We are in great need of enlightened leaders to guide us, inspire us, and pull us together during this difficult time—to keep our eyes on what is important rather than waste critical energy on fighting among ourselves as the Earth warms and human and animal needs go unmet.
Where do we get these leaders? How do we train them? Last year, Dr. Pier Luigi Luisi, a brilliant scientist, founded an annual week-long retreat conference called Cortona Week to try to address these questions. Each year, 120 renowned, cutting-edge scientists, thinkers, artists, musicians, spiritual leaders, physicians, and visionaries gather with young emerging world leaders. Invited speakers are people deeply rooted in their beliefs, committed to deep integrity and excellence in their crafts.
The goal is to open the horizons of the participants to the values of ecology, ethics, tolerance, and introspection, as well as to explore the newest frontiers in each represented field. The conference also aims to provide interdisciplinary thinking not generally provided by academic institutions, the traditional source of new leadership. Where we see life as a system of interacting parts and not an addition of single isolated disciplines. Conference participants learn to forge a new way of leading that includes human dignity, climate change, sustainability, ethics, and concern for other beings and the Earth. Held in Italy, more than 3,000 people have participated in this rich experience since its founding.
I attended for the first time this summer. It was the most profound and hopeful meeting I have ever attended, bringing out the best in humanity. When I thought about why it affected me so strongly, and why the impact lasted so much longer than other conferences (all of which were put together with good intent and care), I concluded that it was because Cortona Week made a point of including and integrating all of our human capabilities—not just our minds. In the morning, there were lectures by brilliant humans in a range of fields*, followed by small discussion groups in which we could explore and absorb the ideas they shared. In the afternoon, there were experiential workshops involving the right side of the brain: dance, holotropic breathing**, incredible music and drumming, sculpture, and sacred geomancy. Morning and evening there was meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga.
We were all housed in a monastery that had been converted into a hotel, spending our days and evenings together, sharing meals—from early morning cappuccino to late night dessert—on a terrace overlooking the Tuscan countryside. This allowed for deep integration, connections, and relationships, and important projects evolved organically in the process, as they do in life. Unlike many conferences, which pack in as much as possible, there was ample time for breathing and absorbing. I think that, combined with the whole-human approach of body, mind, and spirit, made the difference. We are so often pushed by time—packing in more and more, faster and faster, as a response to the overwhelming urgency and input of our times! But it often ends in nothing truly meaningful or impactful and falls short of making the fundamental changes we need. Deep wisdom takes breathing room and time, something we need to allow ourselves as individuals and integrate as a part of our society. Rather than feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated by the deeply troublesome facts I heard, I felt enriched, calmed, and inspired.This is unusual. This is productive. This is how we need to approach our problems.
* The main morning lectures were videotaped and can be accessed at www.cortonafriends.org.
Some of the presentations that stood out to me were Brother David Steindl-Rast on what makes us human, Federico Faggin on the limits of artificial intelligence (based on the nature of consciousness inherent in the universe and the human mind), Ernesto Burgio on the coming epidemic of damage to fetal brains and some of the unexpected ways in which we can mitigate it, and the incredible musicianship of Luis De La Calle.
**A form of breathing invented by Dr. Stanislaus Grof to access deep inner consciousness and transpersonal dimensions and wisdom without drugs.