Imagine a different world. Imagine a world where we can solve all the problems that plague humanity. Imagine a world where we learn how to live within the limits of our planet and co-exist in harmony with all living creatures. Imagine a world with new organizations and new cultures that honor our individual gifts and soul paths, and celebrate our unique contributions to create meaningful, joyful, wholesome lives. Imagine a world with a new, sustainable, and just economy that provides for everyone without damaging the environment or that enhances the possibilities of future generations to live full happy lives. Imagine.
After my first 30 minutes at the National Bioneers Conference, I was already inspired. I was surrounded by people—lots of people—who imagine these possibilities, like I do. And even better: we are all working on making this dream a reality. And while in the past we may have been called “idealists,” I think that we now feel how these ideals are attainable—even if I don’t get to see them manifested in our lifetime. We have made huge progress as a movement and there is so much more work to do: The knowledge is not yet fully distributed. We are not fully connected. We are not collaborating sufficiently or at the level that a socio-cultural breakthrough will require. We gather in conferences and events, like Bioneers, to get some glimpses of the human magnificence emerging, to recharge our batteries, to learn from each other, and to remember (and feel) that we are not alone.
In her welcome message, Nina Simons, co-CEO and co-founder of Bioneers, said: “We are all called to be mothers now… to give birth to a new world.” The rekindling of the feminine in all of us—men and women alike—was a strong theme in this conference. It was a call back to wholeness, to rebalancing the power difference, to include everything and everybody, to create a world that works for all of humanity, for all of life. Nina also said: “Thank you for being here.” She probably meant for our participation and presence at this year’s National Bioneers Conference. But I understood her statement as an expression of gratefulness on behalf of all past, present, and future living beings—for us to have been born in this time of transition, for us to say “yes” and show up to do the work we are meant to do.
This was my third Bioneers conference, but this year was special because I attended with my friend and mentor, Carolyn North. It was deliciously meaningful to share the experience with her. We were on the same wavelength: excited by similar things, complaining about the same things, and getting tired at the same time. We were trying to figure out if it was us or if it was the conference, but unlike previous years, the experience did not consist of just highs. There were lows too. In me, it showed up as impatience, anxiety, and nervousness. There were moments where I was pretty clear why I was feeling this way. Those moments seem to fall in two categories.
The first source of frustration for me happened when I witnessed the disconnection between head and heart. No matter how visionary or inspirational the presentation was, if I couldn’t feel the presenter emotionally engaged and authentically sharing, their message didn’t reach me. However, when the people in plenaries or in panels showed their vulnerability and their humanity, their message grabbed me—and I won’t forget it. Thank you, Michael Brune, Marina Silva, Bill McKibben, DeAnthony Jones, Paul Hawken, Ilarion Merculieff, and Sharon Shay Sloan (to mention a few) for showing up authentically and humbly, for reminding us that, even though they were on stage for good reasons, they are still our companions on the same journey. They are still struggling, learning, and wondering, like the rest of us.
The second source of frustration made me consider going home and it happened when I heard variations of a message that is close to my heart. We are all leaders and we are all needed, but the message was delivered in the traditional format of one person as an expert in front of the room from an elevated podium separate from the audience. I know there are logistical challenges to facilitate participatory and collaborative dialogue with hundreds of people, but if we were to acknowledge that this format is incongruent and antithetical to what we are trying to accomplish, would we continue doing it this way? I just couldn’t sit quiet for so many hours and I kept wondering why we traveled to attend the conference physically? Given the urgent need to activate our collective intelligence, I believe that if we are going to burn all the CO2 that it took to get us to the conference, we should maximize the interaction with each other and minimize the time we are talked at.
I decided to also participate in a post-conference workshop called “Feminomics: How Women’s Leadership, A Gender Lens and Whole-Systems Approaches Are Re-Inventing Economics That Work for All.” Carolyn was kind to drive me there and, on the way to the workshop, she asked me, “Why are you taking this workshop?” That morning we were both feeling exhausted and quite full after three days of conferencing. “I’m not sure,” I answered. I guess it was an intuition. Yes, I’m interested in the topic and I also knew some of the presenters but, if I wouldn’t have pre-registered, I would have preferred to go home that morning. My experience in the Feminomics workshop was the highlight of Bioneers for me. Some of the missing pieces from the conference that were core to the experience of the workshop were:
- We came together to learn together. Yes, they were presenters, but their contributions were like appetizers—small and tasty—to inspire and inform our conversations. The room was set up with round tables (no auditorium format) and the schedule of the day had a beautiful rhythm of listening and interacting.
- We came together to connect with each other. We had an opportunity to get to know at least the individuals sitting at our table. There were invitations to remain connected after the workshop to continue learning, sharing, and supporting each other.
- We are ready for action and want to explore what that would look like. That seemed to be the connecting thread.
So the Feminomics workshop embodied a relational format. There was dialogue, laughter, visual thinking, and poetry. There were flowers and good food. There was a room full of women—and a few courageous men—ready to take the next step in this inquiry: a step that is unknown but that calls us to experiment and play with our ideas. We have nothing to loose.
I was grateful for having participated in this workshop. I think that this format could be the next evolution of Bioneers. I envision the conference becoming a series of workshops, like this one, moving the plenaries to virtual broadcasts before we get together to roll up our sleeves and engage with each other. And I envision that, in the future, the post-conference workshops will be more collaborative and action-oriented, building on the thinking that conference-goers could do together in the days leading up to them.
Overall, this conference gave me an exciting and inspiring reminder: What may seem like small and insignificant actions in our individual experience can become a force for good in the world when we work collaboratively with others.