The word Symbiosis describes mutualistic relationships between one or more biological organisms, or a system characterized by interdependence of a community nature. We all know that humans live within an interconnected web of life and though much of history has focused upon survival of the fittest and conquering, we still have much to learn about the notion of living in cooperation with each other and our environment. Indigenous communities have much to teach us in this realm and though many of us long for this holistic and simple lifestyle, we have a modern world to contend with. We need places to immerse ourselves in new ways of living together, think-tanks for symbiotic expression and understanding in order to cultivate this concept into a living practice to benefit the broader web around us instead of merely exploiting it for financial gain. The Symbiosis Gathering in Oakdale, California is exactly that kind of place.
It is billed as a "multi-dimensional event" so I wanted to speak with event producer, Kevin KoChen in order to learn more. His closing quote in our first email exchange was by Alan Kay stating, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." I was excited for our talk so I browsed their website in order to come up with a list of pertinent questions.
Their mission statement is filled with words that invite daydreams, "Symbiosis intends to facilitate peak experiences through a synaesthesia of art, music, transformational learning, and sustainable living integrated into an unparalleled extravaganza of fun beneath the starry skies." You'll have to look the word "synaesthesia" up to ponder for yourself what a cross-sensory metaphor is. As I read on I began to feel as though I had found a wonderful synthesis of elements of education, celebration, imagination, and community that defy traditional categories. The promise of "multi-dimensional" began to take form in my mind.
Giant art installations, an immersive environment, live music (both electronic and acoustic), workshops, yoga, healing/massage, transformational art, camping, and swimming are all things that I live for. The week starts with a permaculture intensive that teaches the practices of living in concert with nature and harnessing natural systems for maximum food production which allows patrons to come home with a sustainability toolbox of knowledge. The week ends with a conscious party under the stars, a playground for the aspiring world-changer. In addition I found that Symbiosis is a sponsor-free gathering with a vibrant marketplace. From their website, "Instead of stages draped in logo-laden PVC banners, musical acts perform against backdrops of jaw-dropping, large-scale art" (and nature).
Photo courtesy of Galen Oaks
The day came for my phone call with Kevin and I was ready with a list of questions. We found it hard at times to stick to the questions because each topic lends itself to so many other conversations about society, culture, the environment, art, music and more. Kevin mentioned that Rainbow Serpent Festival, Grateful Dead, Burning Man, Boom Festival, Phish, and Eclipse Festival among others were inspiration for Symbiosis. This made for a perfect follow-up to my recent article about alternative festival culture. Though the list of performers is epic enough to make me want to buy my ticket, I was interested in the aspects of The Symbiosis Gathering that make it unlike any other event, so I started with questions about permaculture.
"This is the third time we are hosting a permaculture intensive and the opportunity to sit, play, and work with a large group of people learning these principles is a really potent experience," Kevin began with. "Many of our previous students have gone on to continue with successful work in the field, like Nicola Peel who produced the film Blood of The Amazon which was reviewed in The Guardian." It is clear that The Symbiosis Team is interested in creating long-term relationships with people who are having a positive impact in the world beyond the actual event.
I brought up the notion of indigenous wisdom, and the tricky topic of cultural appropriation when events borrow from tribal traditions. Kevin was very clear about their ongoing relationship with indigenous communities. Citing a number of tribal members that have attended the permaculture workshops, and will be hosting workshops at this years event he mentioned, "Dean Barlese, a Paiute Traditional Elder will talk about The Two Spirit People (those who have integrated both masculine and feminine wisdom), and John Mosely, who is also Paiute, will be doing a talk on healing the land." Paiute being one of many indigenous tribes that span the region where the festival is being held. He continued, "Carmen Gonzales of The Fallon Paiute Tribe will be speaking about The Doi Cutta Permaculture Project, and there will be an Ancestral Arts Area, sweat lodges, basket weaving and other workshops. We chose "Ancestral Arts" as a term that pays respect to indigenous influence rather than the term "primitive skills" which is less flattering."
Photo courtesy of Galen Oaks
In addition to offering free tickets to people in the local Oakdale community, the festival will bring added commerce, boosting the economy for local businesses. Kevin was excited to tell me more about how Symbiosis is making strides towards having a low-impact on the environment and being sustainable:
We have a re-usable dish program, no single-serving containers, so our event and vendors are not giving trash to attendees. People pay a deposit on a re-usable cup or plate then return it. From 2006 to 2007 we decreased waste by 80 percent despite the fact that we increased audience capacity by 50 percent. Alcohol can be brought to the event but it is not sold there, this keeps drunkenness to a minimum and allows for a healthy conscious experience for all. Because there are no sponsors, we are an independent event and maintain the creative control to walk our talk and live up to our mission.
That said, acts like Rising Appalacia, Shpongle, Vau De Vire Circus, Emancipator, Sound Tribe Sector Nine qualify The Symbiosis Gathering to live up to its grandiose descriptive terms of "epic" and "multi-dimensional." I will be there, so you should be there too. The event is happening over Fall Equinox, September 19-23 with The international Day of Peace being September 21. Perhaps this will make a great follow-up story after the event as we continue our conversation about transforming the ailing and collapsing aspects of our current socio-political situation. For a deeper look into the sights and sounds of Symbiosis, check out the video below. Leave a comment, share, tweet and join the conversation. A better world is possible!