The Conscious Network, hosted by UC Berkeley student group Conscious Living Collective, was a trip. The self-described “symposium on personal growth and social change,” which took place last Thursday evening at Wheeler Auditorium, is the kind of community event that could only happen at a place like UC Berkeley. Cal’s history of activism served as implicit context for the speakers as they espoused “changing the world through connection, introspection and action.”
The enormity of that edict cast an almost mystical aura in Wheeler, an aura so mystical that it put me to sleep before the event even started. Fortunately, I awoke — at least, my body was awake — before the introduction. However, the purported “tremendous energy” of the event may not have awoken my mind from its figurative slumber, a slumber to which, according to The Conscious Network, we are all subjected.
Jack “Mr. Eudaimonia” Phillips, a UC Berkeley professor and speaker, meant to address just that type of dormancy. “The rest we seek will come not from sleeping, but from waking,” Phillips said, arguing for conscious living. Conscious living was the basis for our presence at The Conscious Network, and presence (literal and philosophical) was essential. We heard an argument for self-actualization, agency, compassion, self-improvement and social action from every speaker.
But the discourse of agency is varied, and this oratorical diversity was both burden and boon to The Conscious Network. The speakers were disjointed, sometimes in direct conflict with one another, as was the case with Phillips and Marianne Williamson, a spiritual author and lecturer. While Phillips made an optimistic genealogical argument for man’s capacity for awakening, Williamson was a diehard pragmatist, often explicitly disagreeing with Phillips. “You can’t just have engagement over wine and brie, ladies and gentlemen,” Williamson said.
In fact, Williamson was a refreshing digression from the heady discourse. She alone brought up concrete issues that require social action and divested herself of any kumbaya wishy-washiness. “Compassion means you kick ass and take names,” Williamson said, only to relinquish the stage to Dada Nabanilinanda, a musician and meditation teacher outfitted in an orange monk’s outfit. What did Nabanilinanda do then? He led a guitar-accompanied meditation. “Baba nam kevalam” may not exactly be “kumbaya,” but it’s pretty damn close.
Yet, despite the poor organization, The Conscious Network did something right. Earth Amplified, a Bay Area green hip-hop/reggae group, brought the majority of the audience to its feet with socially conscious lyrics and infectiously danceable rhythms. The performance sometimes consisted of nothing more than lead singer Seasunz rapping acapella. If there was a moment of true, undeniable connection at The Network, it was during the Earth Amplified performance. Sometimes music does more to unite people than grandiose rhetoric ever could.
Sam Clayton, one of the Conscious Living Collective co-founders, was the last to speak. Here was our Mario Savio moment, The Conscious Network’s attempt at a revolutionary speech. This was the time to remember that social change and improvement begins in each individual, that now is the time to develop exemplary behavioral models. We could be a city — or at least a bunch of socially conscious young people — upon a hill.
It’s easy to approach something like The Conscious Network with cynicism, but to cast it off as highfalutin idealism would be unjust and uncompassionate. Clayton may not be Mario Savio, but he never intended to be. No, for The Conscious Network, it’s not about singular leaders. It’s about self-actualized people everywhere, and the symposium did a respectable job of talking the talk. Whether those in attendance will walk the walk, however, remains to be seen.
Natalie Reyes is the assistant arts editor. Contact her at [email protected].