Wanderings #6: TimeSpirit

Posted by on 12/14/10 in Uncategorized

Recently I have been asked to explain the expansion of Wanderlust. The answer is simple for me. First, take a look at the following trends:

Yoga: The number of Americans doing yoga has grown from 4.3 million in 2001 to nearly 20 million in 2010.

Farmers Markets: In 1994, there were 1,775 farmers markets in operation. In 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture, there are 6,132.

Organic Food: Organic food sales in the United States have grown by 17 - 20% per year for the last 4 years.

Electric Cars: Because of growing demand for electric cars, the US is pledging $2.4 billion in federal grants for electric cars and battery stations and China is investing $15 billion to initiate an electric car industry.

Wanderlust is expanding because the community that supports it is growing. We're experiencing the rise of what I call the "mindful generation" -- a generation of people passionately engaged in a process of trying to live in a way that is simultaneously good for themselves, others and the earth. It's a broad movement of people trying to balance jobs, families and perpetual connectivity with a mindful existence. It shares a common search for a modern wisdom -- knowledge that we can act on to make our lives better. And in this pursuit, the make-up of our society is changing.

Wanderlust is a small part of this new emerging zeitgeist. I like the literal translation of this word: TimeSpirit. Through our active process to find wisdom, we are creating the cultural, ethical and spiritual climate of our era -- our TimeSpirit.

As more and more people become engaged in this process, as our TimeSpirit broadens, I am increasingly interested in the power of collective wisdom. If wisdom combines knowledge with the ability to make correct decisions -- decisions that yield positive outcomes -- then how do we apply the collective wisdom that we're accruing?

The role that yoga & yoga studios play in shaping this collective consciousness is interesting. In general, the yoga community shares a common set of values -- best described by the mindful life (yoga, organics, well-being, environmentalism, conscious consumerism, fair fashion, etc.). Whether individuals have developed these personal beliefs before they head down to their local studio or they begin to learn about them and dive deeper because of the community at yoga studios, it is clear that yoga studios and their communities play a strong role in creating and reinforcing the ideals underlying this movement.

This is interesting politically because we saw a parallel phenomenon happen in churches in the late 90's and early 2000's with the rise of the evangelical movement. People in search of wisdom flocked to churches, many of them large, and began to commune. The community grew rapidly and slowly developed a shared set of values linked to a particular period in time: a zeitgeist. Infused with money and organization, this movement applied its collective power to create policy and elect officials at both a local and national level (including Bush 43).

Whether or not you agree with any of the values espoused by the evangelical movement, the parallels are worth noting. Like yoga studios, churches are community centers where the flock often galvanizes around a spiritual leader (be it a preacher or a yoga teacher). It begs the question -- if the evangelical movement was able to elect officials around a set of conservative and often exclusionary policies, when will networks of yoga studios use their influence to elect candidates who espouse a progressive and inclusive agenda? Even if yogis don't want politics in their asana, wouldn't the "mindful generation" want to support and push forward its own ideals through candidates and measures that reflected them?

Even if our 45th President cannot bust out a crow pose, there may be other ways where this growing mindful generation and its collective wisdom can improve society. In 2004, James Surowiecki penned "The Wisdom of Crowds." In essence, the author claims that decisions derived from the aggregation of group information are generally better than could have been made by an individual. In the opening, Surowiecki describes how a crowd at a county fair accurately guesses the weight on an ox when all of their individual guesses are summed and averaged. No individual, even cattle experts, came as close. So I ask you all, how much does Vinnie Marino weigh? Actually, we can apply the wisdom of crowds in more significant ways. Online aggregators like Yelp! and other recommender models help us find the best restaurants, the best hotels and, yes, the best yoga studios. Social networking lends itself quite neatly towards the aggregation of opinion and formulation of a group judgment. I've often toyed with the concept of a recommender Facebook app designed specifically for the wellness space. Create a well-trafficked platform and then let a community of decentralized opinions decide who leads the best power vinyasa class in Seattle, what company makes the most effective ayurvedic products and health supplements, where do you find the best integrative medical treatment.

There are also interesting applications for crowdsourcing. If ad agencies can get logos submitted for free by "amateur" designers with pro-sumer gear then certainly there are individuals within the wellness space that might help the EPA with a local environmental problem or an individual with treatment for a specific ailment. Crowdsourcing relies on the development of a broad collective wisdom but ultimately taps individuals within that community for the "best" solutions.

I'm exploring this subject because I think our TimeSpirit is right, and right now. We've seen plenty of negative historical examples of herd mentality but this is different. Herd mentality generally arises from people going along with a movement or set of ideas because they do not want to be excluded or left behind. The cultivation of mindful living requires pro-active choices and actions. I think the ideals of the mindful generation are meaningful and can push society in a positive direction, towards a new enlightenment. But we are certainly not the first movement of its kind. The socio-political movements of the 60s were larger by many degrees and, arguably, much more courageous and much less self-referential. Our course, the challenges were different. The accomplishments of the 60's counter-culture were relevant both to its time -- most notably by pressuring the government to end the Vietnam war -- and to history through great advances in civil rights. And it may amaze us today that the organizational effort to register voters in the South or for a million people to march on Washington were done completely without email, Facebook or Twitter.

In a recent New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell describes the sit-in movement.

Ezell Blair ordered a cup of coffee on Monday, February 1, 1960 at the Woolworth's counter in Greensboro, NC. Within one month, some seventy thousand students were actually taking part in demonstrations across the South, and the rest is history. Gladwell attributes much of the spread of activism to personal relationships. People went to the demonstration because a close friend was going and it became a large part of their relationship and self-identity. While organizing people may be one of the things most touted about the Internet, there is also a downside. Activism on the Internet can be hollow because it lowers the threshold for entry. Joining a pro-Tibet Facebook page may give the cause more "Fans" and may provide a certain personal satisfaction, but the benefits to the actual effort are murky at best. It is similar to those who argue that recycling is an attempt to assuage people's guilt but has no true effect on saving the environment. I think the mindful generation is one of the most natural existing social networks -- people talk to each other, they trust each other's opinions -- but we need to use the kind of personal interaction to organize and accomplish great things. It can't be passive.

I admire the work of Off The Mat Into The World, Wanderlust's official non-profit, because they are taking the inspiration of yoga and channeling that passion into concrete ways to use our collective wisdom through action. We are looking forward to creating opportunities for people at the festival to get involved in conscious activism through activities on-site. I am also tinkering with the idea of a problem-solving seminar as part of the curriculum at Wanderlust -- a slot in the attendee program that would be focused on ways to collectively find solutions to specific problems. If this subject interests, you then please send me your ideas at jeff@wanderlustfestival.com.

Last night, at a seminar on wisdom and connectivity, a woman named Beth Grossman said the loveliest thing. "Wisdom is in the space. It lurks in the emptiness. It comes in the breaks." However wisdom comes to you, please share it. And, while we may not levitate the Pentagon, let's do something with it. The responsibility is squarely on our shoulders. Our TimeSpirit is now.

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