I was recently very taken by a piece in The Mind Unleashed by psychologist and educator Dr. Kelly Neff called 8 Ways Transformational Festivals Can Change Your Life and Change the World. The article resonated so deeply with me that for a moment I wondered if Dr. Neff had just stolen my own story and made it her own.
“In 2012, I was weathering a storm of intense personal change, from a difficult breakup, to the loss of friends, to tough health problems. I was fortunate to be invited to a transformational festival (Lightning in a Bottle) and somewhere amidst the fantastic music, the mind-blowing art, the eco-consciousness, and love from new friends, I found myself, my community and a new lease on life.”
This perfectly describes what happened to me in 2013. I had just completely overhauled my life. I quit my job at New York University, ended a very serious relationship and moved out of the apartment that my current girlfriend and I shared for two years, grieved the changing nature of friendships that I was not ready to forfeit, and committed to making a pilgrimage home to reconnect with myself, my family, and my friends. On June 1st 2013, my job ended, my lease ended, my relationship ended, I took my last anti-depressant pill that I would ever take after trying to taper myself off of them, and boarded a plane to California, leaving the East Coast and the toxic decisions I had made there behind forever.
While the return to Los Angeles did set my mind and body at ease, my heart was broken down so much that I had no idea how to put it back together. I felt my life had been missing something for as long as I could remember. I tried to regain long-lost social skills, and worked day and night to figure out how to be happy again…trying to remember if I ever had been. And then my good friend and an ongoing source of inspiration, Wolfbear, told me that I NEEDED to come with him and his friends to Lightning in a Bottle. I almost backed out – the state of depression I was in was too much to handle at the time – but ended up making the decision to go. Dr. Kelly Neff’s words once again perfectly describe my initial impressions upon arrival in the grassy fields of Temecula, California that July:
“Many of us have spent our lives longing for a community, only to feel like we never quite belonged. At my first transformational festival, I was greeted with smiles, hugs and love by complete strangers, which felt totally foreign and bizarre. It was the first time in my life I ever felt unconditionally accepted by a group of people. Burning Man uses the term radical inclusion to describe this unique feeling of acceptance.”
I was exposed to a whole new form of celebrating life. This radical inclusion, where I felt fully comfortable letting the immense and often overwhelming seas of love that rise within my soul every single moment flow freely to all those around me, allowed me to fully embrace the beautiful energy that people were passing right back to me. The mind-blowing DJ sets and live music and non-stop dancing raged on each day and night, but that wasn’t even half of it:
“Unlike mainstream festivals or raves where the emphasis is on partying, transformational festivals offer diverse and exciting line-ups of educational workshops, speakers and events. Not only can this expose us to new ways of thinking, but it can also expand our minds quickly as we share space and converse with other open-minded individuals.”
I was being exposed to new ideas, new ways of viewing the world. I did more yoga than ever in my life and connected with my inner-being on a remarkable level. I was learning that my very belief system was shared by more people than I ever dreamed of, and that this event was a celebration of jointly-held universal truths – that we are all connected, we are all here to love and support each other, that the problems we face as a species can only be solved in collaboration and through co-creation, and that regardless of who you are, where you come from, and what you believe, we are all one. Finally, I had found a community where I didn’t feel like a cheesy, dirty hippie for saying things like that that. And as my body continued to adjust to being off anti-depressants, I had found a community that helped me heal:
“The accepting, peaceful and loving environment offers as-yet undiscovered healing potential for individuals with a variety of social and psychological disorders, including anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorder, PSTD and more.”
I followed this feeling and this community around to other transformational festivals over the course of the next year with my newly-formed soul-pack of beautiful human beings with whom I had connected in the temporary homes and villages we created, the yoga sessions and workshops we attended, the music we danced to in the most exuberant way possible, and through the sacred moments we shared infused with hugs, laughter, learning, and love. Symbiosis, Lucidity, Lightning in a Bottle (again)…these events changed my life, and have primed me to make my upcoming birthday at AfrikaBurn in Tankwa Karoo, South Africa in April one of the most, if not THE most transformational experience of all.
I came to Uganda this year with a very unique mission: to amalgamate the spirit within me that was forged in the loving energies of these transformational music festivals (not to mention a lot of Agape love) with my passion for improving education and health outcomes in East Africa. I wanted to use the lessons I had learned, not only in school, but through these consciousness-lifting experiences to infuse love and compassion into the lives of those who face daily struggles that we in the West cannot fully comprehend without living among them on a daily basis. To this end, I discovered Global Health Corps and its Still Harbor accompaniment, moved to the small village of Kyabirwa, and have once again found two whole new communities where I can share my unique gifts, talents, warmth and energy with my new families of like-minded and ‘like-visioned’ people. I have found the perfect opportunity to unfold more deeply into this constantly evolving dream of Self.
I owe so much of who I am to these festivals. Though they are often viewed as massive parties filled with ravers and hippies (and sure, there’s a ton of that and a ton of those, not that I don’t fall into the latter category – thanks mom), they are an opportunity for human beings to connect in a safe and welcoming environment where we as ONE people have a unique opportunity to truly find ourselves. And, well, I’ll just let Dr. Neff cover the rest:
“Each of us leaves one of these events fundamentally different from how we arrived, but you can never really predict how each unique experience is going to change your life or anyone else’s. Many people report discovering new unexpected passions, finding their hidden talents, and unveiling their true life-path or life purpose. These experiences can also enhance self-esteem, build confidence and reveal authentic self-expression. To help fix the many problems facing our world, we desperately need more people who have had such expansive experiences, who know themselves and why they are here, and who can create enlightened solutions. Most of all, we need people who love each other, who are connected to their communities, and who care deeply about the fate of the planet. You will find all of this and more at transformational festivals.”
So here’s to all the individuals who helped change my life for the better. And thanks for the article Dr…it means a lot to a lot of us (I’ve included her bio below from The Mind Unleashed)
Dr. Kelly Neff is a social psychologist, author and educator who has helped thousands of people learn about healthy relationships, love and sexuality. A professor of psychology since 2007, she has become an innovator in the field of online teaching with her book, Teaching Psychology Online and her YouTube lectures. Dr. Neff also offers integrative healing services by combining psychological techniques, empowerment training, Reiki, and other alternative therapies. When she isn’t writing, teaching or doing healing work, Dr. Neff travels the globe in search of transformational festivals, rainbow tribe gatherings, and other adventures. You can find her daily doses of inspiration and positivity on her Facebook page and twitter. Light and Love!