“Learn to be at peace with yourself, because even in the dark, your shadow needs you.”
I heard this one rainy morning at Sunrise 2012, the small festival at Bruton, Somerset, which this year was characterised more by weather associated with Glastonbury (which is just 15 miles away) in its worst years. And for me it summed up why I enjoy British music festivals despite the often appalling weather.
In theory, so it goes, we attend festivals to enjoy hearing our favourite bands play in the English countryside. But although the supposed raison d’etre of most summer celebrations, the music is not what I go for.
I love the human content, the chance to meet an enormous range of characters from across the country and abroad. I go to be reminded that despite the enormous pressures on people to conform, to be fully paid-up members of the consumer society, there is still a strong and vibrant counter-culture in this country that rejects 21st century commercialism, and manages to eke out an existence on the fringes of the mainstream.
This counter-culture may be the remnants of the once-flourishing hippy movement of the 1980s, but it is also a reminder that the sentiments of “peace and love” remain valid, that human society fundamentally still cares about values such as decency, helpfulness, charity and hope for the future.
It goes almost without saying that festival counter-culture often manifests itself as a deep suspicion of government, large corporations and most conventional forms of commerce. It does approve however of small-community methods such as barter, traditional manual skills like metal and wood-working, and just about anything that can be labelled green.
As a result of this celebration of non-conformity, certain festival characters can seem a little off-the-wall, appearing to view the conventional world as nothing more than a giant con-trick. Others, it seems, have simply decided to reject mainstream society and to construct a more gentle version that is better attuned to their own personalities.
I shouldn’t forget to mention a very important aspect of English summertime celebrations, that of spirituality. Any person able to demonstrate that they are in touch with their soul inspires respect, and in some cases even awe. As a consequence no festival would be complete without its complement of healers, seers and others able to provide spiritual guidance, some genuine and some less so.
When individuals combine skills such as Shiatsu or Reiki with some special aspect of their own personality, they seem able to provide real balm for the troubled soul. They may perhaps be regarded as something that has almost disappeared from mainstream western society, the traditional folk-healer, often with skills that are apparent.
All of which goes a little way to explaining why I liked the expression so much when I heard it at Sunrise. “Learn to be at peace with yourself, because even in the dark, your shadow needs you.” For me it expresses so well the importance of self-knowledge and personal contentment, that those who are happy at heart can bring joy and sunshine to the people around them.
If we can know this, then we will know that the only challenge in life that is real is to find a place in society that enables us to be that kind of person.
© Philip Hunt, 2012.