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First World New Age Congress (Florence, 1978)

Introductory statement reproduced from the congress programme

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See also: A Congress that Dared the Unthinkable: report on the First New Age Congress (Florence, 1978)
and Emergence of Integrative Processes in a Self-reflective Assembly (Florence, 1978)

What is the vision that has given rise to this initiative? In part it is an evolution of what is considered most significant in the Renaissance, of which Florence was a principal centre. At the time there was both a dramatic upsurge and a magnificent blending of the arts and the sciences -- a blending which did not deny the wholeness of man or the spiritual dimension. The detailed exploration of the arts and the sciences in the subsequent centuries gradually led to insensitivity to the spiritual, to the wholeness of man, and to the interrelationship between all these emphases. Our need for this sensitivity is now approaching healthy desperation.

Consider some of the elements of the social transformation we want to facilitate and which can only be brought about through our personal and collective involvement in some appropriate process. As is implied above, we are brought face to face with the problem of transcending the dualities that have necessarily become deeply embedded in our attitudes since the Renaissance. These dualities not only structure our attitudes but also reinforce. and are reinforced by, their reflections in the external world-and this includes the preparation and organization of a Congress.

Consider the following dualities and their implications:

  • Science/Art: Have we a good sense of the nature of the totality from which they emerge? Any conventional meeting procedure threatens the nature of one or the other.

  • Heart/Head: Emphasis on the one or the other is commonplace. How can we discover the disciplines of becoming. The New Age movement is a Western phenomenon, whilst the most subtle conceptual integrations link to an Eastern inspiration. What range of participants and events can respect the interwoven nature of this totality?

  • Unity/Diversity: The unity of the New Age movement has seldom responded to the challenge of multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism, with all that they imply in terms of conceptual richness and diversity and a spectrum of cultural sensitivities - in fact the movement remains very anglo-american in emphasis, if only in terms of the people involved, the widespread use of English, and the language of the books available ("New Age" does not even translate very well into other languages). And yet it is vital that the movement, under whatever name, should be impregnated by a variety of cultural perceptions if it is to be truly of world-wide significance. But this poses real problems, both in organising the meeting, in attracting an appropriately diverse group of participants, and in ensuring an adequate degree of communication.

  • New Age/Old Age: The New Age movement has naturally tended to adopt the attitude of an adolescent rejecting its parent, as though the parent had nothing further to offer. But each Age has its function in the scheme of things and within ourselves. The challenge is to clarify the nature of the totality which can give us continuity of awareness in the transition from one Age to another. It is the bridge between the Ages which needs to be given form. How should this be reflected in a meeting?

  • We/They: It is so easy for each of us to adopt the attitude that our own New Age group or approach has the truth, the best techniques, etc., and that others are unfortunate in their ignorance of it, or are to be avoided because of their alternative preference. But there is a time and a place for interaction as well as for separation. The pillars of a cathedral are necessarily distant and distinct from one another. But when they arch over to link together in pairs or to form a dome, a keystone is required -- without which the temple cannot be completed. How are our distinct emphases to be maintained and brought into appropriate juxtaposition in a meeting in order that the significance of the whole should be made manifest? We believe that the keystone is within us and that each is a reflection of an aspect of the other-- but what form can we give to this belief in a meeting?

The above dualities, and others, create general problems In the organization of a New Age meeting. But perhaps even more challenging are those dualities arising from our differences in personal preference -- differences that we normally fail to reconcile within ourselves:

  • Order/Disorder: Some prefer a high degree of organisation, duly established procedure and a clearly structured programme, imposed in advance, which reinforces a well-defined system of concepts or beliefs. Others prefer lack of structure and undefined programmes that are responsive to the shifting sense of die meeting, the events in a context of 'creative chaos'.

  • Inner/Outer: Some are satisfied with an external, detached representation or explanation. Others need an experiential process in which they can somehow "get inside" the objects of their experience.

  • Sharp-focus/Soft-focus: Some prefer clear, distinct, well-defined experiences. Other prefer to experience through nuance, subtlety and indirection.

  • This-world/Other-world: Some prefer environments in which the here-and-now is considered self-explanatory. Others prefer to believe that experience is only meaningful in the light of a non-evident pattern of factors and dimensions.

  • Continuity/Discreteness: Some prefer a sense of wholeness and completeness interlinking all their experiences. Others prefer diversity and the mutual isolation of a succession of experiences.

Each of these preferences has very practical consequences for the kinds of social change we advocate and the kinds of meeting experience we would normally prefer. Unfortunately the art of meeting organisation, particularly in a multicultural environment, has not yet developed to the point where preferences can in each case be satisfied -- for they are mutually exclusive in the absence of a harmonising context. They are also mutually exclusive within ourselves. The challenge is to give birth to a new context which enfolds the relationship between such seeming incompatibilities.

For the task to be accomplished, participants will have to encounter a variety of experiences compounded of strange mixtures of pain and joy. If at one period it is highly structured, for example, this will be a pain to some and a joy to others; each will experience the opposite when in another Congress period there is very little structure and much confusion. How individuals and the group as a whole reconcile such dualistic experiences, it is the purpose of the Congress to reveal. Through this unpredictable process the keystone will be formed.

The Aquarian Era is an era of group activity.

We have all been well-inspired by the sources to which we are sensitive. As such we collectively embody a beautiful range of energies and skills. The challenge is to blend and apply them appropriately. Our confidence in each other and what we represent is however far less than in our chosen leaders -- although it is with each other that the Work has to be performed. Maybe we should dare to exercise our confidence in manifestation of the whole, according to the needs of the moment --whether in terms of structure or process.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the Congress is to be held in the Fortezza Belvedere which dates from Renaissance times and is an incredibly massive construction with walls many feet thick, shaped in the form of a star. It is rather like holding a meeting inside a pyramid. And maybe the presence of such a quantity of matter is required to stabilise, focus and be transformed by whatever can be released from the transcendence of the dualities.

Whether you choose to participate or not, and whatever the outcome of the Congress, I would hope that the above paragraphs make clear that the task addressed in this vision is one which remains with us. This is the case both in harmonising the relationships between seemingly incompatible groups and tendencies, and within ourself individually in harmonising the relationships between the energies represented (however poorly) by those same group. The challenge is a very important one.

Evaluation of the Congress and any decision to participate should be made in terms of one's personal response to that challenge. If we do not meet that challenge on this occasion (whether individually or collectively), other events will emerge. However for these events to be as significant as a challenge, they will still have to have the same uncomfortable difficulties in the same unpredictable mix on every level. So we can avoid the immediate challenge, but we cannot escape in the long term. Share in the joys and agonies of this immediate opportunity. We can but intuit to what it may give birth. Your experience of it at this time would enable a greater challenge to be confronted collectively when the next opportunity emerges.

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