4 Stages to Creating an MEA Global Movement.

June 16, 2023

4 Stages to Creating an MEA Global Movement.

May 29, 2023

On the last morning of the annual MEA alumni reunion (now called “Homecoming”) in Santa Fe, I had a conversation with alum Lynn Ogden who was glowing from her weekend experience. Knowing that I was one of the first board members of the Burning Man non-profit, she asked me what MEA could learn from Burning Man.

Being a Burner herself, Lynn and I brainstormed, and this blog post is my humble (and maybe feeble) attempt to outline the 4 stages toward creating the same kind of global movement that Burning Man has developed over the past 37 years. While this may be relevant to MEA, it might have some value for you if you’re trying to catalyze an idea.

1. Invite a liminal pilgrimage. The process of preparing for and getting to the extremely isolated, unforgiving Black Rock City in the Nevada high desert is a rite of passage. It suggests that you have consciously signed up for something that isn’t easy and well-suited to a commuter. There’s a reason MEA’s two Academy campuses feel both foreign and not-easy-to-get-to as rural, beachfront Baja and Santa Fe, NM, are not commuter schools like an Ojai (LA), Sonoma (San Francisco), or Hudson Valley (NYC) might be. Embarking upon this journey can be awkward, requires shedding the habitual, and creates the space for one to let go of the mindsets that have dominated our life. Being in a place that feels slightly foreign allows you to alter (and evolve) your identity, and we all need that from time to time.

2. Create a transformational experience. Immediacy is one of the 10 Burning Man principles and has relevance to MEA in that it suggests there is value in being present in the moment without our everyday distractions. That’s where the magic happens. MEA faculty member Dacher Keltner suggests that the two most prevalent ways to experience Awe are through “moral beauty” (witnessing unique courage and kindness) and “collective effervescence” (shedding one’s self-conscious ego in favor of a communal joy). These are two of the foundational ways that MEA consistently creates a workshop experience that feels like a crucible for life-changing transformation.

3. Offer a set of principles that defines the community ethos. It wasn’t until 18 years into the annual Burning Man ritual (2004) that founder Larry Harvey penned a set of 10 Principles that have created the connective tissue that binds Burners globally. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to be involved with many other organizations that have effectively accomplished stages 1 and 2, but which haven’t created iconic, well-loved principles. So, often, their communities can feel a little more unconnected after their events or experiences (to their credit, those communities are more about the personal experience than the collective commitment). Considering this helped me to realize it’s time for MEA to create its 8 Wisdom Principles (and Practices) that become a touchstone for our community and serve the world at this particular time in our history.

4. Design and oversee a connected community infrastructure. Scaling a community and movement doesn’t necessarily occur without a game plan. TED scaled to TEDx with very rigid community rules about “How to DIY TED experiences” locally. Similarly, regional Burns (mini-Burning Mans around the world) and Chapters are defined by the “chaordic” (chaos and order) rules of Burning Man’s headquarters. This process - moving from pilgrimage to transformation to principles to global community - is an insightful way for MEA to scale its movement. As such, it means that quite a bit more attention needs to be paid to both the value of the regional chapters as well as the online platform that connects our community.

Upon reflection, I feel that MEA has gotten the first two stages right and has enormous potential with stages 3 and 4. I hope you’ll join us in developing this movement.

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