The magic of festival

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Dec 22 2016 by Michael Jones Print This Article

We are standing on the leading edge of one of those big transformative shifts when the cultural landscapes of our communities and organizations are undergoing major changes. And we’re experiencing this as a mounting pressure that may lead to the breakdown of existing structures and the unleashing of a global flow of new ideas, innovations and collaborative possibilities.

As we enter into this festive time of year we can also see how these radical shifts are igniting the regenerative power of Festival within our communities and ourselves. This spirit of Festival reconnects us with our deep urge to create spaces that are life enhancing, which in turn inspires an appetite for ritual and celebration.

Festival lifts us up in a wave; its underlying philosophy is one of contagious and spontaneous joy. As the source of our regenerative power, Festival represents the shift from the principles of stability and closure and a narrow focus on planning and action to one of constant flux and possibility. Festival is a fluid rather than a fixed way for allowing our sense of aliveness and felt experience of life to flow through.

Festival often comes during times of great disruption, when there is a surge of energy so strong we need new forms to ground it in order not to be swept away. As such, it can be best understood as the counterpoint to the world of official and dominant hierarchical order.

In fact, Festival has always been a very particular form of energetic expression of the imagination that has been mostly silenced in hierarchical life. A call to duty, order and strategy does not offer permission for a sense for joy, spontaneity, and the celebration of the unknown and the newness of life to express itself through us.

In place of the celebration of abundance, the attachment to hierarchy at any cost promotes the principle of efficiency, of scarcity, and the fear that enough is never enough. In this respect, hierarchy is a model of consumption, not of regeneration. A rule-bound vertical world of limit and obligation dismisses hope and aspiration as an illusion and suspends imagination and the deeply felt experience of the festive life.

In this context, Festival can be seen as subversive. It awakens a neglected element in consciousness - an element that, when brought into awareness, will take us to a higher level of integration and wholeness. While embracing this new consciousness is vital to the evolution of consciousness, it cannot be prescribed. The spirit of Festival often enters our awareness only when we are willing to acknowledge our own vulnerability and embrace those elements that are most unknown to us thereby openning the heart to serendipity and surprise. The experience of collective excitement and letting go of oneself - this is the language of hospitality that Festival calls us to. It is a return to that time when music, the arts, the power of story and the stewardship of life played a much more imaginative and integral role in public life, not only as celebration through ceremony and art but also in daily ritual. Above all, it was a shared performance, not something we listened to passively.

The arts have always been the glue that brings us together and through which we experience our common humanity even in the midst of hardship and uncertainty. To go forward we need to re-engage with mystery and ambiguity, with slowing down, and with finding our own authentic voice. It is this shift that we are witnessing now, one that can lead to the disruption of old structures and giving birth to the new.

And this brings us to the precipice of a fundamental choice. We stand at the threshold of great risk and great possibility. We can step forward and create a future that is fully alive with generosity and love - a world of Festival or we can step backward in time and risk being consumed by pessimism and fear.

Giving birth to the new stirs our insecurities, for, among other things, Festival is the traveling circus. It passes through town and soon disappears into the night. As many ancient wisdom stories remind us - keeping our appointment with Festival may change our life!

And this is the hidden power of Festival. While we often associate it with displays of excess, we need to redefine Festival more broadly as representing the force of art and nature that rises up from the ground deep beneath our feet throws off the old order and brings forth new levels of wholeness and integration. It can be a positive transformative energy that remakes and transforms any place we are in. As such, Festival represents the disruption of the formal and abstracted life in favor of a multiplicity of voices and meanings. When we convene large group gatherings and introduce the spirit of Festival in the form of conversation, movement, music, story, painting, song, speaking and celebration, we are also re-introducing the transformative symbols of the mythic world. And the rebirth of the mythic imagination signals the shift in global consciousness in which we all have a part.

So during this time of the Winter Solstice we are called to undertake a journey - to enter into a place of mystery, enchantment and the suspension of disbelief. The presence of streaming colors, bountiful banquets and luminous living spaces invites the throwing off of the old and the taking up of the new with the contagious joy it brings.

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About The Author

Michael Jones
Michael Jones

Michael Jones is a leadership educator, author and Juno-nominated pianist/composer. His most recent book, The Soul of Place: Re-imagining Leadership Through Nature, Art and Community, is the third in a series asking how leaders can re- imagine places as living systems inspired by nature, art, community and our deepening humanity.