Our 2019 Gathering

On August 18th for the fourth time, a group of thirty people found their way through tunnels, highways, wheatfields and finally to the forested gardens of La Cheraille. These participants in the Art / Earth / Tech annual Gathering were drawn by their conviction that we, and the world we are part of, desperately need to take up the challenge of becoming wise.

The Gathering is an embodiment of the principles of Art / Earth / Tech. Its week long duration means we get to touch deeply a mixture of ideas, presence, community, joy and actions. Ten of us were returning and twenty were new without being completely sure what they had gotten themselves into. The introductory circle showed there were a number of researchers, artists, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, healers, and two Buddhist monks visiting us from Plum Village, Br. Phap Linh and Br. Pham Hanh.

The AET gathering is a great way to cross pollinate ideas with other creative and academic professionals, as well as an effective way to experience how living in a community environment impacts both professional growth and deep personal development in a profound unison. The space is designed to welcome, and the programme is well curated allowing for a fun, transformative, multidisciplinary experience.

Our visitors immediately got a taste of what is different about Art / Earth / Tech, as soon as the scheduled tour of La Cheraille began, and blindfolds were passed around and put on. With a chain of held hands we snaked through the fields, and gardens and some interior spaces of La Cheraille, with narration from Sylvie and Rufus and the sound of wind swaying fronds and rustling leaves and ushering their smells into our piqued noses. Eventually we ended the tour with a lie down on an especially soft spot of the Earth’s vast lap.

A retreat for those who want to step forward. A support group for the strongly motivated and softly caring. A date with nature.

Our morning discussions began the next day that covered three major attachments of our society – rationality, individuality, and equality.

On Monday we started rationality and knowledge, and the feelings of certainty and control these provide. These feelings are our drug of choice, and we suffer by trying to create the orderliness that can give us these feelings, yet even this orderliness is beyond reach. We also discussed how this obsession with precision and detail has gotten in the way of telling ourselves stories (myths), that we need to relate to the big picture.

Ninon Godefroy illustrated this by discussing her efforts to create an answer to the Taiwanese ‘Cram’ School culture, in which teenagers spend the first years of adulthood desperately seeking a favourable place along the perfect line formed by standardised test scores. Rigid attempts to turn the complexity of humans into a value on a line turns young lives into endless cramming sessions. Ninon’s project responds by creating a space for expression and for being fully alive. We followed swift with afternoon workshops in improv comedy, the philosophy of being only 60% perfect Satai-hoi, a sharing circle and finally probing the intellectual work that invites people to think for themselves.

On Tuesday we delved into the unknown, and the spiritual; Jules Evans discussed the philosophical reactions to the climate crisis, going through the hedonism and our ability to take a stoical remove from the issue. He ended by asking participants which approach they would take. Eileen Moyer led a creative exercise on writing about ‘discomfort’ and discussed her own life as an anthropologist where discomfort and ambiguity are a way of life.

On Wednesday we dived into individuality. Nafees Hamid discussed how differences in community strength furthered radicalisation, as alienation plays a large role in this phenomenon. Emmanuel Trouche discussed how behaviours that are irrational at the individual level become useful at the collective level. Thibaud Greissinger, Alastair Thompson, and Amisha Ghadiali lead us on a discussion on the need for new stories.

On Thursday, we had a lazy day, some of us took a long walk to the forest and many just relaxed, and an activity on interconnection rounded out the day. Around the fire we had a discussion on the nature of time, distinguishing the Greek terms of Chronos and Kyros, and the encroachment of rigid conceptions of it in our experience of life.

On Friday, Br. Phap Linh and I co-led the final talk on individuality and equality. As HL Mencken once said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong.“ Our rationalist culture loves simple explanations of individual freedom, independence and free will that make a mockery of our intertwinement with each other and our environment.

Contemplation is the kind of mindset required for complexity and Br. Phap Linh skillfully brought us into that state, noticing the artificial nature of so many clear boundaries. He invited us not to rebel against our ideas of individuality and equality, but to see if there isn’t something beyond them that we cannot see if we are taking these intellectual notions too seriously.

Where do you begin and where does the air, whose oxygen fills your bloodstream and helps to animate you, end? Where do you end and where does society, or your family and friends begin? The ideas of value and our placement of people upon an imagined line are even more artificial. Letting go of all of this, we can inhabit other states of mind, love and equanimity. The answer to our obsessions with these ideas is not an obsession with getting rid of them, but seeing them as mere ideas, which might be useful but are not true. Our culture which rebels against dogma still maintains these as dogma.

A wonderful gathering of fascinating minds and warm hearts. An experience of the joy of co-living and the reality of inter-being.

The energy of community and reflection was expressed through a whole day of work on projects around education, how achieving the long discussed shift to well-being focused society can answer the climate problem, and the space and community design of Art / Earth / Tech’s new hubs in Bergerac and Berlin.

By Saturday morning when Amisha led us in a blend of storytelling and yoga, the group was almost majestically synchronised, and after a whole day working together on projects we shared our results.

In the end, the real proof of the Gathering’s value was the great sense of community that developed through everybody.

(An) uplifting experience! I felt lucky to be part of this gathering. Coming back with important life lessons on the importance of self care, community, interdisciplinarity and slow life. A perfect mix between science art and meditation, between rigorous exchanges, personal experience sharing and introspection love and nature connectedness. AET provides a rare place and an overall framework to navigate between the lines and develop a holistic view on the most complex problems of our time.