Reporting from the Scene:
Bright Now Festival in Amsterdam, “basic goodness in action“
by Anna Spohr
I was a volunteer at the first Bright Now Festival, playing the part of filmmaker this time, rather than mindfulness trainer. Attracted by the strong positivity of the theme, “A society based on basic goodness,” I enthusiastically offered myself at the last minute in my old role of documentary filmmaker.
I offered to create an internet buzz around the festival, preferably with a participatory video. I felt like I just had to be there. Fueled by my disappointment in society as I observe it daily via the media, I wanted to find out whether what was claimed by Shambhala and the Knowmads Business School Amsterdam, the organizers of the Festival, was actually possible.
From my perspective, fed by the media, it looks like our lives are determined mainly by the business world, which looks out very well for itself, but doesn’t have the best intentions for the rest of us. Basic badness – a little bit of exploitation, abuse or deceit – is the norm for a successful businessperson. And no one makes a fuss about that, because when you are successful, you don’t care much about ethics anymore. Doing and being bad then becomes acceptable in polite society. (This reminds me of a documentary I made in collaboration with some youth from a rough neighborhood in The Hague in 2004 – revealing society’s perception of a drug dealer: “Slecht zijn is mooi” [Being bad is beautiful]).
Elated, curious and excited, I set out for the festival with all my cables, hard drives and cameras. My young son would have to put up with my absence for a few days, cared for by his papa, grannies and friends, because once I say I’ll do something, I have to give it my all.
I plunged into a world of people who all have developed activities based on Buddhist values and a desire to do good. Even more, all the people leading workshops are actual practitioners, and that was visible in them – the way they carry themselves – you could see that they spend part of their day on a meditation cushion. That alone was a pleasure for me as a camera-woman and long-time Buddhist: All those people sitting up straight, with an open demeanor and a friendly smile, even in unexpected circumstances.
The entire festival organization was in the hands of people who fit this description, and I found them uncommonly brave as well. It was a festival with an ambitious character. It was quite a feat to dare to organize such an event and to hire the Royal Tropical Institute for it – and then to continue to believe during the 12 months of preparation that the building would be filled with spiritually interested people.
All the people that co-organized the festival are heroes in my eyes. I’m crazy about heroes: small-scale, everyday heroes, but certainly heroes with grand, overwhelming lives now and then as well. My theatrical personality will apparently never quite disappear, even though I spend many vacations in silent retreats.
As a filmmaker at the festival I was given free access everywhere, except in the Meditation Lab where people meditated all day long. Suddenly the world indeed seemed to consist exclusively of people who have the courage to step beyond the conventions and to serve as an example of how to “be”. And there were as many as 46 different workshops where festival visitors could meet these people!
Parents could participate in dialogues to learn how to mindfully deal with their children, facilitated by Ancilla van Steekelenburg. Losing your temper once in a while isn’t so bad as long as you can recover and allow your child to feel your full humanity. With Paul van Toledo, people practiced listening to each other’s problems without trying to solve them – and to experience that as their unique talent. In gratitude, the participants in this workshop gave each other a yellow rose, accompanied by cheerful words, elucidating the other’s natural talent. The many Eastern mindfulness principles brought into practice here delighted me as I flitted on with my camera.
This morning during my umpteenth effort at jogging, I was able to successfully apply what I picked up while filming the “Running Buddha” workshop. By focusing on my feet and legs, the run became less of a chore and I even enjoyed myself. I’ll have to see whether this is a lasting phenomenon though (I’ll keep you posted!).
In the council chamber, a fitting name and location, lawyer Wikke Monster was introducing forgiveness as the newest trend in the courtroom. The way she did this was so fresh and convincing that I thought this might already be well established in the Netherlands but nothing is further from the truth. This woman is also a courageous pioneer in the legal profession who proposes forgiveness as the best possible outcome in painful conflicts – even though this means she risks lower earnings or even none at all.
In the meantime, I had to upload the material from my camera to my computer and check in for a meeting with the “harvest team”. There each of us reported on how we were doing at that moment. Johannes Hoffenreich (with the best German surname) led the group based on principles he had just learned during his year with the Knowmads.
I noticed that during filming I regularly lost my “mindful” manner so I was extremely pleased with these brief check-ins to slow me down after having reached full production speed. A meditation session led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the Earth Protector, initiator of the festival and leader of the Shambhala lineage, provided an even deeper reset. But, as he cheerfully stated in his final talk at the festival, “If you’re meditating and sitting on a cushion, the strength of your practice is how long you can sustain what you did on the cushion in your life.” Apparently that’s very hard for me to do with a camera in my hand, so I only go back into my old profession for such noble causes as the Bright Now Festival.
After three days of abiding in the world of Shambhala and Bright Now, I’ve recovered my faith in the utopia that is beginning to become reality: a society flourishes and functions best when it’s based on basic goodness. Goodbye, egoism, or in other words: short-term thinking is so 20th century!
This content was previously posted on Shambhala Times