A new idea | AspenTimes.com

A new idea

Paul E. Anna

Surprisingly, Paul E. Anna can be a bit of a skeptic.Having not attended last year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, I was still laboring under the impression that it was just a bunch of policy wonks who jetted in on G-5s to schmooze with the corporate elite and, oh yes, occasionally reminisce about that Socrates seminar they all attended back in New Haven in the mid-’50s.But Wednesday evening I had the kind of experience that can only take place in Aspen in the summer, one that reminded me of those special nights in the old Bayer-Benedict tent when the Aspen Design Conference would present a half-dozen speakers who would make you feel like you were at the center of the universe and had the power to change the world.Wednesday evening began with a Holy Man in a stately living room atop Red Mountain. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the living holder of the Shambala Buddhist tradition, addressed a gathering of the Aspen Center for Integral Health. The muscled, marathon-running Tibetan sat in a chair wrapped in gold and maroon silks and spoke extemporaneously about compassion, contemplation and meditation as thunder rumbled down the mountains. Rinpoche’s ability to reach each individual while talking to an audience of 60 people was powerful in itself, but when he led the group of many spiritual denominations, including atheists no doubt, in a quarter-hour of silent meditation, one could hear a pin drop as interpersonal change actually flowed with the rain. It was magical.My next stop was Paepcke Auditorium for a screening of “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” a film made over four years by Sidney Pollack. Though the subject was an architect, the film was about process, creativity, neurosis, fear, courage, and all of the other life experiences that artists and creative people go through. Oh, yeah, and it featured amazing images of buildings from all over the world with surfaces that shimmered in the light like living paintings.Pollack, who has had a long distinguished career as a filmmaker, had never made a documentary before, and it was inspiring to see such an accomplished artist charge into a completely new arena with success.The evening’s final event was a taping of the Public Radio International program “Studio 360” with the ever-witty Kurt Andersen in the Hotel Jerome Ballroom. The show opened with technology pioneer John Seely Brown and blogger Arianna Huffington chatting about the power of the Internet in a friendly sort of way.But the highlight was an acoustic performance by Rosanne Cash and her husband, John Leventhall, of three songs from Cash’s “Black Cadillac” album. Touching, emotional, sad, the songs resonated in the ballroom through the power of Cash’s voice. “American Roots” is how she referred to her music, and I’m sure listeners will scurry to iTunes when the show is broadcast.The final guest of the night was Dana Gioia, who is the chairman the National Endowment for the Arts and one of America’s most pre-eminent poets. His reading of “Summer Storm” was the perfect choice for the wet July night.Policy wonks may well dominate the Aspen Idea’s Festival, and there are still plenty of G-5s out on the tarmac at Sardy Field, but for this one night at least, this cynic became a big fan of the Aspen Institute’s newest event.


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