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How much beauty can we create together?
reflections from Boom and the Most Beautiful Day
Boom is a weeklong psytrance festival in rural inland Portugal. It's been happening ~every other year for 25 years and is going strong, with 40,000 people in attendance this year.
Like Burning Man, Boom is an alternate reality where you’re confronted with beauty upon beauty upon beauty upon beauty. Everywhere you look is a piece of art to delight and amaze.
This beauty is the result of many people working together for a goal that transcends all of them, to foster experiences of the sublime for strangers they will never meet. Wandering the grounds, I wondered: "How much beauty can we create together? How beautiful could our everyday lives be if we worked together and made it so?”
“Festivals can create new dimensional places for people to experience different situations, different perspectives in life. It’s short, it’s very impactful, it really transforms people.”
— Diogo Ruivo, Boom Co-Founder, in the Boom documentary
Boom is massive. The main dance temple is only one of the 8 or so stages, and dancing is but one activity. Alternatively you could swim in the beautiful lake, do a workshop, shop at the main or pirate markets, relax in nature, get a massage, admire the endless art installations, play on the adult jungle gym, roll in the mud pit, or stop and interact with any one of the thousands of people in attendance.
I thought a lot about how the organizers of Boom pulled off a feat of this magnitude so well. My experience from late-ticket-buying to departure was nearly seamless. The only "DO / DO NOT" imperative I received was to save water. Otherwise the organizers just left you to the massive playground that is Boom.
It turns out that this sense of freedom is core to Boom. This freedom tugs at you, asking: how would you be if you were totally free to be any way you liked? Beautiful, it seems—the people at Boom are some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen.
Have you ever seen truly free, joyous people? They are a thing to behold.
Become the elders
Dancing in the temple on day one, I thought about all the people who worked so hard for so many years to create this container so that we, the unwashed masses, could frolic freely in unabated beauty.
What strong hands held us!
You can sense the care that goes into making Boom sustainable. All of the food vendors use compostable plates and cutlery. Water is freely available for refilling, but if you want bottled (why? 😛), it’s in aluminum cans only. The compost toilets work seamlessly and are nicer and less smelly than any port-a-potties I've used.
One of my favorite things about Boom is that they own the land, which means better, more robust infrastructure than what you get with a typical teardown festival. It also feels less wasteful—each year's development improves the next. The land feels healthy and cared for; the Boom team hosts permaculture courses on the land throughout the year.
In awe of feeling cared for by this container, I felt a calling: I want to take care, too! I want to graduate from self-focus to taking care of the whole. I've long been passionate about plastic pollution, but have been put off by the magnitude of the issue. But standing in the resounding success of what Boom has achieved I thought: What if I have the fortitude to try?
After all, I owe it to everyone else to try to become the strong hands that hold the rest of the collective. Lord knows we need more caretakers.
The most beautiful day
One challenge at Boom is wanting to have a magical time but not having a magical time. I spent several days magic-hunting—going here, going there, and having moments of magic but feeling a little let down. Luckily, though, Boom is a full week, which gives plenty of time for the magic to reach you.
And of course the magic happened when I relaxed and stopped trying. After I had seen all the stages, after I tired of dancing, after I gave up on the fear of missing out, J—my primary companion for the festival—and I settled down for a day under a tree.
When is the last time you've sat outside without agenda? When is the last time you decided that just existing—just being, exactly as you are—was enough?
I can't quite describe what happened. Mostly we just talked. We talked a lot about the tree we sat under, pointing out things about it. We talked about where in evolution humanity branched from trees, about the mycelium that is the common ancestor to both plants and animals, about how all of this came to be.
We ready poetry. We made up songs. We watched the birds in the tree. We witnessed the coming and going of people passing. A group passed, yelling: "Vincent! Vincent from Germany! Come to the rainbow umbrella!" We joined them in calling for Vincent, Vincent from Germany.
It was one of the most beautiful days of my life.
Before attending Boom, I fretted over whether attending was worth it. Boom takes preparation, time, money, and lots and lots of energy—what was the value in it?
After this day, I was perplexed to wonder: what is the worth of one of the most beautiful days of your life?
What is the ROI on an experience that renews your sense that life is Good and Worth Living?
Can you put a price on a taste of the sublime?
Come play next year
Next year Boom is putting on Being Gathering, which looks like a gentler, chiller (and thus better, imho 😅) version of Boom.
Maybe I'll see you there?
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