Symbiosis Gathering came in at the end of California’s festival season right on the heels of Burning Man. Though it cannot compare with the Burn, Symbiosis Gathering did not disappoint. Perhaps what set Symbiosis apart from most other curated festivals was the venue — located on the Woodward Reservoir, the festival grounds stretched along an amoeba-shaped patch of land surrounded by water. Each stage had its own plot utilizing the natural curvature of the water and land to create separate spaces; some stages required access by bridge. One stage, the Atoll, floated on a barge, and attendees either swam to it or arrived on a box-boat attached to a rope. Hosting world-class art, incredible day parties, and spectacular performers, Symbiosis reached the pinnacle of a curated festival experience.
My favorite aspect of the festival was engaging and interacting with new people. I loved listening to their stories and witnessing them open their hearts — despite the many festivals I attend each year, this never gets old. The outfits many festival-goers wore delighted me. Onesies, sparkles, bright colors and nuevo-tribal ran the show. Seeing people express themselves in weird and wonderful ways gave me an unparalleled joy; it harkened to the radical self-expression at Burning Man that I love so dearly.
I had the pleasure of meeting two young men who had just bought and put on their first pair of manties (men’s booty shorts), which have become wildly popular among festi-men. “Manties give me an incredible sense of freedom,” one of the men told me. The other added, “I don’t know why I didn’t try these earlier in the season.” And isn’t that the best part of festival fashion? It frees us from the confines of ordinary fashion and allows us to try new forms of expression.
Here are some of my favorite fashion statements from the weekend:
Alone at 6:00 am, watching the sunrise over rock formations, climbing natural staircases, feeling smooth buttresses with the palm of my hand, I come to sit on the top of a earth-made spier — I feel like the uppermost piece of a cairn. I sit patiently, open to a message from the landscape.
A sparrow flies in circles around me. Scat below my feet tell me deer enjoyed this view not long ago. I recalled the joy I felt seeing the hot and thirsty doe near Angel’s Landing the day before, and my surprise to see her at high altitude. A tree grows from a crack in the rock behind me — most of the trees and plants I see here seem to force their way through hard, impossible places. The sun’s rays pass by clouds, creating beams of majestic light that illuminate the red, yellow and orange striped rocks around me. Only birdsong breaks the silence of the dawning day.
I look upon the earth before me. It is almost impossible to believe, sitting on a rock perch, that 275 million years ago this region was a flat sea basin. But it’s true: The iconic Zion landscape in Utah is the result of millions of years and five geological processes: sedimentation, lithification, uplift, erosion and volcanic activity. I look upon a working transformation — geological processes that continue today.
The resulting transformation is an unparalleled beauty that speaks to the soul of an unseen power. Several times while hiking I had to sit and pause in stillness and quietude to fathom the power of the rivers and the earth’s movements that created the structures and forced the earth towards the sky in vast towers and points.
I wondered, would the flat basin give home to the many plants and animals I had seen? Would the flat basin draw tens of thousands of visitors in a day with its grandeur? Could it provide the same inspiration to artists, have the power to pierce your heart, and take away your breath?
The spirit of Zion revealed itself to me with insight into myself.
I am a creature of change. I actively pursue transformation of my consciousness to become a more radiant reflection of human possibility — an instrument of equanimity, love and peace. I long to be transformed, to allow the processes within and without mold me and sculpt me into the shapes that I am destined to become.
The work of authentic transformation is ongoing and multifaceted: Zion is still changing. The rocks tell me to be humble, relax into the processes, accept and surrender to the unseen power. Growing pains must not be resisted or feared, but rather, seen as an effect of personal evolution. Life provides limitless opportunities for inner refinement; being present to reflect my true nature requires a Zion-like patience.
In the days after I talked with my friends about using self-care to enhance their creativity, I saw them internalize the message by eating more fresh foods, meditating as a group, and taking an afternoon off to swim in the Yuba river. In just a short time they were vibrant and joyous as if they had never fallen into a slump; more importantly, after they dedicated themselves to self-care, they accessed crucial, nuanced elements that brought completion to several songs. When they played me a few tracks I was spellbound by the gravity and emotion of the music; one song even brought me to tears.
Witnessing my friends gain immediate, fruitful vitality and accomplishment spurred me to nourish my inner artist with greater depth.
I began by writing a list of fun, compelling, and invigorating activities to feed my soul and refill my creative well (as Julia Cameron would call it). To my surprise, as I reviewed my list, I found many hobbies like gardening, juicing and playing piano that I couldn’t do often — or at all — while living on the road. I realized I missed them like long-lost friends.
I turned my inner eye to the loneliness, uncertainty, and aimlessness I’ve felt in the past year from living homefree. I thought of the time and energy I’ve lost from worrying about where I would go, which friend could host me, where to write, and how I could shift the moving parts to make it happen.
For the last few weeks I’ve taken a break from constant travel and have stayed in a cottage on my aunt and uncle’s property. It’s the longest I have stayed in any one place for the last year! But could I call it home?
Despite the difficulties of homelessness, I love the thrill and adventure of transience. I love the way it’s forced me to grow and stabilize in the present moment. Settling into one place felt like it could end my carefree, rolling stone lifestyle.
But what does my inner artist want?
I walked out of the cottage to a nearby pond. Standing beneath pines amongst lupine I felt the beauty of the landscape seep into my bones. I breathed deeply listening to the freedom of birds singing from the trees. Still water reflected clouds, and looking into its depths, my mind became quiet.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a home again? I thought of all the comforts a home would provide: a grounding place to go back to; a sacred space for meditation, prayer and writing; my own bed. I love domestic activities; they enrich my life and nourish me. With a home I could cuddle my cat, play my piano, plant some flowers, and create a space and momentum for words to flow. A home would make self-care easier and diminish my greatest stressors. It didn’t have to mean an end to my glamsient ways; if I wanted, it could make glamsienting more sustainable.
I turned back to look at the cottage — yes, I would make this my artist’s home.
Moving the body while clearing the mind is a great way to touch and express emotions that ultimately block us when we get stuck in them. I’ve kept a yoga practice for years, and it has been integral in helping me gain flexibility in my body and mind.
And then I tried ecstatic dance.
Based on three principles (free movement, no talking, and respect for oneself and others), ecstatic dance sounded fun when a friend described it. She said the radical self-expression and silence takes the mind-body connection deep, and with more freedom than a yoga session, it facilitates a unique healing experience.
From the moment I signed in, I found the ecstatic dance community welcoming, friendly and inclusive: the perfect antidote for the disconnected feeling I had from constant travel. While I was waiting for the session to begin, however, I felt uncomfortable and awkward. Free movement. What did that mean for me? What did that mean for everyone else? Would they look at me and judge me? Luckily, the MC guided us to “think less, feel more.” We were encouraged to start with very small movements, if any — some people sat in meditation. Closing my eyes, I was able to tune into my body more and think less about what my body was doing, I simply did what felt good in the moment.
It wasn’t long into my first session before I stopped thinking altogether and let my body flow, connected to the music.
The freedom of making shapes and dancing like nobody is watching helped me let go, yet totally express myself. Sometimes, I feel a disconnect between my body and mind, but it doesn’t take an anatomy class to know they are one. And as I am able to let go in my body, I am also able to let go in my mind. I can tell where my body is congested without judging it and I think these spots are connected to my emotions. I move through them. I move into them. Feeling deeply and fully expressing these feelings is liberating. It allows me to integrate emotions.
The best ecstatic dance sessions (in my opinion) incorporate live music in the DJ set, and just recently, I was in San Luis Obispo, California and dropped into a session with multi-instrumentalist DJ Ryan Herr.
Having played ecstatic dances for over ten years, Ryan has find-tuned his set to include a variety of tempos and styles while covering an array of world music, electronic beats, live improvisation, and original tracks. At times, Ryan layers live instruments on top of recorded music and, at other times, he completely brakes away from the computer and creates music on the spot. Ryan chooses from various instruments including a mandolin, guitar, and electronic hand drum.
When I asked him about this technique, he said he uses the pre-organized tracks to “blend and flow into something live…and unplanned.” Oftentimes, these improvisational moments allow Ryan to feel that he and the dancers have “arrived.”
“What does that mean to you?” I asked.
Ryan explained: “I’m attempting to have an interaction or conversation [with the dancers]…if you go back to indigenous cultures there was no separation between drummer and dancer. They were the same thing. One couldn’t happen without the other. I’ve always tried to keep that relationship, at least with dance music. That’s part of the reason I do something completely spontaneous because that is dropping into a direct connection that is only happening here.”
And, truly, our shared experience with ecstatic dance proves the unity between drummer and dancer. Like the dancers, Ryan is able to feel into the music and he has the freedom of I constrained expression to access the healing aspects of music to help him move through emotions.
Ryan noted that because ecstatic dance moves away from performance and convention, it allows both dancer and musician to experiment more. The lack of expectations of ecstatic dance has helped Ryan “develop as a musician. People come to be in a movement space. It’s less of all the eyes are on you as when you’re on stage, it’s more free-flowing. And that energy makes me feel like I can go off the beaten path; there I’ll stumble across awesome things and I’m able to save that on my pedal for later and I can turn that into a produced song.”
Likewise, I take the space and clarity I gain through the course of a session into my daily life.
Everything about ecstatic dance sessions combines to form a unique resource for dancers and musicians alike. It allows us to express ourselves without constraint or judgement, which leads to emotional circulation and new pathways of creation. We unwind and relax, we let go; we create space, and in the space we find freedom.
The track below showcases Ryan’s live instrumentation on top of an electronic song. For more of Ryan’s music, visit his website ryanherrmusic.com.