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Friday, 30 December 2016

We Are the 99%

Some very smart people in our species have postured that we have entered the Age of the Anthropocene, coining a new geologic era in earth's history, marked by unprecedented human impact to our beautiful Earth.

While the human species has made incredible technological advances, it has performed great blunders along the way - ecological destruction, disintegration of our health and community, and hegemony of power, to name a few.
A <a href="">2013 art installation</a> at Edge Hill University near Liverpool, England, by <a href="">Robyn Woolston</a> included this mock sign, "Welcome to the Fabulous Anthropocene Era" (<a href="">enlarge</a>). The Anthropocene is a name some scientists have proposed for this era in which humans have become a dominant influence on the environment.
Photo "courtesy" of the NY Times
I can see the collective past generations of the human race turning in their graves, yelling "hey, look how we lived!" and "we are the 99%."

It is humbling to think that the modern era we live in has encompassed a fraction of 1% of our species existence. We take our present for granted, and naively believe that the way we live now is how it's always been.

History is a wonderful teacher, and we can't forget the past lessons from the more than 99% of our own history. After all, we have the same biological hard wiring as those ancestors of the past 99%. I'm not saying to go back to our hunter gatherer days. But some things about us never do change, and should not be compromised.

The good news is we don't need to look that far into the past for good advice.

99% Biology

Michael Pollan, an author on everything food, and one of my personal idols, says to eat what your grandparents ate, or what traditional cultures ate. The more I've personally researched food, the more I have confirmed this mantra.

For example, humans are not biologically adapted to eating unfermented soy (soy sauce and miso are fermented, tofu is coagulated). Yet many products made from this are flooding our marketplace in recent decades, along with conflicting science about its health value. The answer lies in our grandparents' generation: noone back then ever consumed unfermented soy products (edamame was a rarely indulged exception).

In other news on the health front, there is now conflicting science about hand sanitizers. Research is starting to show they can weaken our bodies by killing the good microorganisms on our skin, of which there reside 1,000+ species. Hand sanitizers are certainly useful in some situations but should not be overused.

It's pretty daunting to fathom how much bacteria is inside and on us - studies have provided a vast range of estimates, from 100 billion up to 50 trillion cells. By contrast, our bodies are made up of around 30 trillion cells. No matter how you look at it, these statistics make our fear of bacteria seem utterly irrational.

Bacteria are our allies. Fermented foods nourish our gut with beneficial bacteria. There is even research saying that beards contain beneficial bacteria that prevent its owners from getting sick.

Personally, I love germs, I say bring them on. I camped almost all summer, and lived isolated in the forest for one month in a "germy" environment, showering by jumping into lakes, and sleeping through some very cold nights. I haven't gotten sick this year and feel stronger than ever. It is arguable that I lived more like the past 99%.
I love getting a little dirty
99% Awake

One of the greatest achievements in our less than 1% slice of human history, is the screen. The advent of TVs, cell phones and virtual reality have given us the ability to escape our physical realities. We have been given a window through which a superficial world of infinite entertainment beckons us.

Elon Musk has brought attention to the fact that in the coming decades, virtual reality could so mimic real life that we may no longer distinguish which reality is the real one. Just imagine a dream life of living on a beach. Nice life, right? Now what if I told you you could achieve this dream from your living room couch? Welcome to the Matrix.

The evidence is already apparent in our young generation. Everywhere, they can be seen tuned in to their alternate reality through their screens. As a result, they are losing touch with the one that matters. Their attention spans, empathy, and physical health are all diminishing. Their values are shifting towards individualism and fame through social media.

Here, lessons from the past 99% are paramount.

Humans of our past lived in nature, connected with the land and the trees, tending to it and deriving their sustenance from it, building community and strong relationships around their shared struggle. Today's native and tribal populations are continuing examples of this connection.
The cure for all our ills lie in our tents
Again, I'm not saying that we all need to return to live in the forest. But perhaps we need to reconnect with reality by spending more time in nature. No amount of screen time can match the healing power of nature.

However, in our addicted society, screens join a host of other substances and habits that serve to dull and depress our minds, such as gambling and alcohol, to name a few. What we need is the opposite - to activate our minds and stimulate the imagination.

Again, our past 99% contains such lessons.

Visionary plants have been a part of indigenous cultures for centuries. Plants such as peyote, eboga, San Pedro and ayahuasca, which have psychedelic effects, are used in rites of passage for children and adults. They take the user on an internal journey, or a "trip", in which they experience hallucinations which transform their minds. In fact, our brains contain neuron receptors for DMT, the chemical present in ayahuasca. This can't be a coincidence.
No explanation needed
Today, studies are showing that responsible doses of the psychedelics magic mushrooms and LSD (acid) can cure addiction, depression and PTSD. From personal experience, these substances have helped me feel love, created healing, and activated my mind. At the end of these "trips" I hear music in my head, and feel more creative. I've become a better person for these experiences.

These are only a handful of lessons that our ancestors of the past 99% can offer. And for the last time, this doesn't mean we should all go back to being farmers or hunter-gatherers.

But in a rapidly modernizing society, changing faster than our bodies can adapt to, we must not forget lessons of the past, and be mindful of the need to find a balance between modern amenities and past traditional and cultural ways of life, particularly regarding the food and medicine we put into our bodies, and our brains.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

A Wilderness of Opinions

Earlier this year I read an amazing article on the human nature of climate change denial. The article focuses on our attachment to our identity, which defines who we are, what we do, and what we believe in.

Deniers of climate change encompass a surprisingly diverse group of people, from uneducated to highly successful. But they all share the common thread of living a lifestyle heavily tied to fossil fuels, developing their identities around it. Climate change, though maybe rational in their minds, challenges, no, attacks their identities so fervently, it sends them into defensive mode, triggering denial.
Hitchhiking - a great way to reduce carbon footprint and make human connections
This speaks to the overall lack of effort towards reducing our carbon footprint, especially at an individual level. We avoid simple efforts such as driving and flying less because these habits have become ingrained in our identities.

And clinging to our identities is at the core behind a lot of stubbornness, inaction, and refusal to change.

There has been a recent growing awareness about the meat industry's unparalleled impact on the environment. The documentary Cowspiracy is unique in that it exposes how environmental non-profits avoid advocating reduction in meat consumption for fear of alienating its subscribers.

People who eat meat may be able to rationalize this information, but they feel so attacked by it that they would rather ignore it completely. They can accept taking shorter showers, as water consumption doesn't strongly define their identity and, if they do this, they can go on with their lives with their identities intact, ego unbruised. But this provides a false sense of accomplishment, as the relative impact is much lower.
When you work closer with the animals you eat, you learn compassion and respect for them
Beyond environmental issues, identity is at the core of many social issues such as Trump hate, homophobia and racism. At a personal level, identity plays a vital role in our sanity. Lack of identity can result from lack of community or unresolved existential questions.

My own questions of identity stem from culture clash and generational gaps. My upbringing on traditional Chinese family values within a North American individualistic culture has fostered identity confusion, triggering a search for who I am that continues to this day. During this search, my identity has shapeshifted and flowed, like the roots of a tree. My pilgrimage has recently taken me back where it started - my home in Ontario. Many of my friends and family here, by contrast, have formed and set their identities, like concrete. Unfortunately, the roots of a tree can crack and split concrete. Over the past few years, my own budding roots have cracked the concrete forms around me, creating a divided reaction.

Some view me with shock and disapproval. They become defensive when confronted by practical information that I offer. For example, everyone acknowledges the food waste dilemma, and I posture that dumpster diving makes sense no matter how you look at it. But some people would rather call it disgusting despite my assurance that a lot of food I recover is in fine condition.

At the same time, I am also vulnerable to experiencing disbelief when I encounter people with completely opposite identities to mine. As long as I don't allow judgment to creep in, I can forgive myself. Judgment is the slippery slope towards contempt and ignorance.

On the other hand, some view me with wonder and inspiration. Some see the identity I've carved for myself and use it, like a mirror, for inner-reflection. It's for this positive impact that I do what I do and write what I write.

For better or for worse, I'm typically not the kind of person some people surround themselves with, so my presence in their lives is almost like a wild card; I don't reinforce their identity - I challenge it. With this awareness, my own challenge is to never get too caught up with labels such as hippie and outcast, but to use my "differentness" to encourage open and engaging dialogue, to foster understanding and respect, not contempt and division.
Don't let this guy give hippies a bad name
A wise person at a Vipassana meditation course told me that, concerning any subjective topic, there exists a "wilderness of opinions", and sometimes to force one's opinion upon others is just "creating imaginary problems." In other words, it's usually better to accept someone for their differences, rather than trying to get them to conform to your liking.

In this vein, I think I've learned to not cling to my identity, so that I can welcome conflicting ideas and accept people how they are. My hope is that others can do the same for me, and that we can work towards understanding and respect.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Walking A Line Between Two Worlds

As 2016 wraps up, I reflect upon an intense year of new experiences, new friendships as well as difficult relationships. With each adventure completed I feel like I'm graduating another test and advancing in the school of life. It's a bit unexpected then that, as the year concludes, I've been feeling inexorably stuck, or floating.
Me trying on the waiter hat in Lake Louise
I'm floating between two worlds. The world which I emerged from - populated by 9-to-5-ers - and the world outside of the matrix. I'm talking about a world filled with people that chose a different path - the hippies and nomads, the musicians and artists, spiritual warriors and nature protectors. We'll call this group the free spirits. These two societies co mingle in the same cities and streets, but navigate their daily lives hardly aware of eachother's existence, as if they were in separate worlds.
Me living in the forest for a month

Me trying the cherry picker life
On the heels of the US election, most of us have learned a harsh realization about being caught in two worlds - that we live in a comfortable "bubble" of familiar people and places, but the reality is we are surrounded by people who think differently than us - a lot differently. Think about it - nearly half of all people you encounter on a street in America voted Trump. It really makes you question people. But do we have the right to judge Trump voters?

Studies have proven that, in our individual quests to minimize the chaos around us, our brains label and reduce everyone down to simple categories and characteristics. This is the mechanism behind stereotyping and extremist labelling. Unfortunately, this mechanism fails because there is a remarkable amount of diversity in every group of people. While stereotypes can represent partial truth, we forgo the work of filtering beyond that partial truth when we judge people. And you cannot judge anyone when you have only the partial truth.

In the Trump dilemma we come face to face with the universal truth that noone really has the right to judge anyone unless having walked in their shoes.

The free spirits are as misunderstood as the Trump voter group; they're just more easily ignored. I find myself in the rare situation of having traded in 6 years of the 9-to-5 lifestyle to bum around with the free spirits in the past few years. I feel like I've immersed myself enough in both worlds, and have walked enough in the shoes of both societies, to offer some objective insights and comparisons.
Me in full free spirit mode
Free spirits get the extremism label outcast or weird. People judge them for living life differently than everybody else, and are thus deemed irresponsible, unrealistic, and sometimes selfish. This is, of course, only a partial truth.

What is true is that most free spirits lose themselves before they find themselves, but are only labeled as lost. Sure, many stay lost, but this is universally true of any society. Many of the free spirits I've met are stable and empowered, surviving in and changing the system from within, not just chaining themselves to trees and doing psychedelics in the forest. They count among the most wise and inspiring people I've ever met. They may not have the fancy degrees, well paid jobs or RRSPs to prove it. But they also don't have regrets.

Meanwhile the free spirits judge the 9-to-5-ers for being materialistic and conformists in a corrupt and unsustainable system. This is again a partial truth. Like any other society there are those who fit in, there are pretenders, and there are those lost and stuck in the system and don't know how to get out of it.

So where do I belong?

Once you go down the rabbit hole, it's hard to get out of it. I was lost in that world for awhile but I'm slowly finding myself. In the free spirit world, I have embarked on unforgettable adventures, encountered healing forces, expanded my consciousness, and found love and support from amazingly inspiring people.
The rabbit hole is filled with wonders, such as this beautiful cedar, in the backwoods of Vancouver Island.
Because of my past 9-to-5 life, it can be hard to identify with some hardcore free spirits, but it is certainly harder now to identify with 9-to-5-ers because, while free spirits share the struggle to navigate within the larger society, the opposite is not true. Consequently, I am still floating between the two worlds - but I'm proud to be paddling my way to solid middle ground.

Moving forward I hope I can change the system from within, and find grounding and stability again. But, in order to accomplish this, I need patience, not just from myself but from those around me, especially in the 9-to-5 world who still see me as lost.

PS. I apologize if anyone was offended by labels such as 9-to-5ers and hippies. I am aware of my hipocrisy in using these terms in the very same article where I condemn use of such terms
PPS. Hippie comes with negative connotations in today's society, but I think it's time for a redifinition. I'm a hippie and proud of it!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Dumpster Diet - One Month Without Paying for Food

Near the beginning of October I attended the vipassana meditation centre in Merritt for 10 days, volunteering in the kitchen during one of their courses, in exchange for food and accommodation. When I got back to Vancouver, I hit the local dumpster for my fruits and vegetables.

By then I was already nearly halfway through the month without yet having paid for food. My kitchen was already generously stocked with non-perishables such as oatmeal and rice. So I decided to take up the challenge to not pay for food this month.

I continued to dumpster dive religiously at my spot, which is about a 15 minute bicycle ride. And just 5 minutes away by bike is the local Sikh Temple, which offers free dinners 4 days a week. This experience has actually become one of my favourites in Vancouver, a sign that I may be starting to go crazy. But not only is the food good, they fill your tupperware with leftovers, and it is always attended by young hipsters and hippies, usually around 40 or so others. So it really is something unique.

The dumpster provided just about everything I needed - I scrounged staples such as greens, eggplants, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, bread, apples and bananas. On top of that were occasional surprises - cheese, eggs, mushrooms and avocados, as well as sweets and baked goods such as croissants, muffins and even birthday cakes. There was almost always something new and different to add variety to my monthly no-budget cuisine.

While I dumpster dive to spotlight the issue of food waste and to reduce the demand on the industrial food system, I also do it for my own benefits. The most obvious is that I am saving lots of money on food. But on the other hand, instead of eating out all the time, I am spending time at home cooking, which I enjoy. The food is in surprisingly good shape, some without any defects at all, neither visual nor physical, and I believe it is just as nutritious (if not just slightly less) as food purchased in-store.

I feel like I came out of this month with a more humble relationship with food. I don't eat excessively, yet I don't feel hungry or develop cravings like I used to. I take what comes to me, not what I desire. I somewhat cheated, counting my time at the vipassana centre, but even there I ate humbly and practiced a bit of fasting.

Now that October is over though, I am a bit relieved that I can go back to the grocery store, and eat at restaurants again. Time for sushi!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A Summer to Remember - Overcome by Beauty

My favourite movie line comes from American Beauty, when the teenager is sharing his simple but captivating video of the plastic bag dancing in the wind: "sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart is just going to cave in."

I've had this feeling often during this summer, by far the best of my life.

I spent the vast majority of my summer outdoors, communing with nature, and with people who have the same passion. I attended four festivals, each unique in their own way, and each building upon the previous one, adding another layer of love. The fourth festival added the cherry on top, and since then I've been bursting with love and often spontaneously on the verge of tears.

While many would negatively associate tears with sadness and misfortune, my tears are associated with joy and happiness. And those tears have been incredibly healing.

I've experienced such epiphanies in the past but, somehow, this summer I've summited higher peaks of beauty and joy, and seem to be elevating to higher states of love and consciousness. Even in recent weeks, as I have lived small, my mind feels activated, my heart open and overflowing with positivity. My creative juices are flowing and I am writing a lot. There are new creative avenues that I am keen on exploring.

I only wish I was able to convey this feeling and spread it outward. This feeling is indescribable, incommunicable, can only be experienced; this state of being eliminates the need for any judgment or negativity that causes harm to our world.

Consequently, it confuses me why most people cannot witness and experience this beauty; that society traps us in suffocating boxes which only offer small, short glimpses of such beauty, before shuttering the blinds.

On the contrary, it seems most people would rather focus on negativity and fixate on extremist ideals, rushing to judge different people as if they were a lower species (though all living things deserve equal consideration). It's especially ironic, since today's world is the most peaceful in human history. Peace like love, flows and has its peaks and valleys. We must not confuse this current valley as a precipitous drop off a cliff into war, despair and destruction.

The third piece of the befuddling puzzle is a deepening sense of becoming more and more disconnected from this world which I so badly want to showcase this beauty to. I no longer wish to conceal this conflict, for it forgives ignorance, which causes the same problems plaguing our world, and prevents open dialogue, which is what we need to move forward on these issues.

My family and I are growing apart, due to my own extremism. My extremism is centred on ideals of love and freedom, and have given me a lot of happiness; yet, instead of being happy for me, they judge me. I am consequently befuddled. Though my life obstacles are universal, my Asian-Canadian peers fully understand the challenge of growing up in a Western culture, but raised on conservative ideals.

My future is vague, but I do see an eventual resolution to my conflict with my family. However, my projection towards meeting their expectations won't come for several years as I still have a lot of growing up and soul searching to do. Before I can focus on them, I need to focus on me.

For now, I can only continue to focus on the beauty around me - around all of us. If I follow my heart and seek out the beauty, my footsteps will take me on a path towards success. And I encourage everyone to do the same.

I live life with no regrets. It's what led to the most memorable summer of my life.

A photo collection of the best scenes of my summer:

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Fantastic Four! The Soo River Faire

The festivals keep coming and the love keeps building and building.

After the magic of Shambhala, I thought I was ready to pull back from the festival scene, which I dove headfirst into this summer. My plan to visit Vancouver Island was delayed by one day. So, marooned in Vancouver one more day, I joined my ex-housemates at a drum circle that night on 3rd beach in Stanley Park.

I wore my Shambhala headband like a proud flag, and I was befriended by a few people about it. One pair invited me to a small festival they were organizing called Soo River Faire. I loved their energy, and my own energy was drawn to them and their event.

I ended up cutting my Vancouver Island stint short, to just 10 days, so I could make it back to the mainland for the fair. About 20 minutes north of Whistler, we turned onto the Soo River Forest Service Rd. We drove down this rough road for another 20 minutes or so, before arriving to the trailhead, where my car got a flat tire. As tough as the adventure was to get there, the location was perfect. A floodplain in the spring, the waters recede in the summer, giving way to a gravelly beach along the snaking Soo River, guarded by green and white mountains.

The festival was really intimate - around 50 people - and the music was really good, considering its size. The artists were humble and easy to talk to; some of them live in the same collective home in Vancouver with the organizer. One of the DJs was my ex-housemate, and it was a pleasure dancing to his set. Psychedelics were involved as usual, but on a more toned down level than Shambhala, and I got some good dancing in.
Main stage during the day; and at night (below)

I furthered friendships as well as met some truly special people here. In particular, I made one very profound connection, and we became very close, very quickly. We drove back to Vancouver together, further connecting on just about every topic, sharing stories and listening to music that moved our souls. For this, I want to thank this person immensely for the bond and understanding at every level of our respective journeys in this sacred universe.

By the end of the festival, the organizer conducted an emotional closing ceremony. During the first part, we huddled around a campfire and gave praise to nature by reciting odes of gratitude to each direction of the compass rose, while facing them. For the second part, the organizer put together some wood arranged to form a small tree, and attached written notes of peoples' fears and confessions. Gathered in a circle around it, attendees each read the notes one by one. Then the tree and all of the notes were burned, setting our fears free and, thus, concluding the ceremony.
Taylor conducting the closing ceremony
Cachou reading a note from the tree of fears and confessions

The organizer must have set his own fears free because, at that moment he kneeled to the ground in prayer pose and wept his heart out. In silent understanding, and with all of the emotions I already built up the past few days, myself and a few others knelt beside him, consoling him, and crying with him.

I've recently had a feeling that my summer was building up to something special - some cosmic gathering of the energies I have been nurturing. It all came together at Soo River Faire. I left the event feeling so full of love, it felt like my heart was bursting. For the next several days, I
I made a fun time lapse video at the festival, click here!
The event has been going on for 4 years, but for me, it felt like the start of something special. I hope to become a part of this event and its people in the future.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The (Vancouver) Island Connection

The latest leg of my adventures took me to magical Vancouver Island. To say I have been here before is a half-truth, like someone saying they've been to France, when they only visited Paris. That's because I have only visited Victoria, the largest city on the island.

This time I intended to change that. And though I cut my stay much shorter than I originally hoped, I still stayed 10 days and experienced the true island culture. The theme of my summer has been nature and people. So far I have camped maybe 90% of the summer and explored some really beautiful parts of western Canada. I have also made meaningful connections with lots of wonderful people.

Mat showing me the swim holes in Cumberland
The first meaningful connection on the island actually began on the mainland. Several weeks ago, I drove Mat, a Kijiji rideshare, from Vancouver to Kelowna, and in the course of the 5 hour drive, we were chatting like old friends. Our timing somehow aligned so that I later drove him back to Vancouver to the ferry. About one week later, my deed came full circle, as I visited him on the island.

On the way there, I wondered why he settled in this no name small town... Cumberland far exceeded my expectations! I connected easily with his roommate and some of their friends that came in and out of their cozy home. They took me to some beautiful swim holes in the area, as well as an abandoned ski resort, where we picked huckleberries and admired the sunset. I was getting stuck in Cumberland, already staying a few days longer than planned, so I reluctantly said goodbye to my new friends and took off to the west coast.
Exploring the ancient (for us, anyway) ruins of an old ski resort

I was in search of Rainbow Beach, a wild camping spot on Kennedy Lake, and found it a half hour drive down a forest road, just under an hour inland from Tofino. There was a lovely boardwalk that led down to the beach, through a grove of magnificent cedars. The place was absolute magic.

I wasn't totally surprised to see a bunch of crazy hippies already camping there, some already for a few months, just living a free existence. I knew this would be my kind of place. When I arrived, the free spirits were hula hooping and dancing on the beach. That night a campfire party swelled to more than 20 young people from different places all across Canada.

On the second day I visited the surfing towns of Ucluelet and Tofino. I ran all around the rocks on Big Beach, like it was a big playground. I later checked out Poole's Land, a welcoming ecovillage just on the outskirts of Tofino. I picked up a hitchhiker, a gentle native man, and he shared his story of loss and inspiration. That night, back at Rainbow Beach, the group shrunk to a more intimate size, and everyone took psychedelics and partied like it was the 70's all over again. I admired beautiful and awe inspiring displays of fire spinning with staffs.

On my last day, the grey skies finally opened up and it started to pour. Back at camp, we all worked together to put up more tarps, gather dry wood and keep a fire going. Huddled around the fire, we shared our life stories about how we arrived here in this point in our lives, coming together on this blissful beach in the Canadian wilderness.
Big Beach, Ucluelet

I've watched and been inspired by lots of fire spinning this summer
The next day I picked up a hitchhiking traveler and we connected the whole 4 hour drive to Victoria, swapping travel stories, people stories, good music and positive vibes. We got together later that evening, where she experimented for the first time with psychedelics, while we chatted on the beach.

In Victoria I got together with several friends, continuing the string of meaningful conversations and deepening connections across my entire island trip. I even randomly saw a friend on the bus, who I cherry picked with earlier that year! It's no surprise then that I spent a few more days there than expected, and eventually had to cut fabled Salt Spring Island out of my plans.

Vancouver Island was everything I heard about, and more. Beautiful nature, beautiful people. Here, the further and further I got off the beaten path, the crazier and more wondrous people I run into. And that's just how I like it.
Thanks May, for hosting me near Vic, and connecting about the island and Chinese things!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Beautiful But Confusing - Dancing the Summer Away

As I stated in my previous blog, my string of recent adventures have spiraled positively into the most beautiful summer of my life. My spirit is soaring and my heart has opened up, simultaneously filling up and gushing forth with loving energy. One area of self discovery that has given my spirit flight is my embrace of music and dancing, and the magical convergence of the two at music festivals.

At this point, some of my readers shall be cautioned: all of these experiences I am about to share have occurred while using psychedelics, and I dare say would not be possible without them. I have expanded on this in previous blogs, and my hope is to slowly chip away at your armour through my storytelling, without sounding like I've lost my marbles (if I haven't already done so by now).
Tribe Festival - meditating with singing bowls
Astral Harvest festival - cool workshop space
Interstellevator, main stage at Astral Harvest
In other words, my goal is cultural deconditioning. Because we are taught, no, conditioned, to believe that these substances are bad for you, when in reality they are proven to have strong healing potential. Yet political and economic interests at a high level serve to keep them prohibited and out of the public's hands. Anyway, back to dancing, before I really lose you... please read on with an open mind.

Last New Year's Eve in Vancouver I had my first spiritual dance experience, when I saw the universe floating up and out of the swirling tiles of my living room, into my 3-D space, and I danced among the stars. The synchronicity of the dance was unforgettable. My curiosity piqued.

In May I attended the first year running of Tribe Festival, near Calgary, where I met a bunch of cool cats and realized that there was a community of alternative thinkers in my old city, just waiting for a festival to bring them together. An appearance of the Northern Lights made this festival really special. I later attended Astral Harvest near Edmonton and had another amazing time. At both festivals I attended yoga, art and intellectual workshops, connected with unique individuals, and danced the night away.

And then there was Shambhala - a fabled and magical 4-day festival set on a farm near the hippie outpost Nelson, British Columbia. At the beginning of August I left cherry picking early to volunteer in exchange for a free wristband. Two spiritual dance experiences left me forever changed.
Shambhala - the pinnacle of music, dance and free expression
On the grounds with my friends Spark and Jeremy (middle)
This is a normal sight at Shambhala
Shambhala at night transforms into a totally different world filled with mystery and intrigue, a sensation of sound and light intertwined with the mysterious but protective forest canopy. There is a neverending flow of Shamb-aliens - festival-goers dressed like hippies, fairies, dressed down or dressed up in onesies or other outrageous costumes. Shambhala at night sets the stage for magic to happen.

On Thursday night I was feeling the music and dancing while moving between stages, looking for my friends. I came across two guys who were doing poi and devil sticks, their equipment lit up with LED lights. Captivated, I stopped to observe, my dance moves flowing to their movements. They see me and come over, and our movements synchronize. We engage in a connected dance - time stops, everything else disappears, it's just the three of us and the music. We barely realize it, but 20 minutes pass by. We compliment eachother and move on.

Three nights later I ran into them again, and we greet excitedly. They told me they talked about me everyday! Noone had flowed so well with them without equipment as I did, using only my body. Humbled, I expressed that I thought about them everyday too and kept looking for them. Our connection through dance was an unforgettable experience. We planned to find eachother again that night but failed... I was disappointed in the missed connection, but it's a sign that we are meant to find eachother next year at Shambhala.
Fractal Forest - my favourite stage because... it's a stage set right in the forest
That same Sunday night, the last one of the festival, my friends and I started off with weird vibes, due to some unexpected setbacks earlier in the day. We hit the stage The Grove and saw a captivating fire spinning show. After the fire show, as we were leaving the stage, I came across some friends who were just entering. At that moment, I felt a compulsion to stay but was conflicted about abandoning my friends. I froze, not knowing what to do.

Then the French DJ Clozee started her set and I was instantly hooked, and began moving. Her sound completely took over my spirit and body until there was nothing but the music. As I danced I suddenly felt all the confusion and negativity that built up over the summer being purged from inside me, as each cell of my body shook to the bass. Overcome by the gravity and indescribable synergy of the moment, I cried, but kept dancing.

If this summer was a movie, that moment was the catharsis. I danced in this trance-like state for at least half an hour. I felt at one with the music, my body, and the universe, like never before.

I left Shambhala feeling transformed. I have traveled a lot in my life and, in this way, discovered the meaning of freedom. But Shambhala showed me a different kind of freedom, and expanded my definition of it. It showed me the freedom to express who you are, to reveal the real beauty inside you in a judgment-free, loving environment.
Thank you Shambhala! See you next year.

Friday, 19 August 2016

True North Wild & Free - Round 2, Cherries

After mushroom picking in the Yukon, followed immediately by attending the amazing Astral Harvest music festival north of Edmonton, I beelined over to Vancouver to rest, decompress and digest all these amazing adventures in the safe haven of my old collective house.

But it wasn't long before I got itchy (bare) feet and decided to give cherry picking another try. Ten days later I was back on a farm in the hot and dry Okanagan and back in my simple but beautiful home - my green Coleman tent.
The sun rises on the orchard. We have already been picking for 2 hours!

Life's a beach
I have awesome memories of my first cherry picking season at Coral Beach farm two summers ago. So I was pretty disappointed when I arrived at Sundher's farm - there was scarce flat land and shade for camping, and the amenities were relatively bare. I learned later on that Coral Beach is a rare exception among farms that accommodate pickers, providing a luxury experience.

The vast majority of the pickers here were French speaking Quebecers. No offense - there is nothing wrong with them, but they like to speak French, and too many of them means they only speak in French, leaving me feeling excluded, and I'm not outgoing or energetic enough to impose upon their conversation.

On my first day of work, I picked 17 buckets of cherries, which, at $5.00 each, meant I took home $85, not bad for a first day.

Needless to say, patience, not panic, was needed on all fronts. The situation would surely improve. Well, just like the first season, it was a rollercoaster ride full of changes that caused highs and lows in my temperament. But overall it was a more interesting and drama filled season that made the first season feel like child's play.

The primary reason for the increased drama was the climate. It was an El Nino and La Nina year, producing much more rain than normal in the Okanagan, which wreaked havoc on cherry production, as well as on picking conditions. This made it tough on farm owners, managers and pickers alike, and they, in turn, behaved erratically, spiralling the drama upon eachother.

This exacerbated the turnover of pickers, who were getting fired, leaving and newly arriving on a near daily basis. Halfway through my season, the ratio of English speakers increased to around 30%, with a few Spanish speakers arriving, travellers with work Visas from Mexico, Spain and Italy. By the time I left the farm, over half the pickers were Spanish speaking!

Patience paid off as usual on the social front, and I started bonding with some of the pickers. I even befriended pickers from another farm, camped across the road from the beach that I frequently visited. The people I met this time around were somehow different from two years ago - older, more mature, and more hippie.

On the picking front, things were challenging. After the decent start, I burned out physically and mentally, worn down by the heat and unable to find my motivation. I picked much worse this season, with the poor La Nina crop but a cheap excuse. My best day was 21 buckets, lower than the 30 buckets from my first year, and embarrassingly lower than the top picker, who was consistently picking over 60 buckets, or $300 per day!

This is why cherry picking is such a humbling experience. It actually demands a fine balance of toughness, focus and technique. And a good cherry picker can actually make money. But by society's account, it's not considered a serious job. In my own Chinese culture, agricultural work is even looked down upon, compared to being a doctor or - *swallows* - an engineer.

Anyway, I seriously questioned myself throughout the season. Not that I want to make a career out of cherry picking. But I seriously toughened myself up morel picking, and expected to continue the momentum in to better cherry picking. I was seriously wrong -- humbled again!

In the end, I have no regrets, as usual. Like any experience, it's the people that shape it, and I made some really meaningful connections. Seasonal workers - whether they're picking mushrooms, cherries, apples, etc. - are some of the most inspiring people I've ever met, living within nature, not outside of it, and embracing an alternative lifestyle, refusing to cave to the standards and demands of mainstream society.

Rock climbing at world famous Skaha
Round 2 of cherries serves as another memory along my lane, another notch on my belt, during an epic summer which is quickly becoming the best one of my 32 year long life.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Beautiful But Confusing - My Summer Motto

{Written at Shambhala, before the start of the festival - word for word, with just a few slight modifications}

Life is moving a million miles an hour. It's crazy, disorganized, madness.

Yet a part of me doesn't want the madness to end. That part of me wants to keep having crazy adventures, meeting amazing, inspiring people, making memories. Yet another part of me can't keep up the pace, is getting overwhelmed, needs stability, time to digest all these experiences. I guess that time will come... when I'm old and retired, right?

These days, I feel like Golem, two halves of my mind fighting over my consciousness. The winner gets to determine what I do after Shambhala, with Shams being the final battleground between the two warring sides. I spent this morning in Salmo in a cafe applying to jobs in Calgary and Vancouver. Instead of going back to the working world though, I could pick more fruit or mushrooms, take off to Europe, cycle down to Guatemala, or follow friends to find seasonal work in California. This is the dilemma of over privileged folk like myself.

But would life be easier if my main concern was working just so I had enough to feed myself, or have a roof over my head? Or a loving family under one roof, indulging in basic activities such as cooking and spending time together? It seems human beings are rarely content with what they have. Or that they always seem to find something to grumble about.

I can't believe I'm grumbling at all -- I'm at Shambhala!

Fractal Forest - one of the most beautiful dance stages, under the canopy of old growth trees