Cultural Review Past, Present & Future

Review of Breaking Convention 16-18 August 2019

My appreciation of Breaking Convention 2019 psychedelic consciousness conference.

Post in 19 words My appreciation of Breaking Convention 2019 psychedelic consciousness conference themed around five personal highlights of a fascinating three days.

2019 Conference Programme
2019 Conference Programme

My posts normally focus on organizations changing. However, I am mindful that I change and that I need to be open and attentive to internal change, as well as, external change. It is easy to shout about what is going on around me, which may be important, but it may also be a strategy to avoid what is going on inside me.

In this spirit I attended the fifth international conference on psychedelic consciousness (August 16th to 18th 2019), aka Breaking Convention 2019 (BC 2019). I enjoyed this intentionally unorthodox conference and I want to single out five highlights; David Luke, William Blake, eco-consciousness, shamanic drumming and another world.

It was a happy accident that I discovered and attended BC 2019 this August.  One of the convenors David Luke had spoken at Brighton Arts Festival about 18 months earlier.  I found his talk and energy inspiring. He touched on the background to Breaking Convention and the unorthodox approach they used to encourage a greater appreciation of psychedelic consciousness. The venue is the old royal naval college which hosts the University of Greenwich, it is also close to the Meridian Line and close to the Thames. We were in a magical place even before we had begun.  At the first break on Friday morning I found myself sat in one of the cloistered walkways drinking my green tea. David Luke walked by, I smiled, he came over and we chatted.  It was so different from my experience of some other academic conferences, which seem driven by performance with networking more tactical than social.

Greenwich Corridor
Greenwich Corridor

My second highlight was Sam Knot’s workshop – Psychedelic innocence and experience.  He themed his one-and-a-half-hour workshop around William Blake’s mystical poetry.  He had a copy of his illuminated works with both the wonderful artwork and the knowing words. It was odd, but as we talked poetry and otherworldly visions, bits of my brain woke up which had been dormant for too long.  The climax of the workshop was being asked to take a poem from the Songs of Innocence or the Songs of Experience pile. The postcards were face down. I selected The Lamb, Sam had hand-painted these postcards (see image). We then read each poem in our circle, it took me back to childhood when I last read a poem aloud. It was a powerfully transformative experience. At the end of the workshop Sam let us keep the postcard we had read. I have since bought the illuminated works and look forward to further exploring these mystical writings.

The Lamb (William Blake) Postcard
The Lamb (William Blake) Postcard

I enjoyed going to paper sessions and they were running five parallel streams with 100+ in each stream.  The paper presentations were videoed and should be accessible via the link at the bottom of this post. On Saturday morning I went to Psychedelics, Eco-Consciousness and Ecological Crisis.  There must have been 200 + in this large lecture theatre and throughout the presentations you could feel the electricity crackling around the room. Sam Gandy kicked off the session talking about the importance of our connection to self, others and nature.  Sounds like a soundbite, but so profound. I have always had a strong nature connection, but attending BC 2019 was about a desire to reconnect with myself. Jay Griffiths beautifully shared her experience of returning to Oxford where she had studied, but now as a panther and how different Oxford looks from the perspective of a panther. Andy Letcher’s Ontological Anarchy and the Ecological Self sounded pretentious, but it was far from it in content and delivery. Andy or one of the other speakers noted the derivation of humility as humus meaning of the land. The interweaving of nature and humility was apparent throughout BC 2019. I wish I could have found the courage to attend the ego-death workshop.

I rose early on Sunday morning to attend a shamanic drumming workshop facilitated by William Rowlandson. We congregated in a circle on the lawns between the naval college buildings with trees nearby.  After an introductory talk by William we lied on the grass in a circle, imagine the petals of a flower with William drumming in the centre, we did this for ten minutes talked some more and then did a forty-five-minute session. I studied shamanism when I was younger and again I found myself reconnecting with a part of myself I’d left behind in the rush of my performative life.  I look forward to furthering my shamanic practices in the months to come.

On the final Sunday afternoon, I went to a parallel session on integration. You’d expect numbers to be dwindling, but again 100+. Somebody stands up and announces the chair and the first speaker are not attending and everyone was so chilled. I experienced for a few days another world. A world remote from busy consumerism, the constant treadmill of modern life and the related expectations we put on each other and ourselves. We have an excess of digital connections, yet such limited connections to self, others and nature. Participants wanted BC 2019 to work and it worked, thanks to the hard work of the convenors, volunteers and speakers, but also due to the goodwill of the participants.  My wait was rewarded with two interesting papers on psychotherapy. I was glad I waited as I learnt about the archetypal dance of the mystic and the pragmatist. I appreciated that I needed to embrace my mystical side a little more if I was to become more integrated and I am up for that homework.

On Saturday evening I had enjoyed the premier of Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness, which raised thoughts about childhood and my journey.  It was a film featuring the contributions of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts. Director Rob Harper watched the premier with us in what was a packed and very hot cinema.  He did a Q&A session afterwards and appeared genuinely humbled by the positive reception he received afterwards. 

There was much more going on such as artworks, installations and stalls.  In the evening bands and discos took place in the Student Union beneath the old naval college buildings.  I was keen to explore as I love going underground, I think I may have been a mole in a former life.  I had scheduled a visit for the Sunday evening and my mind was willing, but my tired body was unwilling. I am still amazed that another world was created for a few days.

I am looking forward to the next Breaking Convention in the meantime I am inspired to shift my consciousness and to break some conventions.


Breaking Convention site here:

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