Who hasn’t been softly haunted at some point by the distance between us, as people who live together but dwell in very personal experiences of the world? It’s almost commonplace to say we’re more separated than ever, driven apart by forces of technology, corporatism and some vague sense of lost societal consciousness.
If I could believe life is linear, I might buy into the idea that we’re only ever drifting apart. But life mocks the straight line, preferring instead a more cyclical way, and those cycles create the tissue that connects the personal with the interpersonal. Like a circle always turning inward but never getting closer to the centre, we’re always coming together and flying apart, always in decline and always growing.
I think we acknowledge this reality through rituals, regular celebrations that draw us out of the personal and into a togetherness that is the grain of human existence. These rituals renew us by making a mark in the unbroken circle that we can look both forward and back to. Rituals like birthdays, anniversaries, religious holidays and yes, even the fiscal year. I’ve always had a hard time finding real enthusiasm for these events, feeling aloof without knowing why, but about ten years ago I found the one that worked for me: the Illuminares.
A homegrown Vancouver event, the Illuminares is also known as the Lantern Festival at Trout Lake, and is produced by the Public Dreams Society. It’s a celebration of light in the days that we have the most, the summer. It’s produced almost entirely through volunteer work, a handful of grants and grassroots fundraising. It takes minimal resources and purely human creativity and enthusiasm to transform them into displays that embody and transcend with ease our best aspects.
It happens without gated entries, heavy-handed security and pat-downs; it welcomes all freely and gives without ego; it happens with all kinds of intoxication and a mild chaos that never feels like danger or disorder; it attracts generosity without the demand for corporate logo displays and naming rights; it retains and grows its identity without asserting ownership of cultural artifacts; it’s everything that modern community events can and should be, but usually aren’t.
And most of all, it renews the connection between who we are today and who we’ll be next time around, between our private perspectives and the totality of lives lived together in the city. Public Dreams’ Managing and Artistic Director, Pamela McKeown, spoke recently at the Wosk Centre and quoted Joseph Campbell from an interview with Bill Moyers on the nature of our dreams:
Bill Moyers: Why is a myth different from a dream?
Joseph Campbell: Oh, because a dream is a personl experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you.
Bill Moyers: So if my priavte dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I’m more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public -
Joseph Campbell: – you’ll be in trouble. If you’re forced to live in that system, you’ll be a neurotic.
Bill Moyers: But aren’t there visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?
Joseph Campbell: Yes, there are.
Bill Moyers: How do you explain that?
Joseph Campbell: They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of orginal experience. Orginal experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off from the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience – that is the hero’s deed.
There’s lots to unpack there, but for myself it’s the connection between the dreams of a community and of the person, and the value in both harmony and difference. The intangible but undeniable reality that the Illuminaries and other Public Dreams events create is one where people find renewal with the community and between their current selves and the people they dare to dream they can be.
This year marks the first where I’ll be not only enjoying Illuminaries as a volunteer and attendee, but also as a new member of the Society’s board of directors. It’s an impressive group to join, and the entire society has been heroic in keeping itself together through a few years of fiscal hardship.
Are you in Vancouver on the night of Saturday July 25th? Then join us at the Illuminares and renew the dreams that lie quiet within the trials and routines of daily life, waiting for the light that opens them up to let you live as the person you know you are with the people you know must be out there. If you can also donate just $5 to any of the buskers or sales booths or at the Wishing Pond, you’ll not only help this year by being joining in, but helping make next year happen as well.
Some additional links:
- To volunteer, Ziyian at firstname.lastname@example.org
- To see pictures of the Illuminares, you can check out my own from 2005 or the illuminares tag on flickr. If you go and have photos to share, please tag them with ‘public dreams society’ and ‘illuminares’.
- To make a financial donation in absentia, use our CanadaHelps.org page. Or become a member for just $15 annually. Your most important donation is coming out and joining in, but the money helps a lot, too.