We were present.
There was no internet in the woods of Wales.
The cell service was poor.
This was not by design but simply something that was.
When speakers spoke we listened.
We didn’t tweet. We didn’t hashtag. The back channel was silent and in our minds, and we were in our seats, wide eyed and aware.
We were present.
Some of us tapped away on iPads or iPhones taking notes. Others drew in notebooks. But, I’d wager, for the first time in a long time, an entire room — a tent — full of folks, folks brilliant and engaging, engaged speaker after speaker with their full, focused attention.
We did this for four days and on the fifth we went home. In the breaks we didn’t dive into email. We weren’t pulled by the siren call of status updates or Facebook steams. In the whitespace between engagements we reflected or looked at the sky (which was shockingly mostly blue) or thought about what was just said and considered questions — angry or otherwise — for the speakers.
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Bread was kneaded. Smashed and worked about on wobbly old tables. Spread raw on hot coals and then eaten warm and dusty as the last rays of golden evening light hit the camp.
Spontaneous sauna sessions were had. Pints bellowed pubforth from twilight on and fires crackled everywhere — even in our tents — once we figured out how to properly make them. (Cardboard is key.)
We were cold and shivering early morning in outdoor showers. There were bugs. But there was also that smell of the forest. Dew. Burning wood. Smooth, crisp air. The sound of rain exploding on canvas in the dead of the night. And the gentle balancing act of peeing out of your tent in that freezing rain.
We ate three meals a day. The tables were massive and tightly packed and there was nary an iPhone in sight.
We made eye contact. We hugged. We drank — tea and coffee and beer — and hugged some more. For a moment we were a family of one hundred folks present in the woods. We shed our daily obligations. It was us atop dirt and grass, under the Welsh sky, nourished by food and conversation.
It's easy to dismiss this as a romanticization. Summer camp syndrome. Undeniably though, the arrangement was rare. Rare by virtue of location. Rare by virtue of the breadth and passion and diversity of those in attendance. Rare by virtue of presence.
The folks there were farmers and cooks, conservationists, mad men, book worms and web weavers, designers, folks broken and desperately hunting beauty, psychologists, hypnotists, dreamers and, of course, doers.
We don't know what the engagement meant; there is no monetization strategy; we will not be collaborating to disrupt the financial market; new connections may lead everywhere or nowhere.
This is what we do know: for four days the Do Lectures brought together one hundred caring, thoughtful folk. We connected. We were present. We dispersed.
And if you can understand the worth in that, perhaps you should get yourself to the woods of Wales next year and attend.
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