written by cjay roughgarden ©2015
A COLLECTIVE TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE
We in western society take for granted living with a hyper-individualistic perspective. We are encouraged to help ourselves, we are told that any problems are our responsibility; our success comes solely from our own character, and in both depression and elation we are expected to have our experience mostly alone.
Yet one of our most direct paths to true individuation and self knowledge is through experiencing ourselves in relation. By being able to be vulnerable, and be reflected in others we can often find far more of who we are than if we lock ourselves away behind a mask. Rather than having to decide who we are, we can discover who we are becoming when we have the container of collective experience to explore in.
This happens when we have shared experiences where we are welcome as who we are as more than our everyday personas. Where we are invited to step beyond the personality we have crafted, the identities we have built, the skills we have learned, and into the realm where we are both infinitely tiny and insignificant creatures, and also far more grand than anything we typically imagine.
We yearn for truly shared experience, and seek out experiences in which we lose ourselves in something greater. We know we come from that place of being beyond form, and our lives feel hollow and depressing when we lose connection to it. Watching sports, going to rock/pop concerts/raves, or using mind-altering substances are all common ways people seek to immerse themselves in a wave of collective being. It is in these moments of losing the self that we often become most close to it.
Yet true fulfillment comes from experiences that do more than blow our nervous systems out and stimulate our senses. There is ease, and a sense of being held that people associate with experience that opens them to the vast expanse of self within. While parties, raves, or sports games will often give a temporary feeling of elation, there is rarely a sustained avenue created to the feeling of personal power, freedom or connectedness that might flash by in a moment.
Sporting events offer people a feeling of being part of a larger thing than themselves, and athletics are a healthy part of being human. Yet the aggressive nature of sports is to a certain extent the opposite of the nutritive process of artistic experience and expression. Opportunities to develop the competitive aspects of our nature leave us imbalanced if we are left without opportunity to develop the aspects that are collaborative, nourishing, helpful and whole. Without collective experiences of beauty, wonder, and welcoming we lose access to a world of depth and self-knowledge.
Seeing a ballet or watching art is, however, typically an isolated experience. While at a concert or athletic event the audience is with the team, or the musician, or the rest of the crowd, most artistic displays leave the audience member in their seat, observing another isolated human on stage demonstrating their prowess in an art form. There often appears to be a gap between audience and the artist in part due to the reenacting of select fragments of a previously lived creative process pieced together as a perfect puzzle.
When innermost nature is welcomed to come forth, the isolation of the viewer and performer dissolve. The self becomes larger as it reaches to the place in our core where we find we are both most alone, and most connected to everything else. It is not about showcasing a refined composition that was constructed in the past and (mostly) in isolation by the artists involved.
By creating a container of experience in which performers and the audience together dare step into the unknown with all senses awakened an experience is created that can later be re-traced by the audience as their own presence was part of that same moment.
Hence the artists and the audience experience an act of creation together; something that should not be the secluded proprietary of artists alone.
This held space of interconnection as a collective transformative experience by reflection invites the awakening of the same “place” or inner dialogue in all those present. It is space that allows artists’ creativity and sensitivity to awaken within each member of the audience – which may in turn lead to a shift, a more profound sense of identity.