May is about play...
Some of you may have noticed that towards the end of April my thoughts moved away from criticism and competition towards play! Phew!
In the last week of April, I participated in our family’s annual pilgrimage to one of South Africa’s most iconic playgrounds: Afrika Burn - (www.afrikaburn.co.za) - an arts and music festival held in the Tankwa Karoo. A satellite festival of the original U.S. festival, Burning Man, 2017’s Afrika Burn was it’s 11th incarnation.
My husband and I attended the first ever meeting about the possibility of Afrika Burn, under a big old oak tree on a friend’s farm in Bot Rivier. My sons were 7 and 8 when we first went, and under 1000 people attended. This year, at 18 and 19, I barely saw them amongst the 14,000 participants. But what I did see was people playing.
I saw people expressing their creativity, their wildness and their curiosity.
One more time I also experienced living communally, a far cry from the neat four of us at home. (By neat, I mean the number, not my teenage boys’ rooms!). It’s funny how things come in 10’s……commandments (Moses), Components (Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment) and principles (Burning Man/Afrika Burn). What all three of these sets of 10s have in common, is that they aim for the raising of awareness; a bringing to our consciousness of how it is that we are behaving, and the impact of that behaviour on others.
Afrika Burn’s 10 Principles include: no spectators, everyone is a participant; no money, the economy is gifting (which, unlike bartering is giving with no expectation of return); no relying on others to do for you, radical self-reliance – what you bring you take home – another principle – leave no trace, and by no trace they mean not a smidgen of trace. If it wasn’t in the desert when you arrived, it shouldn’t be left there when you leave. The upshot of these principles is that it really brings out the very best in people, and to see 14, 000 people, expressing themselves, being creative and being at their best is a gift indeed.
This year our camp was relatively small: 25 instead of 45 people! Some strangers from Durban spotted a space in our campground and leaped in without asking - then quickly became friends.
Oh! And I forgot to mention: people dress up! And I mean they really do dress up – Priscilla Queen of the Desert style! People make art, and then they burn it – it is an alive and profoundly lively expression of the Buddhist principle of non-attachment.
So you will be able to imagine my amusement, when, in the middle of this glorious week of play, where strangers become friends and friends behave strangely, I suddenly remembered that I had not written my May newsletter!
As the realisation first flooded in it landed like molten lead in my mind and I was smothered by my good old inner critic – which leapt on me like a cheetah on a buck in the Kruger.
What would people think of me!? Followed quickly by, would people even notice? Followed by a sermon’s worth of admonishments as to my unreliability and my irrelevance! The Tankwa Karoo is not famed for its internet reception (there is none). There was nothing I could do. What was wrong with me? Why had I not gotten it done before leaving Cape Town? What a flake I was……. Etc etc etc! And then I noticed the withdrawal…….no point in talking to any one of my several good friends, who would care? Etc, etc, etc!
Once again it struck me…..the killjoy inner critic vs the human need for play, joy, fun, laughter, creativity and self-expression. Like two ends of a fundamental and archetypal continuum, I watched the play.
I decided to turn towards the magnetic attraction of choice. Let it go. Be here, now, in the desert, in the dust, with the crazy ones who also choose, annually, to depart the default world of thoughtless doing and enter into choice. The choice to create, to play, to connect, to express, to laugh, to feel joy, to give fully of themselves in whichever was they choose. Choice! Our birth-right and our curse at the same time: for as the Existentialists said, we are doomed to be free. There is only one choice we do not have, and that is not to have a choice!
Why, I wondered, is that such a harsh reality for us to embrace? What is it about the ownership of our birthright of choice that makes us so nervous? Is it because of how we are responded to, over the millennia, when we get it wrong, by people who were themselves responded to in that way, by people who were responded to in that way? That response that shames us, and then makes us want to avoid mistakes and failure, looking foolish, getting it wrong!?
What I can say, now in my 50’s (shortly to be in the second half of my 50’s with my 56th birthday coming up this weekend!) is that the letting go and letting be comes easier, and the anxiety of failure, of ridicule, of embarrassment, passes (hallelujah!) with more fluidity and ease. Could it be that 13 years of receiving consciously articulated appreciation as a result of teaching The Thinking Environment has had a lasting impact on my psyche? I think so!
I had the opportunity to listen to a young 19 year old woman struggling with neediness and feeling vulnerable whilst I was at Afrika Burn. I’ve been hearing so much about this anxiety that we all seem to share as fragile (and yet so brave and strong!) human beings. She didn’t want to be a burden, and yet she needed to be cared for. She didn’t want to need attention, and yet we all need it so much – from the minute we get here! Listening to her made me long for the vision Thinking Environment teachers hold: for a world in which everyone is treated as though they matter, uniquely, and are worth listening to – so that they can make the best choices for themselves, and show up in this magical world of ours, with all their self-expression and creativity intact!
So, although you have not received this on the first Thursday of the month, I hope it provokes some thinking and some insight, and as ever, I am deeply grateful if you have read all the way to the end!