Creating Togetherness

Insights into the art of gathering
Karen Orton

Silvena Ivanova

The collective energy at Scorpios is fuelled by the distinctive music and the rituals we facilitate, as well as the food, the location, and the vibrancy of the community itself. When we gather in our agora on the Mykonian shore and open up space for new connections: magic happens. Bringing people together is simply what we do. 

With the summer season having drawn to a close, many of us strive to bring some of this magic back home and integrate it into our lives.

Whether that plays out in intimate dinner parties and grounding daily rituals, or in late night revelry and inspired meetings of the mind — gatherings can be the most powerful and potentially transformative experiences in our lives. So how do we make the best of that potential?

In order to bring you the ultimate alchemical formula to better gatherings, we took stock of the shared experiences at Scorpios, turned to our expert in-house facilitator, and consulted the indispensable bible on the topic; Priya Parker’s bestselling book “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters.”

“The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters” (2018) garnered rave reviews for author Priya Parker’s ability to challenge the status quo with her distinctive, thoughtful advice on how to create memorable gatherings.

"Whenever we encourage a sharing of experiences over ideas,
something far more personal and free-spirited has room to emerge."

Artwork: Kirsten Sims, "Dress Rehearsal", 2016. Mixed media on board

Whenever we encourage a sharing of experiences over ideas, something far more personal and free-spirited has room to emerge.

It’s all about the people
“The point of gathering — whether hosting a dinner party or bringing people together — is selection,” says Tobias Tanner, Scorpios’ resident tastemaker. “Who do you want to have there? Perhaps an artist doesn’t necessarily want to talk to another artist. They would like to spend time with someone trading in crypto currency, someone who wrote a novel or maybe someone who won an Oscar — you need a diversity of voices.”

Tanner’s intuitive understanding for the potential of group experiences was honed over years of hosting creative salons. Valise, his private members association, saw him bring together thought leaders and creatives in Berlin, Paris, New York and London. He recently joined Scorpios to explore new trajectories for expanding our global community. 

“Collectively, a gathering is about people and it is people creating these moments. Sure, there is someone curating and setting the tone and mood — but it’s always about the people that are present,” he points out. “It comes down to the curation of whoever is organizing this experience, so that people will be inspired to take away meaning from the event.” 

Defining that meaning is a quest in and of itself.

Think of the larger needs in the world, and then see how this gathering might contribute.

Connect with your purpose
If you really want to imbue your gathering with meaning, try to connect with your authentic purpose. “Gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them,” says Priya Parker in her book. When it comes to bringing people together, this is the essential source of knowledge. Here, Parker takes an expansive view of what it means to come together with one another, from birthday parties to international peace conferences, and everything in between. 

“What is this that other gatherings aren’t?” Parker wants us to ask at the outset. A real sense of purpose is what drives the best gatherings. Find “something worth gathering about,” she urges us. Avoid dull, obvious reasons for an event, and instead drill down into the deeper possibilities; arouse the passion of your guests by standing out from the crowd. 

One helpful technique is to “think of what you want to be different because of your gathering and work backward from that outcome.” Parker asks us to think of the larger needs in the world, and then see how this gathering might contribute. What if a birthday party was not just friends marking the passing of another year, but rather an occasion to set goals for the year ahead and surround oneself with people to hold you accountable? 

Years ago, the Scorpios founders asked themselves “What if instead of booking celebrity DJs to host ‘beach parties’ we aim to facilitate rituals where like-minded musicians, artists and travelers from all over the world can come together? Where everyone can feed off the natural energy of the island, new-found connections, a sense of belonging and a shared aesthetic in the spirit of cultural exchange?”

Let the purpose of your event be your bouncer, Parker compels us. If you do so, then every other decision, from the guest list, to the venue, will become simpler. Just as Tanner emphasizes a need for tight curation, Parker asks: why dilute a gathering by inviting too many people? Instead, ascertain why each person on your guest list can contribute to your purpose. Then deepen the connections between those guests, while thoughtfully excluding others who are less connected to that purpose.

Entice your guests to step out of their usual routine and enter into a different frame of mind.

Build a temporary tribe
We step into another world when we enter a gathering. There is a human need to be welcomed and entranced, but how we choose to honor our guests can take many forms.

An event is an invitation to build your own temporary tribe. Like any tribe, with its own rules, rituals and codes of behavior, you can seize the opportunity to bind your guests together and delineate this space from the outside world. Create temporary rules of conduct, dress codes, perhaps even your own language — with special terms and names for aspects of your event, shared in an event teaser or invitation. 

Parker advocates for playful, transient “pop-up rules” (versus stuffy traditional forms of etiquette). She sees rules-based gatherings as “bringing new freedom and openness to our gatherings” to unite diverse attendees. For example, you might create a social experiment by eschewing last names or asking people not to share their professions, as a way of neutralizing social hierarchy and democratizing the social landscape. You could ask guests to turn off their technology, to inspire engagement and genuine presence. 

Entice your guests to step out of their usual routine and enter into a different frame of mind. Perhaps you could build up anticipation among attendees beforehand, through an invitation or even a preparatory initiation or ritual. You might ask your guests to create a costume or an offering in advance, and to bring something they have made as a contribution to the collective. 

When the gathering begins, keep in mind that your guests are at their most attentive. Parker says the beginning of an event is “an opportunity to sear your gathering’s purpose into the minds of your guests,” and shares a poignant example to illustrate this. Performance artist Marina Abramović prepared guests for a performance by having them place their belongings in a locker and then wait silently in their chairs for half an hour, wearing noise canceling headphones. A meditative “palate cleanser” and a shared ritual that bonded the attendees. When the music began, her guests were open and ready to be wowed. 

A fitting closure, like the finite and unbending closing time at Scorpios, can provide a definite end to the gathering. How you close an event stays in people's minds just as much as how you open it. Could one share a memory of the day, offer a quote, recite a pledge? All that matters is that you “keep true to the spirit of your gathering,” Parkers says. 

These simple, authentic acts can shape the guests’ final experience, meaning and memory of the gathering.

Set the scene
Events gain potency when they are supported by their surroundings. After all, it’s difficult to imagine our music rituals happening anywhere other than at Scorpios. “Everything, from the interiors to the menus and the sunset experience — it’s really the environment that is so special here,” Tanner considers. “It speaks to the fact that thought has really been given to creating this experience.”

In your own space, be mindful of the perimeters in order to prevent energy from seeping out, as this can shift the attendees’ mindset. Having designated spaces for different aspects of a gathering will help people remember moments better. 

“The venue is everything in a gathering,” Tanner considers. “It’s the beautiful backdrop to every moment, it is the foundation. It has your wow factor and it sets the tone for feeling good in that space.”

Our authentic selves 
One of Parker’s guiding principles is to encourage guests to show up as their authentic selves. She shares a story where in signature style, she asked guests to share toasts at a World Economic Forum meeting based on a personal experience of “the good life”, thereby transforming the event from a formal conference where guests show their polished “best self,” into an intimate dinner showcasing vulnerability. The clincher was that the last person had to sing their toast — which meant that everyone did their best to ensure they weren’t last. What resulted was moving and real; worlds apart from a typical, stiff economic conference dinner.  “You know a gathering was a success by the smiles on the faces, the energy and the dialogue. That shared meaningfulness. Whether it’s a conference, a dinner party, or everything in between,” says Tanner. Whenever we encourage a sharing of experiences over ideas, something far more personal and free-spirited has room to emerge.  

Why do we gather?
“We want meaning from so much of our lives,” Tanner says, reflecting. “We want to get the most from our gatherings too. For me, I don’t really care whether we were at a dinner party or a restaurant. I care about the experiences, the conversations, that atmosphere, those things that happened.” Whatever the reason for gathering, one thing is clear; it’s our conscious underlying intention that transforms how we meet.

The father of philosophy, Aristotle, said that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Nearly two millennia later, his words still ring true on these Greek islands. When the individual becomes part of the collective, we transform into something entirely new.

“Gathering — the conscious bringing together of people for a reason — shapes the way we think, feel, and make sense of our world.” (Priya Parker)

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