There came a point amongst all the sounds surrounding me that the elation and the substance could only get me so far. Who knows how long I had been dancing for this time around; it’s not like I was keeping track. But each time I would hit the dance floor and get my feet moving the chances were that I would be spending at least a good hour or so in pure exertion; seemingly unending overlapping moments of bliss and surrender where my body and perception became purely immersed in my surroundings. In any other environment I probably would have listened to more reasoning, the telltale signs that the body and mind alerts you of when you need some rest. But now, at 5 in the morning on Monday, only mere hours before the closing bell of the four-day long sensory extravaganza also known as Shambhala, I had only one guiding principle: Keep smiling, and keep those feet moving.
This story in particular has just begun, although like most stories there is general overlap from one to the other. When so much happens in so little time it can be a difficult challenge for when to open up to your audience; when you choose to let them into your world and share what transpired. In this story, the main event is yet to come. But so much happened in the preceding days that I could write volumes. How do you explain to people what Shambhala is? Many people might have some idea in their head; that it’s a big rave where people come together and dance to electronic music in the forest. Sure, that much is true. But that type of description is limiting in so many ways. True that the music and location serve as a common ground for people to come together, but each person’s experience is completely unique. And so describing the Shambhala experience through one’s favourite artists, stages, or even drugs only provides the setting. A good story relies on good characters and their interaction with each other. But it is first important to comprehend the setting.
For me, Shambhala is about an attitude. It is no doubt an experience; one that words or photos cannot fully reveal. It is a place where one’s faith in humanity is not only restored, but it is magnified beyond measure as you witness what is possible when a large mass of people collectively share the emotion of celebration. Some come every year and build upon the highs that sustained them for the time in between when they were off the farm. For many it is their first experience into a world of non-judgment, acceptance, and unconditional love amongst strangers. Outsiders sometimes look upon the festival with preconceived notions of what it’s like. I see it when I tell people that I’m going there or just got back. They say it’s not for them. They want to criticize the motivations of those who come. It is obvious they have not felt what is colloquially known as Shambhalove.
I could tell a million stories of synchronistic moments throughout the weekend. How out of 15,000 people my old roommate, with whom I am no longer on speaking terms, set up right next door. Or the time I saw a stranger give another stranger the shirt off his back because he was shivering and disoriented. Or how I would randomly sit down on a bench and strike up a conversation with someone with whom we shared common backgrounds or plans for the future as though we filled out some survey beforehand and were placed there by someone in charge. But none of those stories are quite as good as what happened on Monday morning.
Back to where I left off at the beginning. I was dancing on a platform in the Fractal Forest. I had just left the beach stage to enjoy the morning sunrise. There I had run into a new friend from my town who I had been getting to know all weekend. He reminded me that one of my favourite DJ’s and friend Slynk was playing over in the forest. Within a few minutes we were back to the funk and I found another friend from home. Soon after, she found one of her friends who informed her that her campmates were out back behind the stage. She invited me along and I joined her.
I was really enjoying that moment. Funky tunes, good people, and a high that was partially induced by substances yet not enough to take full credit – I was mostly just riding happiness. The drugs were just there to keep me away from my tent. I don’t classify myself a smoker, but with so much going on I admit that the occasional cigarette can provide good respite from the dance floor extravaganza. And so I shamelessly went to the outskirts of the dance floor to bum a smoke.
Within a minute of me obtaining that elusive end-of-weekend spare cigarette, I was approached by a young woman who wanted to bum a smoke herself. She was wearing a onesie featuring a pouncing kitten with lasers coming out of it’s eyes amongst a psychedelic space-fire backdrop. One of my only regrets from that weekend was not taking a picture of it because it was awesome. Being that I was a bum myself and could not offer her a smoke of her own, I offered to share mine with her, of which she immediately accepted. And then it happened.
For the next two weeks we were basically inseparable. I would write more details but our parents will likely read this someday. But I hope you are smart enough to read between the lines. If you can’t, I don’t think I can explain it to you because I never really felt something like that before. It was an instant connection where we talked like long lost friends catching up after lifetimes apart. Every sentence and joke would just effortlessly flow from one to the next. We left the forest and headed to the beach, relaxing by the river and discussing topics normally reserved for when you really know someone. But with her, there was no trepidation about how I might be perceived in her eyes, because her eyes showed it all. Complete and open non-judgment. Excitement to find out the next layer of my personality of which we shared many congruencies. Hopes and fears, dreams, past mistakes… all that shit. It was like we put aside all the BS that you have to deal with in the dating world and acted as if. As if we were totally into each other from the get go, without worry of whether or not the other person felt the same way. The type of connection that happens in storybooks, and apparently blog posts like this. This isn’t supposed to happen in real life. But it did. It’s not something I want to jinx but all I can say is… so far, so good.
As I put the period on that last sentence, I realized that the expression “So far, so good” is pretty much what summarizes my Shambhala experience. This year was my second year. Last year was pretty much a blast into a new world that only exists for a week every year; one where the lessons learned took a whole year to fully sink in after stepping back into familial surroundings. The Salmo River Ranch and the community created on the farm is a lot to digest, and I don’t expect to do so here. All I can do is confirm what many tens of thousands of people also affirm; that Shambhalove is real. The music, the party, the drugs and all that are part of the equation, but the result is a strengthened faith in a path toward a peaceful humanity. All it takes is a little appreciation of the beauty in our fellow person. We all have it and we all see it. Shambhala and places like it are venues for these types of pathways to flourish. So with my Shambhala experience and the new relationship that has sprung in the weeks since that Monday morning at the Fractal Forest, the attitude is simply “so far, so good”. The interrelated events have produced a hell of a trip which I don’t see ending anytime soon.