Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Feast of Ideas and Passions

Tagore 150 at Dartington Hall
st to 7th May 2011
I stand under the golden canopy of thine evening sky
and I lift my eager eyes to thy face
I have come to the brink of eternity from which nothing can vanish
– no hope, no happiness, no vision of a face seen through tear
Tagore, extract from 'Brink of Eternity'

A full day of food for thought, belly and heart – and a little more food for the belly than usual! The curry tent and its hypnotic music is becoming a regular haunt for this writer with its generous portions of wholesome spicy, home cooked vegetables served by a friendly duo who clearly love their work.

Wandering through the grounds listening to discussion sparked by events and talks, bumping into old friends, making new ones easily through the shared, unspoken understanding that by the nature of being at the festival we are of the same tribe, idea, belief and passion, wanting a better world full of creativity, connection and a desire for deep change. The weather held and at times offered bursts of sunlight followed by welcome warmth cutting through the cool days of May after so much April sunshine.

I have heard and read much of Jane Goodall and her work but had no idea just how much she has done and is doing in the world to help make it a better, more loved and respected place for humans, animals and plant kingdom alike. And it is clearly a better place for her life within it.

In defiant defence of our world and all the beings within it, Jane is indeed a force of nature. The Great Hall was packed. Her message delivered clearly and simply. No one could mistake her feelings of despair for the world we have created; she made the 'we' very clear. But she possesses an unflinching faith for the possibilities of change and the hope she has for a better world. Very much in line with here her Roots and Shoots charity motto 'Never Give Up.'

It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the staggering accomplishments of her life and for me to think, “how could I get close to that, why bother?” but she clearly believes we are all capable of making an important difference in the world no matter how small – and in fact we must. It's not simply up to the politicians to do this. We are the leaders we've been waiting for. I couldn't agree more.

Questions from the floor seemed at times to be more about personal platforms for individual work and beliefs and at one point a gallery questioner almost seemed to be moving into a heckle about the destructive force of technology, demanding a response from Jane. She held the question firm, making it clear that for her, technology used correctly, was a key part of our future and has a place in helping to alleviate poverty and the reliance on fossil fuels. I couldn't help thinking about her momentous discovery of the chimpanzee who had created a tool to eat termites and how this changed the world view of humans being unique because they are the only species to create tools.

She then unseated religion and belief as being another key division between animals and man with her story of seeing a group of chimps dancing by a massive waterfall, hurling rocks into the water, staring up at the cascading water in wonder and how this echoed mankind's nature based beliefs and the worship of mystery and beauty in the natural world.
Jane received a much-deserved standing ovation.

Stephan Harding and Philip Franses delivered an ambitious 45-minute talk on the relationship between Einstein and Tagore using Goethe as the bridging point. I heard somewhere that it is good to read or engage with material, words or ideas that requires thought, every day. This certainly demanded some mind bending concepts to get my head around, imagining riding beams of light and ending where you began before you've even left your starting point (part of Einstein's discussion on light as an immeasurable force). I left a little baffled but boosted by the colour they brought to the talk and their evident, shared passion for blending science and belief in a positive and workable way.

There is a feast of ideas and passions at this festival and I would be wise not to gorge myself too early in my hungry search for creative, spiritual and intellectual satisfaction. Time to wander and sit and digest and let the ideas percolate and of course, eat a little more curry...

Tagore Tales
Rabindranath Tagore. William Rothenstein in his book Men and Memories quotes a story of what happened when Yeats arranged a small dinner for Tagore before he left for India. After dinner, “we asked Tagore to sing Bande Mataram. He hummed the tune but after the first words he broke down; he could not remember the rest.

Caspar Walsh is the film editor for Resurgence. He is an author, journalist and wilderness teacher. His new novel Blood Road is available in paperback.

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