Editor’s Note: Most of us involved in festival culture are familiar to the tension between escape and engagement, recreation and sacrament, consumption and creation. We publish Eugene’s personal account of his festival experience from last summer not because we condone his personal decisions, but to provide insight into the experience of many young people attending these events – opening up to transformational experiences without the wisdom of elders or an adequate container. This is not an apology or an alarm. This is an invitation to step inside and understand. Names have been changed to protect someone’s privacy.
I saw Julia and Sidney walk towards the bathrooms, but I wasn’t sure if they wanted to hang out with me. I continued talking with total strangers while waiting for them. Then suddenly Felicity emerged from one of the porta-johns. It seemed like she came out of the exact place where Julia and Sidney had gone in, as though the two of them transformed into Felicity. This minor synchronicity affected me in a really mystical way. Felicity and I fell into conversation, and I explained what substances I had consumed. Julia and Sidney breezed by without a word when they did come out, so I stuck with Felicity and we meandered back towards the main stage, discugging the vast difference between life in the Front Range and festival culture. I told her how I had never received a festival schedule and felt bad that I was missing some of the workshops and panel discussions – but that it was nice to be able to totally check out from “real life.” Felicity corrected me, saying that this is real life, and that I was checking in! I smiled and nodded; she had a good point. Now these seem like two profound but conflicting truths, as Jonathan had suggested was possible on our Thursday commute.
It would be an understatement to say that I had a huge crush on Felicity. Really I regarded her as a purely magical being. When I first met her, I was so overwhelmed by her energy that I practically hid from her, based on the unmistakable feeling that she had materialized from my own personal dreamland. In this setting and in my altered state, she had a mystical aura around her face that absolutely fascinated me. She had placed some little stick-on silver dots around her eyes, and I told her in truly dorky form that I liked her “face decorations.” I said I was trying to express things verbally to people more often, because that’s usually really difficult for me. After asking my astrological sign (I’m a Capricorn), she explained that this could relate to my difficulty sharing feelings. I often attributed it to my “upbringing” and “stifling environment” at home and in school.
Looking back, it’s clear that both interpretations fall under the “external locus of control” category – and I was tired of disowning my own power in this area. I must have known this intuitively at the time, because I suddenly found myself in touch with a minor sense of internal control to shape my experience in the moment. Thus, I vocalized some of my feelings in a difficult way – telling Felicity how much I appreciated her presence in my life. She said something like “awww,” and we hugged. I was still aware I had taken psychedelics and I didn’t want the message to seem like a product of the drugs. I had actually been preparing the statement in my ordinary state of consciousness. Of course, it may not have been the best moment to pour my heart out at all. Yet another part of me thinks I didn’t pour enough – that I didn’t adequately communicate to her how amazing she is, and that any time I’m truly feeling it is the perfect moment.
Anyway, Felicity led me through some exercises from the bodywork she does. She told me to bring my shoulders back, bend my knees a bit, squeeze my butt cheeks, and bounce up and down! The point was to loosen up and release tension. She said to really feel myself driving into the ground. I explained how I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and upper back, and how I have a chronic problem of energy rising in my chest but getting blocked at my throat that I experience as anxiety. She stood behind me and put her hands on my back to give me something to lean against. Then she had me sway my arms above my head and pretend I was a tree.
I could feel the drugs ramping up to another level, so I had trouble concentrating – yet at the same time I was somehow completely keyed into Felicity and we were genuinely connecting. I just had the sense that I could suddenly transform into an unruly, lustful beast at any moment. I could feel the trillions of cells in my body all bubbling and dancing, each one drooling with ecstasy. Throughout the rest of the weekend, I never felt so exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Felicity and I had only been together during the short intermission before ESKMO, one of the Friday headliners, came on stage; but it felt more like four hours, in a delightful way. I told her my sense of time was totally distorted, which she found understandable. I felt more and more self-conscious about my “abnormal” behavior, and worried that I might smother her by sticking around too long. This feeling won out over some ancient part of me that wanted to stay by her side forever. So I told her I needed to get water, and she sent me off with a smile, saying, “Remember to bounce!”
I frolicked to the Evolver tent (where we kept a reservoir of drinking water) and ran into Greg, who by that point was extremely twisted. I told him about my magical encounter with Felicity. We talked about the drugs we had eaten and wondered where our friends might be. But all efforts at planning were already impossible – not just because of our dampened executive functions, but because Greg wanted nothing but totally spontaneous action. The theme of his night was to just let things happen unintentionally. In fact, it seemed that he got angry when I discussed what we might do next. Clearly I had a lot of trouble getting out of my measured, linear, problem-solving state of mind – even under the influence. I can see how this might have annoyed less cerebral people around me; but it’s interesting that temporarily externalizing one’s own self-control in this crowd seemed not only acceptable, but even very cool.
Flinging myself into the action, I recalled that I had left some finger paints under the table in the pop-up shelter. Greg and I smeared the paint all over our faces, creating a wildly colorful mixture of blue, green, red and yellow. I wiped it on a white bandana wrapped around my head, which nicely complemented the green and yellow tie-die lab coat I was wearing. Then Greg said something that startled me with its seemingly telepathic insight: “I think you might be Felicity’s medicine, and Felicity might be your medicine. I’m going to talk to her about it.” I thanked him dearly for that, but asked him to be casual about it. Then our conversation turned to how the night was a lesson in improv acting, since I felt like I was in an interactive stage play. Greg, who had plenty of experience with acting, said, “That’s exactly what life is; it’s a great improv show happening all the time, and it just goes on and on.” To me improv is about following what compels you to act without letting inhibition and hesitation block that action. These psychedelics were like oil applied to a part of myself that had been rusty for decades.
I was more able to tune into Greg’s rants as I got used to the unique dialect of his scattered mind. I apologized for being so wrapped up in the drama about Kara since we arrived. That and other things troubling me seemed suddenly resolved…or at least they disturbed me much less. I realized I couldn’t control Kara’s behavior at any point, especially after she dumped me. I also felt less sadness over losing people I’ve loved, whether friends or lovers. That night I had the convincing feeling that I’ll find the ones I need exactly when it’s supposed to happen. Or as someone (maybe me) put it that weekend, “We’ll pick up the thread later.”
Greg was yelling to people passing by, “You are all powerful!” I pointed at them and said, “Remember to breathe,” and “You are in control.” Greg repeatedly called me Dr. Eugene Igma and considered my advice very seriously. I poured water on our heads in a wild gesture, and Greg said that I had just baptized myself. He said someone had handed him more drugs that he wanted to get tested at the DanceSafe booth. When we finally found it and he passed them a small item, we all realized that it was a condom and burst into laughter. Within me I observed the blend of substances in full effect – the oozing splendor of psilocybin, the effulgent bliss of MDMA, the familiar rush of caffeine, and the soothing tingle of cannabis.
Remembering Felicity’s instructions I bounced effortlessly with Greg through the crowd. I felt like a human fire-burst, partly due to ESKMO’s shamanic music – surely my favorite set of the night – and the live video projection took it to another level entirely. Greg remained determined to promote Evolver despite his altered state, not realizing that his friendly gesture of handing out a small flyer was often overshadowed by a rude remark about how he couldn’t talk anymore, or how he had to go “do his stuff.” And what was Evolver’s purpose again? Something about grassroots organizing…or sustainable communities…I couldn’t remember exactly. Greg handled most of the talking, while I generally just waved my arms around and yelled “Labalabalabalabalabalaba” like a toddler drunk on newfound motor skills. Much of my behavior stemmed from an idea that I should do whatever typically feels unacceptable, just for the sense of liberation that came from doing it. At one point Greg and I struggled to navigate the crowd near the live art station and I yelled, “We can hold hands! It’s okay!” – and I grabbed his hand and pulled him through! Even something that simple, two men holding hands, felt taboo. I started to gain a new perspective on the delicate dance we’re doing all the time. We bounce back and forth in semi-circles and sudden star patterns; we don’t march in straight lines. We sometimes brush against people, we sometimes collide…other times, we find ourselves spinning in solitude.
Most important was that I didn’t care at all what anyone else thought about me. Normally I feel that tension in my body, as though I’ll be struck down for a wrong move. That night the fear was totally gone. How could I grab some of that brazen confidence and integrate it into my regular experience? I was still concerned about my effect on others, so I would apologize if I bumped into someone or thought I detracted from another’s experience. Greg told me not to apologize, but I was fixated on how to achieve the most freedom of action and expression while not harming or bothering others too much.
As this phase went on, Greg’s demeanor towards me turned more sour. He fell into a repetitive pattern of shoving me off, but then circling back around as though he still expected me to be following him. He’d say, “This is what I’m gonna do. You can do whatever you want.” A part of me felt really hurt, but a part of me had the awareness to know that he must have been going through something really difficult. When he treated others this way, I tried to provide resolution by smiling and explaining that we were temporarily out of our minds. It seemed we were operating under an unspoken paradox, trying to recruit people to an organization in a crowd that places high value on the tenets of independence and self-reliance. Greg’s actions reflected this paradox, since he appeared to want my company only if I pledged my allegiance to his leadership. But I can see now that I’m disowning my own competitiveness and desire to lead, so I can only imagine that I’ve done the same at some time.
To be continued…