Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cultural Icon

"Desert Stillness"

This morning just before sunrise, it seemed especially quiet and still here at my desert home. As I sat in the silence I smiled to myself thinking that in a few short hours, just a few miles away from me 100,000 people will be invading this little piece of desert land to gather for a second week of of what has been called the biggest music event in the USA, "The Coachella Music Festival."

Huge crowds of mostly younger people (who have paid almost 400 dollars apiece for a ticket) will spend the next three days listening and dancing to an unending stream of rock, rap, hip-hop, electronica and hipster bands performing on multiple stages out in the middle of the desert wilderness, and even though the venue is located almost 8 miles away from my home, the volume is often set so high that I can sometimes hear these sounds even from that distance late into the night.

People from all over the country and from places throughout the globe come to this world famous event - ordinary folks and famous celebrities mill around in the crowd. The Coachella Music Festival has been called a "cultural icon"  - and I suppose it is just that.

As I think about the music event near me, I wonder, if indeed this is such a cultural icon, what exactly does it say about the cultural it represents?

I was at a store the other day and overheard the conversation of two people who had been in attendance at the festival, stocking up on supplies for the coming night.  One young woman looking kind of weary and worn asked her companion, "Aren't you tired, we hardy slept all night?" The other answered in response: "Oh, I'm used to surviving like this, always doing stuff on almost no sleep."  

When I heard her say this, I thought that this was probably a perfect description of why this music festival is such a cultural icon,  a very apt description of a culture of "survival" - getting by every day,  always busy doing stuff with little or no rest.

I actually find it very odd and extremely ironic that the Coachella festival would be held in a place like a desert - a place that is so empty and so incredibly silent. People come out to the desert to sit in the emptiness and to bask in the silence, finding this such an ideal place to clear away all the clutter from their constantly engaged minds, opening their spirits to a higher power, a place of deeper transcendence.

I think of something the Sufi poet, Rumi, once wrote

Let silence take you to the core of life.

People come out into the fringes of the silent desert on order to enter their core. 

The highways into the desert are clogged with traffic today as hordes of folks flock out into the chaos of the next few days. I guess they all come here because the weather is hot and always sunny,  and the towering wilderness mountains are kind of pretty as a backdrop of to all the loud sounds and frenetic activity. I do wonder however if any of these folks will actually pay attention to those majestic mountains, or smell the freshness of a desert in the spring, or hear the plaintive sound of a mourning dove as it pierces the silence of the dawn? 

As I sit in my desert garden I think perhaps I hear some of the distant sounds coming from that iconic music festival, maybe drums beating or the sound of a bass. 

Author and spiritual director Thomas Keating once said:

Silence is the language God speaks and
everything else is a bad translation

I have nothing against the sounds of a music festival -  I hope they all have a good time. But in all honesty I much prefer to be sitting here listening to the language of silence.  


Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"















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