community of kindred spirits.
Elgin's key talking and working points are: the human journey, the transition to sustainable living, the wisdom traditions of religion and spirituality, and media connectivity (what he calls "the global brain").
His current book, The Living Universe, touches on all those matters. What was especially interesting was the questions Elgin asked, drawing us into his subject by getting us involved.
First we spent three minutes talking in a small group (preferably with some folks we didn't already know) about: If human individuals go through life stages from child to teen to adult to elder, what stage are we at collectively, as a human species?
Then we had a show of hands in which the majority of us indicated that the human species is just a teenager. People affectionately used words like "mood swings" and "willfullness" to describe our collective maturity level.
Elgin then told us that he's asked that question of people all over the world -- businessmen in Buenos Aires, religious leaders in Japan, a graduating class of new teachers in India -- and the majority have said just that!
Apparently most of us somehow "know" where we are as a group. This really astounded me -- I do believe in the collective unconscious, or at least in some kind of invisible but binding common denominator that all humans share, but I had never had the feeling of accessing it before.
(I suppose the caveat is that the cultures he's named are all quite Western or Westernized. I would be interested to see what a less homogenous sample would say. Maybe tribal peoples who have not been thoroughly exposed to the Western tradition would see the human species differently.)
Next we were asked to think back to our own transition from teen to adult and identify what experience helped or caused us to make that transition. Some folks said going off to college, where they could be independent and act in adult ways for the first time. Some folks said taking a trip where they saw people who lived very differently. I said rebelling against my parents (not that you had to do very much in my family to be "rebellious" -- it was an easy line to find and cross!).
The next question was the game-changer: Recognizing that those experiences were transitional and transformative for us individually, how do we give that experience to ourselves as a species?
That one he left for us to think about.
There was lots more (it was a fully realized 90 minutes!) and most of that has stayed with me, too. Despite a fairly hectic week, I am still turning these things over in my mind and telling people about them at every opportunity.
That's got to be some kind of a litmus test for a speaker who engages: you're still thinking and talking about it days later. (And perhaps, buying the book!)