Learning patience

“Oh look, your favorite tree, and it’s full of fruit!” my friend exclaimed as we got out of the car at our Russian River destination. I had told her on the drive up how obsessed I was with figs, and how happy I was that it was finally fig season. I went over to look where she was pointing, but my excitement waned as I realized that all the figs that covered this tree like christmas ornaments were still too green to eat. Not a single ripe one. In a few weeks they would all be ripe for the picking, but alas I was too early. As I stared at one of the green bulbs that seemed to mock me, my disappointment dissipated into amusement as I realized that I was once again being faced with the lesson that was front and center in my life right now: patience. From my career to relationship to digestive health, I had been cultivating tender sprouts for a healthy blossoming, but none had yet to show their bright petals. Instead of appreciating the small (or in some cases large) steps I had made in each of those departments, I tend to get restless and internally throw a fit, like a small child wanting ice-cream “noooow”.

I guess a large part of my anxiety stems from the fear that no flowers will actually bloom, that all my work in cultivating fruitful areas of my life will fail, leaving me not only barren and exhausted but also cynical. Because in the end, there is no guarantee that fruits from our labor will actually ripen and make it to our mouths. There could be a drought, a plant plague, or some thieving animals that will squander all your hard work. In order to not go mad over the risks, it is necessary to have trust and faith that the fruit will in fact come. One needs to detach from the needless worry, and surrender to what will be. Water the plant, give it your love and best intentions, but then let go. You may find that all that positive energy you’ve directed to your sprout will actually encourage it to push through and bloom even more beautifully than you imagined.

At least, this is what I’m telling myself right now. Only time will tell for sure. Until then, I am doing my darndest to wade patiently in the unknown and appreciate my seedlings.

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The power of letting go

“Oh boy, your legs are as tight as a marathoner’s!” My alexander technique practitioner was working on manually loosening my legs, which were dangling down with gravity as I straddled a wooden vault she referred to as “the horse.” The surprise in her voice, and the fact that I hadn’t gone for a run in over two years, made it clear that this tightness is not normal. For as long as I can remember, neither leg has ever been able to lift past 90 degrees of the other when lying down on my back. I’ve always blamed my skinny legs, and subsequently tight hamstrings and leg muscles, on my Mom. It’s been said that my Dad married her for her legs and mean pasta dishes, but while skinny legs may help win you a man, they prove a disadvantage for practical uses.

(My parents enjoying a picnic during their honeymoon road trip, Italian style.)

At 27 I am battling patella tendonitis that prevents me from running, steep hikes, or any other activity that requires strong knees. Despite yoga and strengthening exercises, the familiar aches have not gone away, and after a frustrating 2 years, I had decided to try Alexander Technique. Unlike previous physical therapists I worked with, my AT practitioner’s focus was on relaxing and loosening the legs as opposed to strengthening them. The main exercise that she stressed I do at home is called “constructive rest,” where you lie on your back with your legs raised up on a chair. That’s it….you just lie there for 20 mins. She said this exercise was important to allow my knees to relax and heal.

Relax. Interestingly enough, this was the one exercise out of the several she gave me to do at home that I had the hardest time completing consistently. And each week she would emphasize its importance again and again, as if psychically knowing that I wasn’t doing it. Why wasn’t I doing it?? I wasn’t consciously avoiding it. It didn’t hurt, nor was it at all difficult. But it required 20 mins of stillness, 20 mins of doing nothing, 20 mins void of multitasking or completing something. And carving out those 20 mins proved harder than I realized, since there was always something “more pressing” that needed to get done instead. I would always relegate it to the last thing to do before bedtime, but by the time I was ready to go to sleep, I was so exhausted that I climbed into bed instead.

More interestingly, when I did actually do the exercise, I’d feel my whole body relax (including my stomach area which so often gives me strife), and after 10 mins or so of just lying there, the usual bloating or stomach discomfort I had would dissipate. While this is designed as a physical body alignment exercise, for me it basically became a meditation (or you can formally make it into one as you have nothing else to do!). Oftentimes I would just sit there and breathe, and consciously put my focus on my stomach area, and then my knees, and just think about healing them. Each time I went through with the exercise I would be surprised how much more tranquil and rested I’d feel afterwards, from my head down to my toes.

And I would again be reminded, like so many other times during my healing journey, that the root of my physical woes was ultimately tension. I laugh at all the time and money spent on various healing modalities for my stomach and legs, when at the end of the day the main cause of all of it is my stubborn refusal to relax. “Stress” seems a cop-out cause for any issue, as it is an illusive thing that is as simplistic as it is hard to manage. And for some reason, it is preferable to have a complex explanation for our issues than simple ones. Instead of sitting with myself quietly, tuning in and breathing deeply into my body, acknowledging how I feel and providing a safe and attentive space for listening, I much prefer rushing around to appointments for virtually every healing modality under the sun, no matter the cost. Not that they haven’t all been wonderful learning experiences, but in the end the core issue is always the same one. Regardless of how many doctors I see, the tension will not go away unless acknowledged up front – and I need to be the one doing the acknowledging.

(Have the courage to face the light. Photo taken in a park tunnel in Berkeley.)

So how does one deal with tension? What does it mean? I see tension as a holding on, a grabbing, a refusal to let go. It is ultimately stagnant, stubborn energy that works itself up in knots in your body. Like any issue, acknowledgment is the first step to healing. And sometimes listening is enough. An inspirational writer and coach, Kim Childs, talks beautifully about the power of listening here. When you listen, and are simply receptive to what is without judgement or racing thoughts, you are able to fully see things as they are. No distractions. And in that state of observation, free of attachment, judgment or expectation, the need for “holding on” evaporates. This space of presence is an excellent place to recognize what specifically we are holding on to that is causing the tension in our legs and stomachs – what fears, relationships, expectations, judgments, or traumas we have been desperately clinging to (likely subconsciously), that will continue to drag us down unless dealt with and “digested” fully. While tuning-in may seem an easy process, it is actually a difficult one that requires courage. It takes courage to dive into discomfort with oneself, to be honest with how we feel and what makes us vulnerable. It takes courage to face these vulnerabilities full-on and perhaps allow tears to flow as we finally acknowledge them and release their hold on us.

Of all the healing modalities I’ve tried, those that allow you to face yourself honestly and release stagnant energy (tension), whether it be through crying, dancing, singing or screaming, are the most productive. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing tight holds of attachment to things that no longer serve us (and are causing dis-ease in our bodies as a result) and detaching from them.  This is why cleaning out a closet or home can feel so good. We are constantly getting bombarded with information and experiences every moment. Just as a kitchen sink fills up with dishes, we need to digest and cleanse our systems of the thoughts, feelings and judgments that get processed along with our experiences.

At the next sign of unidentifiable physical discomfort, I urge you to take a few minutes and tune-in, and see if it’s simply a form of tension that needs to be let go.

Detachment from labels

I’ve always considered myself a “music lover.” Not a music expert, per se, but someone who is passionate about music and takes it rather seriously. It is really hard for me to sit through a song (or god forbid playlist) I dislike. (Maybe this makes me a music snob?) This can make riding as a passenger in a car uncomfortable at times.

One of my reasons for moving to San Francisco was to have good live music available within a walk from my apartment. Over this last year I’ve made an effort to be on top of live shows that were happening – how could I call myself a music lover if I’m not regularly going to live shows? – and once I discovered music festivals, attending as many of these as possible also became a goal. By living my definition of what “music lover” meant (which included going to shows and music festivals), I was actively expressing who I was.

The world seems to run on labels and categories, as it seems to be the only way to make the least bit of sense of all craziness that encompasses it. I mean, isn’t that what language is after all, a socially recognized system for labeling things? Each word is simply a label, a commonly recognized set of sounds that corresponds to a thing (or action, descriptor, whatever). But what makes this tricky is that our definition of words and labels cannot help but be influenced by our prior experiences with those things we are referencing.

Now, this is not a problem for simple communication like “the door is locked”. Little room for interpretation there. But ask any two people in SF what the word “hipster” means and they each may have different connotations of the word. I can’t help but feel that our linguistic system of communication is simply archaic. If we can’t even agree on the exact definition of a noun, how are we to effectively communicate abstract concepts like feelings, dreams, or even who we are? How about creating an identity for ourselves, a definition to which we can ascribe and use as guide posts for how we live our lives? How can one even attempt to translate these ideas through the switchboard of language?

In the sound healing program I completed, our teacher would have us “make the sound” of our day at the beginning of each class. No need to search for words or navigate the linguistic code. Simply tune inwards to find the vocal sounds that best resonate with whatever you are feeling or wishing to express.  It takes almost the full hour of my therapy session to just catch my therapist up with how I’ve been doing since our last session. Putting all that in a 2-minute soundtrack, that is completely unique and authentic, is so much more efficient! (It should be noted that the concept behind sound healing is that all things – thoughts, feelings, objects, etc. – are simply energy, made up of vibrational waves, that have their own resonant frequency. So, by tuning into and sharing the “sound” of what it is we want to express, we are communicating the very essence of that thing.)

This is all to say that until this past weekend, I was still ascribing to the “music lover” definition I had mentioned earlier, which included festival-going. This was not a difficult conclusion to come to, as my four experiences with music festivals (each at the High Sierra and Harmony Festivals) were amazing. Based on those experiences, I concluded that I loved music festivals, and attributed that to the fact that I loved music. And I was very excited to finally make it to Outside Lands this year. I had not been quick enough to purchase tickets before they sold out last year, which had made me very bitter. I planned ahead this time and cleared my calendar for the day and time those puppies were going on sale, and made sure to get myself a 3-day pass. Nothing was gonna stop me now.

The terribly long walk from the Golden Gate park festival entrance to the actual concert entry gate was annoying, but I dismissed it as one of the necessary costs of attending a large festival. The fact that they made me pour out the tap water from my water bottle upon entry annoyed me more. Especially when I realized that they were charging for water refills, and the stations were very few and far between. Enter in the hopelessly large crowds that stood between me and the water refill stations, as well as my growing thirst as I navigated them, and my annoyance level was quickly rising.

But all was well with the world because soon I’d be seeing Beck. I’ve been listening to Beck since middle school and had yet to see him in concert. Odelay was in constant replay in my car as I drove to high school senior year, and I continue to be amazed by the variance of his music. Each album has a different sound, and he seems to collaborate with a different artist each month. Because of this I was willing to be pushed and jostled a bit by the crowd that filled in around me at the main stage 20 minutes before showtime. Those 20 minutes were uncomfortable, yes, and the people in the bear hats behind us who were talking obnoxiously loud were irritating. But they were also drunk. And this was a music festival after all. How did this not annoy me at High Sierra? Oh right, because the people there respected personal space and they were more chill and high than drunk and obnoxious. But no matter, I was a music lover and willing to put up with this to see Beck.

Beck fired up with Devil’s Haircut, and I was so excited and immediately started dancing. But something was not right. Aside from the two ladies in front of me, no one else around me was dancing!  All these people who felt compelled to push themselves toward the front and nearly run me over in the process seemed unengaged and bored. What was going on? Aside from the popular “two turn tables and a microphone” song, the climate of my immediate surroundings remained unchanged for the entire set. I could not help but feel irritated. I realized then that for me, music festivals were only as good as the crowd that attended them. The energy of a performance goes both ways between the artists and the crowd. And I like it when the crowd around me is as enthusiastic about the performance as I am – especially if they are taking up valuable personal space. My critical voice that sometimes rears its judgmental head could not help but conclude that a lot of those people were there more for the scene, and to have something cool to post on facebook, than for the music itself.

(Beck. Do you see anyone dancing?)

By the end of the night, the freezing weather, overpriced food and ridiculously long waits for the port-o-pots completely deflated what was left of my tolerance. The following morning, I sold my ticket for the remaining two days.

Though I had not consciously registered it, I had somehow connected going to Outside Lands as validation of my hardcore music-lover status. Over the last few months I was surprised to learn that many of my friends were not going, and I assumed that they simply did not care about music as much as I did. Because why else would you turn down a music festival? But as I stood freezing, looking at the 25 yard-long line for $8 hot chocolate, I understood. And I also realized my mistake. I, nor anyone else, has anything to prove when it comes to identity definition. No need to meet some fabricated definition of a label, even if you yourself fabricate it. I still love music (and therefore remain a music lover) and the fact that I will no longer go to Outside Lands does not change that. What has changed is my understanding of what “music lover” means, and my relationship with that label.

Each day, each moment, we are evolving beings with new thoughts, emotions, and experiences that shape who we are. How can you put a label on that?

A little encouragement goes a long way

My dad blasted opera music when I was in the womb to ensure that I’d soundly sleep through it once I was born. He didn’t want to have to adjust the volume on my account. I don’t blame him. Not only do I sleep soundly to any type of classical music to this day, but I’m also a music fanatic.

At 3 yrs old, I was placed at the piano and commenced piano lessons. When it was clear that my little fingers were still too young for the keys, lessons were postponed until I was 5. I am the youngest child in my family, and therefore a natural glutton for attention, so I was delighted by all the praise I’d get from family and visiting friends for my playing.

(I also like photographing pianos.)

Somewhere along the way, within the ten years of my lessons, this natural relationship with the piano turned sour. Maybe it was the long days at private prep school that stole time from my practicing, making me feel inadequate and behind in my lessons. Maybe it was not getting the music scholarship in high school, making me feel discouraged. Regardless from where this destructive seed originated, it was planted in my sensitive adolescent brain and just continued to grow. Stopping lessons was a relief since it meant no longer needing to face feelings of shame and inadequacy at my lessons. And I was now free to focus on “more important” things like academic work and college applications.

These negative associations with the piano settled into a painful estrangement. The longer I stayed away from the piano, the more my memory of previously perfected pieces diminished, along with my agility on the keys. This deterioration resulted in deeper feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, perpetuating the downward spiral. All the while, my love for the piano just continued to grow, which made things worse. I could barely listen to Chopin without being moved to tears – not for its beauty, but for its mocking quality of what I no longer had.

When I was earning money out of college, one of my first investments was in an electric piano and digital recorder. Not because I was a prolific songwriter, but because I secretly wanted nothing more than to become one. This was not a dream I shared often with others, since it made me shy and self-conscious to even think about it as a possibility, and part of me felt silly for even purchasing the equipment. And when the piano would sit in my apartment unused for months at a time, my feelings of silliness would return. Who am I really kidding, anyway?

Slowly, with help from writing, acting, and other creative outlets that allowed for healing self-expression, I began to revisit my relationship with the piano. I’d sit for only a few minutes at a time, but found myself naturally floating over keys in aimless improvisations here and there. I’d hear fun melodies in my head, and fumble on the keys to bring them to life. Those that I liked I recorded. This became my rare guilty pleasure that I allowed myself only when feeling especially indulgent, and when there were not “more important” things to do…you know, like laundry, cooking, shopping, etc. And I never bothered mentioning this pastime to others, lest they want to hear my little doodles and realize the hack that I was. What business did I have in making music anyway? I was even terrible at reading it! It was waste of time, really…

And this is how the next five or so years progressed. As my sense of self began to strengthen, the stranglehold that had developed around my self-permission to play began to loosen. My explorations on the piano began to become longer in length and freer of self-criticism. Lyrics for melodies began to present themselves, and I began filling a notebook with them. Pieces of songs began to form together.

(I like tinkering on the guitar too.)

This past month, I finally completed my first piano piece, complete with lyrics and voice. I hadn’t played piano in front of anyone for the last 12 years, never mind any original pieces. But I felt a shy need to share this one with my brother, a close sibling who strongly influenced my own musical palate. With a timid nervousness I sent him a recording via email. Just a rough draft of something I wrote, I told him.

Two hours later I got his email:

“So I just played this song a bunch of times. It is simply beautiful.  The piano, your voice, and the lyrics. It sounds professional, and that does not do it justice.  I am beyond impressed. I think you need to keep going on this. You have a gift.”

And so began the tears. Years of repression released. For so long I had replayed the story in my head that I was not good enough to write a song. I was not even worthy of the piano. And here was positive support and encouragement from a family member who has a track record of holding high standards for all things I do, from college essay writing, to choosing a career, to driving manual shift. Generally there is always room for improvement. But today I got his praise.

This push of encouragement inspired me to continue with other songs I had brewing, and with vigor I’ve been dedicating time to the the piano each day since. Over the last few weeks, I can honestly say that what was left of the darkness that had plagued my relationship with the piano has completely lifted. It is now my peer rather than my superior, my dancing partner instead of a disciplinarian, and playing music is a happy creative relief instead of a stress-inducer.  It is amazing how healing this familiar, old wound has greatly impacted my overall emotional health. A burden has lifted, and I simply feel more like myself.

While this healing process has certainly been going on for years, it is clear that a little encouragement from others may be the final push we need to get ourselves over a massive hill. Especially if we create that hill ourselves.

High Sierra Music Festival: Medicine for body and soul

When people want to relax and rejuvenate, the obvious ideas that come to mind are massages, spas, sleep, a warm bed and maybe a luxurious getaway at a high-end hotel. Not ridiculously late nights and camping in a tent. Or uncomfortably hot days, ongoing loud music and communal cold showers. But let me tell you, if you’re an outdoorsy, music-loving type, a camping music festival (specifically High Sierra) may be just what the doctor ordered.

(Toots at the main stage)

Anyone who knows me knows that my quality of life basically revolves around the mood of my stomach. It’s a capricious one, that tummy, and some evenings it will have a fit and cause so much discomfort that I need to retreat to my bed instead of moving forward with evening plans. I’ve been able to negotiate with it by altering my diet, getting a consistent amount of sleep and exercise, and basically being a better listener to its needs. Though these adjustments have helped tame the outbursts, they have not been enough to alleviate its regular poutiness, making me, more often than not, a tad bloated and numb in my core. This is why I avoid tight pants.

(Deer Tick night show)

The High Sierra Music Festival is a 4-day festival in Quincy, CA, about 4 hours north-east of San Francisco. It happens annually the long weekend after July 4th. If you want to score a desirable camping spot, it’s best to arrive as early as possible Thurs AM, if not Weds night to queue in line for entry. The foothills of the Sierra Mountains make for incredibly hot days in the sun, reaching upper 90’s, and significantly cooler nights that require bundling up. There is never a shortage of music options within the entire 4-days: the festival’s 3 stages each have bands playing continuously from 10am – 12am; “late-night” shows go on 12-2am; Silent Disco allows you to dance it down to a DJ’d set on headphones (respecting the noise ordinance) in the meadow with other night owls from 2am – sunrise; just walk around the grounds at any time of day or night to find a pop-up band or jam session playing somewhere amongst the tents. Basically, it is an onslaught of music and (if you’re me) dancing for 96 hours straight.

(me dancing with the samba drumming parade, in festive style)

Two days into the High Sierra Music Festival, I noticed that I was feeling unusual…my stomach actually felt connected to my body and I felt 5 lbs lighter. No bloating, buddha belly or debilitating pains. Yet, I was running on no more than 8 hours of restless sleep between the last two nights, my meals had been few and far between, and the food I did eat contained wheat and other ingredients that have been triggers in the past. I also had an endless amount of energy given my lack of physical rest. I’m normally a need-8hrs-of-sleep and in-bed-by-11pm type of girl. Generally, staying up past 1am ensures that I will be groggy and suffering from stomach pain the next day. Yet, here I was unable to stop dancing, hour after hour, feeling my healthiest. Most importantly, my stomach area, or solar plexus chakra, was happy.

(stilt walkers in the parade)

Our solar plexus chakra is associated with our self-confidence, self-esteem, will and empowerment. It is the fire that fuels our “gut instincts” that lead us into action. It embodies our sense of self. It is ultimately the source of our self-acceptance and confidence with our place in the world. Given that this blog is about me learning how to settle into my body and “true self”, it is no surprise that my solar plexus chakra is generally unbalanced, causing stomach pains!

(drum circle dance party at end of parade)

So what is it about the festival that balanced my tummy chakra and allowed me to embody my true, free and jubilant self? One could argue it was the insane amount of dancing, an exercise that stimulates the energy center with all the twisting and hip-shaking, promoting healing. Or maybe it was the healing power of live music inundating my every cell. Maybe it was simply the fact that I was free to do whatever I wanted at any time, whether it be dancing, napping, swimming, exploring vendor tents or getting a snack. I was able to pay attention to my needs and desires full-time, with no obligations, responsibilities or restrictions getting in the way of honoring them.  I was surrounded by the things I love most, and had no computers or even phones (low battery and poor reception) to distract me from interacting with them as I wished. This was the perfect setting for pure, uninhibited self-expression.

(The Nibblers rockin’ out on the roof of a winnebago)

Now that I’m back in the “real world,” where responsibilities and obligations do exist, my goal is to not let them cramp my festival style. I don’t see why the sense of freedom and connection I felt on the festival grounds cannot be continued into my every day life. The key, I believe, is prioritizing my needs and not allowing external responsibilities and obligations overshadow them. Our first responsibility truly is to ourselves – during a plane emergency, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others. For example, there is no reason for me to not make yoga and dance classes during the week, since movement expression is clearly vital to my health. Why should these things not get prioritized over other activities? There is no reason why I should hold back impulsive self-expression in social situations. Who’s to say I’m too quirky? And it is necessary to lay down boundaries so as not to feel guilted into saying “yes” to everyone, every time. Not acknowledging needs and expressive impulses will force that energy to be stagnant once more in my gut.

(The Motet funkifying Grateful Dead tunes on the Big Meadow stage)

Lastly, it is necessary to have a positive attitude and deflect negativity. It is obviously easier to do this in an environment that is already brimming with smiling, happy faces, and where the person finding your lost ID and credit card returns them safely to the lost & found (thank you, whoever you are). But this positive energy ultimately begins with one person. I’m going to try to approach every day, every situation, as though it is a festival. What about life is there not to celebrate? Maybe my stomach will take a hint if I lead by example.

A big thanks to Lloyd Chang for letting me display a few of his shots! Check out more of his wonderful pics at socialskit.com

Learning from our inner child

My favorite thing to do as a child was to explore the outdoors. I was fortunate enough to live on a beach where I’d find shells, scare fiddler crabs, and chase minnows. I also collected objects in and around the yard, including an old rusted train track bolt, copper wire, and a piece of volcanic rock. I thought about this the other day as I looked at the glass vase of shells I collected from from my time in Florida, sitting on my end table. I was still a collector of objects that interested me. But what to do with these things once collected?

An old lamp shade that survived my apartment-purging a few weeks back was still sitting unused in my closet. And a hook hanging from my ceiling remained bare since I moved in. I decided to create a shell mobile. Though it was not a hard task, and my simple mobile is by no means a masterpiece, it did get me back in touch with my explorer-self who enjoys tactile relationships with interesting objects. It reminds me of this each time I look at it. And it also reminds me that I like to make things.

Once around 8 or so, I became obsessed with building forts and structures that were “my own” within the untamed outdoors. Old metal sheets that my Dad had lying about made perfect walls for a fort. Under a blanket thrown over 5 garden stakes (4 in the corners and one in the middle to prevent sagging) became my favorite place to read. My brother, 15 years my senior, joked that I turned the backyard into a shantytown.

I’m not sure exactly when I got the idea to start the “Hippy Hideout Club,” but somehow I got it in my head that hippies (I thought hippie was spelled hippy) were really cool. To me, “hippy” signified a free-spirit who was in commune with all things naturally harmonious and beautiful. I liked long flowy skirts and big-beaded jewelry. Maybe that’s when the seed for my move to San Francisco was planted. I enlisted all my friends in the neighborhood to participate in the “Hippy Hideout Club”. I dreamed up elaborate plans for a tree house, but since this was not a viable option on our property, a shaded corner of the yard had to suffice for our gatherings. I was president, of course, but assigned official roles to each of my friends, from vice president to meeting attendance taker. One was not officially in the “club” until they had an appropriate name badge, fitted with the official stamp (a simple sand dollar ink stamp) and their hippie name. My vice president chose “Sunflower,” her sister (the meeting note-taker) chose “Cloud”. My name was “Wind”. Wind fascinated me, and still does. It can be so welcomed, like on a hot summer day, or cursed at, like when riding a bike uphill in rain. It cleanses our air and helps pollinate our plants. It is the antithesis of stagnation.

I was reminded of my Hippy Hideout days today as I sat at my desk, facing the windows. The wind was so strong that it suck my sheer curtain out of the open window, making it dance. This was really the essence of the name I had then chosen for myself: a force that was as gentle and beautiful as it was strong and unpredictable. It inspired me to take some photos.

“Childish” is a term generally used with a negative connotation, used to describe feelings or behavior that does not seem rational or practical. But in truth it is with this pure and ignorant mind that we are most susceptible to inspiration and wonderment, even in the simplest of surroundings. I’ll take inspiration and wonderment over practicality any day.

Why? Because it’s fun!

Live music, sunshine, and bike riding are at the top of my list of things that make me happy. Put those three together, and you have one helluva good time. Welcome to the Bicycle Music Festival, which I had the pleasure to be a part of this past Saturday.

It’s been going on annually for six years now, and is a complete DIY affair, right down to the energy that is needed to power the stages. You need to work for your music by pedaling one of the many bikes that are hooked up to a giant, homemade battery pack. It is assumed that everyone will at some point during the festival contribute some sweat and calories to powering the event. An energy meter, which looks like a giant red and green thermometer, tracks the juice level of the battery. If it dips into the red, one of the many organizers holds up a sign saying “Pedal” to encourage pedalers to ride faster. (Pedalers are awarded with a spoke card that they can proudly display in the bike tires.)

The festival starts around noon in Golden Gate Park, with surprisingly great and energetic bands taking the stage. By 5pm the stage is being dismantled for transport. But the festival is not over; the fun is just beginning. A smaller stage holding two musicians and a sound system is set up on a wagon behind one bike. It leads an entourage of festival goers, bikers hooked up with wireless speakers, and bikers towing carts of stage pieces out of the park and into the streets of San Francisco.

This festival is on the move, playing music in the streets (stopping traffic along the way) as it crawls to its second venue on the other side of the city. I say crawl because, well, the poor biker towing the stage can only go so fast. And it is hard to ride a bike slowly, especially when surrounded by other bikers on all sides. But it does allow one to dance a bit while in the saddle. The head organizer is singing catchy, original tunes into his mic, accompanied by a ukulele player, while wearing a blue helmet. Safety first, boys and girls.

I wonder what the unfortunate drivers are thinking, as they have no choice but to stop and let our parade of bikes pass. Most seem amused, smiling and honking rhythmically to indicate enthusiasm. Others sit stoically in their seats, not so amused. And of course there are a few strong honks of annoyance and near-misses with bikes as they try to take advantage of gaps within the crowd.

Parading through the streets was by far my favorite part of the festival, and definitely one of the most amusing things I’ve done in this city to date. It was a pure expression of fun and joy – what can be more pure than dancing and singing outside in the streets? – with no alcohol or other substances needed. Just a bike.

In fact, the whole festival is inspiring to me since it is a complete DIY event that brings people together to share in simple celebration. No cause or greater purpose. No sponsors. No cost even (other than some cardio burn). It is an example of what wonderful things are possible when people come together around a common idea, founded simply on the desire to enjoy life.  I even made some new friends. Look how happy everyone is!!

After our 5 mile trek, the stage was set-up once again in an abandoned parking lot in Potrero Hill, where several great bands played until midnight. My favorite was one with Tunisian musicians that fused an Arabic style with funk (MC RAI they are called). Each band expressed their gratitude to be part of such a unique event, and one musician even said it was the coolest event he had ever played at. Indeed.

It reminds me that not everything we do has to be done for reaching a goal or meeting an objective. How about doing something simply because it is fun and makes you smile. How much different would your life be if this alone became your purpose?