|The Best of Times - Best of Times 1|
Earlier he'd more somberly posed the underlying question facing the entire Symposium audience of working therapists, "What does it mean to be a steady, balanced healer when you're subject to the same turmoil as everybody else?" As a partial answer, he cited the late student of mythology Joseph Campbell and his famous quote "I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive." The Symposium itself is designed as a kind of collective experiential pilgrimage for attendees to find what engages their mind, body, and spirit among the 150 workshops and the dozens of other conference events highlighting the connection between the tough-minded science of behavioral change, the softer healing art of psychotherapy, and the quest for imaginative inspiration that's the traditional province of the creative arts.
The Language of Discovery
For most attendees, the question of what it takes to be engaged was answered immediately once Simon handed over the microphone to the opening keynote speaker, Irish/English poet David Whyte. With his lilting accent and the slow, mesmerizing cadence of his delivery, Whyte began by reciting a Shakespeare sonnet and immediately showed that he understood how to enrapture an audience. He challenged the assembled therapists to ponder the difficult "questions that have no right to go away" and repeatedly posed queries that took a while to wrap your mind around, like "What does it mean to live a courageous, heart-felt life" in the "biggest context" that makes sense to you?
From his grab bag of elusive, penetrating metaphors, he asked us to think of Jesus befuddling his disciples by walking on water. We must all walk on water, Whyte declared, "We've all had enough of drowning." As he drew the audience into his spell and into a heightened sense of life's possibilities, he made his case that poetic vision isn't just a luxury in today's world, but a critical necessity. By later in the afternoon, with his keynote address and all-day workshop done, as a huge line snaked around the hotel where Whyte was signing books, it was clear that attendees had become at least temporary converts to the idea that meeting the challenge of the moment was intimately linked to the power of creativity, imagination, and moral courage, all aspects of what Whyte referred to as getting out of the trap of the familiar by exploring "language at the edge of revelation."
Balancing the soaring theme of creative engagement woven through the Symposium was the drumbeat of the importance of relational engagement and community as essential resources in difficult times. In his opening talk, Simon had proposed that the huge Symposium attendance this year was not so much in spite of as because of the manifold uncertainties of the moment. "When the world looks really screwed up," he said, "the eternal illusion of self-reliance begins to evaporate along with our 401Ks. We revert to the ancient survival instinct to huddle together around the campfire to gain a sense of safety and security from the presence of each other as we try to tap into the collective wisdom."