WHAT’S GOING ON?
(IN THE WORLD)
by William Olkowski, 5/20/13
Is the nation of shop keepers and war mongers transforming into entertainment junkies?
I may have an answer to this question, but I certainly have an important pertinent observation to report. I just came back from 4 days near Joshua Tree National Park attending something called Shakti Fest, a Celebration of the Divine Feminine (May17-19) at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, 59700 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA 92252. My fiancé raved about this festival but I was cautious in my approach, but thought ok, she thinks it’s a good thing, so I went.
I came in cold to the event, mostly, since I had not attended a “festival” previously in my many decades. She said its lots of music, dancing and yoga. It didn’t sound too heavy, besides we needed a break. A big plus was a rented house nearby with a pool. So I went along. It took a 4-5 hour drive from Santa Barbara to reach the desert grounds where the festival was located. The place was nicely positioned amongst old Joshua tree expanses common to the area where the great National Park is located.
WAS IT ENTERTAINMENT OR A RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT?
My approach to anything religious is very cautionary as I view such social institutions with great skepticism. I was raised a catholic and the only good thing worth mentioning from that period is that once out of the social/mental trap/maze set up by this belief system, one gets inoculated against similar diseases. For that I will always value my upbringing, for once bitten always warned.
The Shakti Fest, as it is called, smacked of religion when after the first day events. These were mostly yoga sessions led by people who used certain words over and over again. A sample would suffice: words like Universe, Divine, Heart, Love, Light, opening, healing, centering, etc. As these were never defined I became suspicious. Yet, the people seemed happy, interested in personal development, were engaged in music and dancing in a big way, and there were many yoga adepts, judged by the number carrying yoga mats, something I see regularly down here in Santa Barbara.
I thought it doesn’t seem painful, nor does it have anything like the religious trappings from Christianity, like sin, the necessity to experience pain and suffering nor a mystical creator who died for our sins. But they did mention reincarnation, karma, and somebody called Krishna, who I took to be an analogy to the monotheistic idea we call God. But I slogged on with my suspicions because the context seemed benign.
Besides the different workshops were full of young females, my estimate was about 1,500 people, 90% female, mostly young and pretty all dolled up in colorful costumes. The night dancing went almost to 12 midnight and I staggered home after a brief drop in the hot tub. In my sleep I was forced to admit that all those Goddesses who sang and danced and taught were great and “it couldn’t hurt, right?”
The Second Day I was converted to a “fester” and took in various yoga classes which in my decrepitude were refreshing, leaving me lightly exercised, or maybe exorcised would be a better term.
I have a bad knee and some of the “exercises”, really procedures of stylized movement, with soft flute music, gongs, fluets and chants, lasting an hour or more were relaxing like I never experienced before. And I danced deep into the night with the throng around the main stage.
I was puzzled by the constant reference to various words and phrases, apparently from Sanskrit and the funny stylized songs with regular audience responses, something I had only seen before in religious ceremonies. Apparently, this form of music is called Kirtan and its a world-wide genre, much like the internet mob dancing also sweeping the world.
I concluded this festival is an expression a social movement, a sort of amalgam driven by musical artists primarily – certainly a social movement with its own belief system. And since there was no priesthood but mostly muscian/artists/singers I was drawn in.
Apparently this whole movement is an invasion from India being creolized or amalgamated by Americans into an entertainment, business thing, which looks like a religion but has no pope, nor hierarchy to control what is permitted or excluded. There are impressarios in charge, apparently, but they seemed imbued with the spirit of festivals, sort of like a regular episotic Woodstock. So I joined the throng and decided to find out how to learn a thing or two at a deeper level.
The third and last day, pushed me over the top.
This occurred primarily from a work shop on Tantric Love based on artistic interpretations of Indian sutras. Here is the item describing the workshop from the catalogue:
“Laura Amazzone – Shakti and the Tantric Wisdom Goddesses! This workshop is an exploration of the wisdom teachings of ten wildly passionate and independent expressions of Shakti known as the Tantric Wisdom Goddesses. lauraamazone.com.
I chose this workshop because the one I had planned to attend was full up. The randomness of the selection made the event even more special, but it also tells of a poor presentation in the catalogue. Besides, it was inside and being inside compared to a tent-like mat-filled-session was more pleasant than being hot outdoors.
Well, was I pleasantly surprised. A friend pushed a small booklet into my hands called – The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche, PhD, just as the first performance began.
Lorin and Laura were a team heading the workshop who explained what was to come next but opened with a most expressive enticing dance routine, played to music from a group of musicians sitting on the floor who were very familiar with the format and actually helped out making the expressions which followed most striking.
As a prelude to the series of interpretations by members of the audience, Laura performed an ecstatic dance, one component of which I will never forget, an erotic undulating representation of an orgasm.
Although not named, the dance was easily recognized and fully acknowledged by the audience. It was a beautiful sexual expression without being pornographic, better described as erotic.
The forward by Shiva Rea explains the text, translation from Sanskrit, being passed from generation to generation verbally and now translated by Lorin Roche into English — no small feat. An example will suffice: “This text glows with an expansive intimacy in the conversation between two lovers, Bhairava and Devi (male and female, respectfully). It releases a naturalness of being.” …
Here is sutra No. 60, which was translated into beautiful expressive dance by one of the volunteer participants — which itself was both surprisingly unpracticed yet beautifully authentic and seemed normal in this type of workshop:
“Rocking, undulating, swaying,
Carried by rhythm,
Cherish the streaming energy
Flooding your body
As a current of the divine.
Ride the waves of ecstatic motion
Into a sublime fusion
Of passion and peace.”
So this little gem of a workshop made me glow and I went on to other similar experiences, with yoga demonstrations/teachings, and the finale capped the whole festival feeling, deep into the night with the kirtan music running into hours. I danced along with a throng in front of the stage. I was transformed into an appreciator rather than a skeptic.
As one of my heroines said (Gilda Radner, from Saturday Night Live’s early days), “It can’t hurt”.
Oh, by the way, this is what the Sanskrit word Shakti means (paraphrased from an article titled Mighty Shakti, by Dr. Lorin Roche in LA Yoga, May 2013:
power, ability, strength, might, effort, energy, capability, faculty, skill, and effectiveness or efficacy (of a remedy).
I figured out what the festival was all about from combining various ideas expressed by different artists: love and passion is what could heal the violence and hatred fostered by our society, most of our political leaders, religions, institutions, and sick psychological failings. If that is what you think you might just want to pay attention to, this festival/musically driven belief system. It certainly looks like a good thing. And besides I came home with some new interesting foods, drinks, music and information, along with a relaxed yet exercised danced out body, with a bunch of new ideas and daily practices. That’s a good thing for an old skeptical atheist.