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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