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

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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.

Lighten up

Every once in a while we need to be reminded of those basic habits that keep us alive and well. A near miss with a car reminds us to look both ways before crossing the road. A stomach upset reminds us that fried food is not welcome inside our body.

And a 58-second youtube clip can remind us to lighten up. A few weeks ago I was feeling rather dark and heavy, and had been for over a week. Though I didn’t have a specific reason for this “general malaise,” I can give credit to my impeccable ability to judge myself: I was annoyed at my ongoing knee tendonitis and drum-tight hamstrings, which made me feel like an 80-yr old in yoga class. I was frustrated with my inability to make decisions around my true calling and career goals, which just made me more irritable at work. And I was feeling guilty for spending just too many nights at home instead of being a happy city socialite.

As judgement generally does, it went outwardly as much as it went inwardly. Why is this person talking to me right now? Do they really think this thing is so important? What a waste of time, I don’t care! And I wondered why I was feeling so fatigued.

In the midst of my gloom, I came across this video, now viral, of Bill Murray with a posse of fans doing a slo mo walk, Wes Anderson style. Immediately, I was laughing. So ridiculously simple, but oh so hilarious. The laughter jarred my whole being. At first I was surprised something so simple could be so amazing. And then, as though snapping out of a trance, that thought itself surprised me. Of course something so simple can be so amazing! Get out of your head and lighten up!! All of a sudden the things I had judged that past week as “stupid” or “useless” had a rightful place in the world. And what were once my (first-world) heavy burdens were light as a feather, being blown out the window by my laughter.

As I made my way out the door to meet a friend for dinner, feeling 10 lbs lighter and fresh as a daisy, I laughed at how seriously I had taken myself and this thing called “life” for the past week.

Sometimes we just need a good laugh to lighten us up.

Making space

I live in a studio. So space is (very) limited. When I moved from my cottage-like 2-bdrm abode in spacious Florida to the 7×7 mile peninsula that is San Francisco, a lot of stuff had to go. It’s amazing just how much crap one can accumulate when you have the available space. And once in San Francisco, I begrudgingly made yet another trip to the Salvation Army when I realized that my initial clean-up was not sufficient for my new living space.

Downsizing was initially stressful. After signing the lease on my little home, I walked into the space with pangs of anxiety and claustrophobia. How is all my stuff going to fit in here?? What else can I get rid of? This is NEVER going to work!! It took some conscious deep breathing and a reassuring pep-talk with myself to get my heart rate down.

But after some meticulously planned placement of furniture with a measuring tape, things fell into place (literally).

And my living space became tight but tolerable, until this past weekend, when a bubbling angst over space signaled that yet another clean-up was necessary. The bookshelf that was stuffed into my closet had items I hadn’t looked at since I moved; extra stools took up valuable overhead space; my photography lights, also unopened since the move, took up more space than their practical value to me. What started as a mere reorganization of a few items turned into an entire reevaluation of all material possessions. Old card from an ex? Out. Clunky backpack? Goodwill. Fiction books I won’t read again? In the clunky backpack going to Goodwill.

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While I have experienced the therapeutic qualities of cleaning house before, no clean-up had ever felt so good. I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because it was not done in a mad rush to move apartments. I had no time-limit, no urgent reason that prompted it, and no expectations for what I was trying to achieve. The intent was simple: purge that which does not serve me. And in that pure mindspace, I found that I was able to be fully present with each object I sifted through, appreciating it for what it was and easily able to make a decision on its fate. There were no struggling moments of indecision or exasperation.

In that state of presence, I found creative inspiration coming in to help with my purging process. I considered finally getting rid of my metal strawberry shortcake lunchbox that had been my companion since kindergarten. It even accompanied me to my first professional job post college, earning me the nickname “cupcake.” At the decisive moment, while standing over a scattering of books and albums on the closet floor, I realized that I could line the box, covering the rust lines, and have it neatly house the jewelry that overflowed my night table. In fact, a large piece of beautiful butterfly wrapping paper I saved from a “welcome to San Francisco” present was still neatly folded under a pile of books, waiting to be used. This idea would be its saving grace from the trash. And so my craft project began. Here is the end result.

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Once the bookshelf was reorganized and I was reacquainted with all items that filled it, I moved on to my clothing rack. Doing a quick sweep for unused garments, I came across several band t-shirts, shrunken from loyal overuse. I loved these shirts, but they were too short to wear. I recalled the t-shirt display that covered the front of the GAP office downtown, and I knew what to do. An uninspiring Target canvas print, brought over from my FL days, hung on my large kitchen wall. It was time for a change.

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By the end of my cleaning rampage, I noticed that I could breathe easier. I felt renewed and energized. And my living space no longer felt cramped, but just right. Not only could I now recall what items I owned and why, but valuable space was created through my careful elimination and recycling (upcycling?).

I then realized that something is not better than nothing, and available space should not be a reason to fill it. Both in my closet and in my life I noticed a tendency to horde, to claim and hold on to things available to me, simply because I can – without thoughtful consideration of how they actually serve me. In my quiet moment of contentment, while taking in my fresh surroundings, I vowed to respect my space going forward by filling it only with those things that add real value to my life.

Learning from our body

Our bodies talk, but do we listen?

It’s so easy to ignore what seems to be whiny chatter, and just turn the channel to “more important” things. Because hearing your lower back complaining of tightness or your knee making a fuss about up-hills can sometimes sound like a child whining about a desired toy. How important is it, really, when you are focusing on more pressing things like “how will I manage taking my car to the shop?”, and “what do I need to do to prepare for that meeting tomorrow?”.

These questions often take precedence because they effect how we deal with our external world, one which runs on the man-made construct of time, has deadlines, and requires us to meet certain demands in order to survive. Like it or not, our life depends on this external world. And if that lower back tightness or patella tendonitis is not getting in the way of meeting what is externally demanded of us, it becomes easy to cast them aside.

But the truth is that our bodies are our only vehicles for functioning in this external world. Does taking your car into the shop really matter if you can’t physically drive? Forget about that meeting tomorrow if you are sick in bed. And though your ailments may not seem to be so limiting at first, letting them fester unaddressed can lead to more serious injuries or disease later on that will. And regardless, wouldn’t your overall quality of life be better if your body felt great? No one will argue with me that physical well-being makes for greater mental well-being. When our bodies feel good, so do we, and vise versa. If you treat your body like the life partner it is, allowing it the respect to express itself and be heard, (and then giving it what it needs), you may be amazed at the wonderful things you can achieve together.  Listening to our bodies and cooperating with them to achieve well-being is actually (I believe) the foundation for successfully functioning in our external world.

And our bodies certainly hold a lot of intelligence about our well-being. That tightness in the lower back may be a sign poor posture, of trapped emotional energy from a recent breakup, or perhaps just a reminder of using better form when lifting heavy things. Regardless of the cause, each sensation holds a potential lesson for us to discover. Familiarizing ourselves with our bodies makes it easier to identify the clues to what ails us, and once we have the cause, we can determine a solution. Whether it be changing our posture, seeking out a form of emotional release, starting a strength program, or being more conscious when doing a certain activity, the outcome results in learning how to better care for ourselves.

So how does one listen, exactly? The first step is making our body’s health a priority, of making space for it in our life. Commit some time every day (or each week) to tuning into your body with undistracted focus. This could entail sitting quietly for five minutes and breathing deeply, going to a yoga class (after all, this is the point of yoga), or doing some form of enjoyable exercise. You may be surprised what thoughts or sensations start to arise when you peel away the thoughts of the external world and focus inward, acknowledging your body. It will talk, we just need to be willing to listen.